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What drives more traffic to your site, Email or Social Media?

Inbound marketing as a term has been around for many years, we have seen it morph and change slightly over time, but fundamentally its simply about driving traffic to your site from other platforms/websites (and doing it efficiently). I have been asked the $64m question a lot in the past as more and more brands look for the answer to drive traffic to their site, and whats the best platform or channel to not only syndicate your message, content, comms, offers and sales – but which to allocate time, budget and man hours in making sure that the traffic comes flooding in.

This question has been asked of me three times in the last month – “..should I focus on social media or email for driving traffic to my site?” To put it simply, I believe you need both but this article will focus more on, if you had to choose only one, what would it be.

Social Media is More About Driving Traffic

With consumers always being “turned on” via the array of portable devices and smartphones and that  Facebook has 1.23bn users worldwide, with a massive 170m signing up during 2013 alone, obviously makes it a channel that brands need to be both visible and communicate in. But a great social media strategy means that you need it to be a two way and engaging experience, not one that you can use to just syndicate content or push new releases of products and sales and hope that followers will always click your posts to come to your site.

The Cycling Bug have 30k followers for their Facebook page, but continually add posts about their content only, to drive traffic back to their site.

The Cycling Bug Facebook Page - State of Digital

Each article The Cycling Bug adds links to their website, where you have to sign in or register to read further, (which is highly annoying when I am subscribed to their email and Like their Facebook page) they post straight to Facebook. They have done very little in terms of using social media as a two way channel to engage with their 30k followers, no doubt they see nice spikes of inbound traffic from social media, but they would benefit more from using the platform to engage, ask the followers what they like, want, surveys and fun questions to keep them interested and of course be “social”.

Treehugger has over 470k fans on Facebook and still only posts about content on its site. Their fans maybe different from The Cycling Bug, but no more passionate about the category and why they follow them (I love cycling and all the interesting and amazing posts on Treehugger). If you look through the posts on their Facebook page, their fans are highly engaged and comment a lot, but I am yet to see a reply from Treehugger, suggesting that they use social media for inbound traffic only. Again, I would offer a high percentage of their traffic comes from social as a referrer, so it may work well for them, but cant help feel that they are missing out on engagement.

Treehugger Facebook Page - State of Digital

If you work on your brand Facebook page, you will know that organic reach has been in sharp decline over the last 12 months. Earlier this year Ogilvy reported that a decline of around 49% in organic reach to around 6% of fans seeing posts and brands with over 500k followers hit a measly 2% (a post I wrote earlier this year saw Facebook organic reach around 9% in some cases), Ogilvy also released a great post called Facebook Zero on slideshare – which is a must read for anyone involved in a brand Facebook page. With organic reach on the decline, brands need to think more about the objective of their social media offering and what they want from their fans/followers.

In a nutshell, using a social media platform for inbound traffic can work well, but make sure to;

  • Be social and active to users engagement
  • Engage beyond just posting content, sales and product launches
  • Set firm KPIs on why you are using it
  • Dedicate budget and resource to the channel – its going to cost more for the results you saw 12 months ago

If You Email Consumers Will They Come?

Email seems to have been the backbone to brands for the last 15 years and more, where the size of your database become bragging rights over other companies and can open a lot of doors when it comes to partnering with other brands. Emails get delivered more than 90% of the time (over the organic reach of Facebook and as long as they are not deemed “spammy“), where you’re straight into someones inbox when they log in, unlike being bounced down the timeline and missed. I have to admit though, I am not the best for organising my inbox so theres a few oldies in there.

Via email you can afford to offer the multiple messages and engagement tactics as I have previously talked about, albeit from one engaging subject line. There are multiple benefits to using email to drive traffic to your site as one single email can serve as a product launch, competition, survey, service message or better still to gain more personal data about your customers all in one communication.

Size (a footwear and clothing retailer in the UK & Europe) uses two types of comms via email, a newsletter and product push or sale offering. Size are great at a niche market (anyone who knows me and my Adidas footwear collection will understand) and drive traffic to their site via very targeted emails. They also post product and content on their Facebook page to 108k fans and engage frequently to anyone engaging with their posts.

Size-Synopsize Newsletter - State of Digital

A fortnightly newsletter email from Size (nicely named Synop-Size), includes interviews, service information for Christmas, a new store opening and links to their shop categories.

Size Product Email - State of Digital

A product based email from Size is simple, clear and direct offering their latest product release, with deep links into their site.

Size Facebook Page - State of Digital

Size Facebook page does all three – gives information on new stores, product releases, service information and they actively engage with questions and comments.

More Targeted and Space for Information

Email gives you more options to be more targeted and offer content that is relevant to each of your consumer needs, plus you can also be a lot more creative in the design of your message and content as a whole, over Facebook.

The biggest benefit, is developing a deeper understanding of your customers and their behaviours more in a way that you may struggle to do in social media. Adding a rich layer of customer data is quite simple to do via email and all trackable too. Asking your customers via a survey about themselves, likes, dislikes(great if its incentivised for a better response rate), getting them to log in to the account area and complete missing information will give you a better understanding of who they are and what they like.

As mentioned earlier, where consumers are always switched on, you cant rely on consumers always having a Facebook account or following you on your brand Facebook page, but you can rely on them having an email account, its part and parcel of them having a social account in the first place and is the digital wallet for everything online.

For those who don’t engage with consumers via email, or perhaps haven’t set up an email database, its really not as hard or complex as you think. There a so many companies, templates, email service providers (ESP) which are relatively inexpensive to use like MailChimp, where its free to send emails to 2000 subscribers and you can also customise the package you need on the amount of subscribers you have and how many times you want to email them, from a few hundred pounds per month. There are more complex and expensive CRM systems that store your customer web behaviour when they click from an email to your site – so you know what pages they visit and where they spend their time.

Email Gets My Vote Every Time

Social media for inbound traffic is no more being seen as an owned channel, its a paid channel where brands will have to add more budget and resource into driving traffic to their site. Paying for inbound traffic doesn’t come as a surprise as thats what brands have been doing for years, via search engine marketing, outreach, advertising etc.

If I had to choose between social media and email for driving traffic to your site, then I’d go for email every time. It will allow you to gain that deeper understanding of your customers, build up a database that you can communicate to as and when you want, with the targeted and relevant content that they are looking for. Even if you don’t go for the complexities of “personalisation” via segmentation, and stick to keeping it simple, you can offer far more messaging in one email than you can in a social media post…. Plus having a database of customers you can “talk” to will bring longevity to you and your business over time, afterall if you gained their trust for them to leave you an email address, then its a pretty clear indication that they are interested in what you have to sell or say.

(For some ideas around migrating your Facebook fans into your email database, read Migrate Social Fans into CRM)



Russell O’Sullivan is an all-round Senior Digital Marketing Manager. With over 15 years of experience in the digital environment, he has worked across varied disciplines such Content Strategy/Marketing, PPC, SEO, Ecommerce, Social Media/Marketing, Web Design and UX.
  • Both are the important factors to drive traffic to a website. One thing which search engine traffic usually don`t give you is the high number of followers, But on Social media you can easily create a huge number of followers. I personally believe that readership is more important than SEO and search engines.

  • Great! Thanks! BTW there are some other tools to drive more traffic to your site. You can find them in a special section on their website called Tools http://www.zebraboss.com/tools