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How Facebook Traffic Fits in a Multi-Channel Landscape

While the growth of its US user base may or may not be slowing a bit as it approaches complete saturation, Facebook’s potential to impact ecommerce still has plenty of headroom.  Advertising on Facebook is nascent next to paid search and traditional display and online retailers are still learning how to best engage and expand their fanbases.  Looking at data across RKG’s Attribution and Facebook clients we can assess how Facebook users are currently fitting into the larger multi-channel picture and offer some insights into who they are.

A Wide Range of Influence

Starting with basic traffic levels, we see a wide range in Facebook’s share of incoming referrals.  For some sites, Facebook barely registers a blip on the radar, while others see incoming share levels in the 5-6% range with occasional spikes much higher.   More typical is around 1-2% of referral traffic originating from Facebook.

While retailer efforts to grow Facebook traffic levels also vary significantly, a larger factor seems to be that some sites are simply a more natural fit for the Facebook demographic and link sharing experience.  Just as an advertiser with a SKU-based product selection at competitive prices will find more luck on comparison shopping engines than say, a boutique clothing retailer, some will have an easier time than others in getting links shared and clicked on Facebook.  In other words, users are more likely to share a link to a funny or unique product than to the tube of toothpaste they saved a nickel on at a CPG seller.

That’s not to say any retailer should abandon hope of generating meaningful traffic from Facebook, just that it will be more of an uphill climb for some.  For what it’s worth, over 90,000 people currently Like the Crest toothpaste page.

Facebook’s Overlap with Other Channels

Although Facebook’s share may vary quite a bit from site to site, there are some consistent patterns in how incoming Facebook traffic overlaps with other major channels.  For users that ultimately placed an order following a referral from Facebook, nearly 1/3 had also previously navigated to the site via Email within the site’s chosen attribution window.  This is the largest raw overlap with any of the major channels studied and it is twice as high as the nearest channel.

Now if 100% of purchasers had an email touch, we would expect 100% of users with a Facebook touch to also have an email touch, so the relative size of each channel can skew our interpretation of the overlap.  Adjusting our figures to account for differences in channel size we get this picture:

Email still shows the greatest overlap with Facebook, but now we can get a better sense of how that compares to other channels, regardless of size.  We can see that Paid Search has the smallest overlap with Facebook, at less than half the rate of Email.

Organic Search, Comparison Shopping and Affiliates all average around 2/3 of the overlap seen with Email.  Both in PPC and Organic Search, branded keywords show a greater overlap with Facebook than non-branded keywords.

Acquisition or Retention?

The figures above and other data suggest Facebook traffic that converts is heavily weighted towards existing customers, those likely to be on your email list already and those searching for you by name.  This makes intuitive sense, particularly for sites that are less likely to see just the right kind of links go viral, those that have the capability to not only reach, but entice new customers to buy.

At the same time, we see Facebook acting as the only channel touched by users before an order nearly 50% of the time.  This is far lower than non-brand paid search, which acts alone close to 80% of the time, but it suggests that there is an appreciable segment of Facebook traffic that is not being reached or compelled to act by other channels.

For many customers, Facebook’s newsfeed is the preferred means of hearing from their favorite companies.  This may be cannibalistic of Email, but it doesn’t mean Email will suffice in reaching them.  As the audience’s tastes change, we as marketers need to keep up or risk losing customers to competitors who will.

As with anything else, your results may vary.  We’ve seen cases where Facebook ads targeted to existing fans result in more orders placed by new-to-file customers than current ones.  As Facebook’s influence on ecommerce continues to grow and other promising traffic sources emerge, ongoing analysis of the nuances of how your specific audience interacts across channels will only help in ensuring you achieve value in your marketing efforts.

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  • Mark Ballard
    Mark Ballard is Director of Research at RKG.
  • Comments
    3 Responses to “How Facebook Traffic Fits in a Multi-Channel Landscape”
    1. In order for a user to “like” a consumer goods company on Facebook, it usually means that they have used at least one of the products that they offer. This isn’t necessarily the case with service providers. Sometimes people “like” a service provider in order to learn more information before making a decision. Facebook conversion can depend on the industry.

    2. Mark Ballard Mark Ballard says:

      Absolutely Nick, and even within retail, certain segments are more likely to elicit acquisition-leaning Likes than others. For example, a first-time expectant couple has never needed to purchase baby clothes previously and they have some time to get the lay of the land. They may Like a few different companies to get a feel for each and see what kind of offers come up before making their purchases.

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