The Decline of Social Traffic and the SEO Renaissance

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Recent trends show why SEO should always be the cornerstone of your WordPress traffic acquisition strategy.

Everyone wants traffic, and there was a time when one of the best ways to grow it was through social media. However, that particular party may be over. Twitter accounts for less than 2.5 percent of traffic to publishers, and Instagram and Pinterest barely supply 1 percent together. But the big story is Facebook. Once the single biggest source of referral traffic for many sites, it now represents just 22 percent, and that share has been falling dramatically for more than a year.

Data from Parse.ly, which tracks visits to more than 2,500 publishers, shows that ahead of the 2016 US presidential election, more than 40 percent of traffic to those sites came from Facebook. By the end of 2017, it was less than 26 percent. Whilst the data concerns big digital publishers, the trend affects everyone, including WordPress blogs and other smaller content sites.

The chart below shows the amount of traffic coming to publishers from Google and Facebook since the beginning of 2017. It’s not just Facebook’s decline – the huge growth in Google mobile visitors is very striking. This can largely be attributed to the growing popularity of AMP (and perhaps a good reason to make sure your site works with AMP).

Source: Chartbeat

Social traffic was never a steady way to grow your audience anyway

How much was social referral traffic really worth? As Scott Galloway points out in this great video, Audience vs. Traffic: “People don’t tune in to Buzzfeed because they’re fascinated by the journalism, they click because someone forwarded them ‘Pick some of your favorite potato dishes and we’ll tell you your best quality’.” Social referrals are fickle, hard to monetize, and disappear when Facebook changes the algorithms. They’re traffic, not an audience.

Even before Facebook’s changes, Buzzfeed, champions of winning traffic, had apparently been seeing a decline in unique US visitors for two years. For sites trying to make money that haven’t built an audience, the decline in social referrals is just the icing on a pretty unappetizing cake in many ways. Ad yields are declining and the use of ad-blockers is on the rise. But many special interest and magazine sites are flourishing – usually by using their users’ loyalty to monetize in other areas like subscriptions or e-commerce.

Long-term, the move away from desperately trying to drive and monetize social referral traffic is a necessary step, but right now it’s still hurting many people. So, how can you thrive even if you’re struggling to get traffic from social sources?

The antidote to declining social traffic

One answer is Google. As the Chartbeat graphic shows, Google is quickly regaining its status as the primary source of referrals. So the main question becomes, how do you drive more organic traffic to your website via the search engine result pages (SERPs)?

Basically, you need to refocus your efforts away from social traffic and re-energize your Search Engine Optimization (SEO). As a quick refresher, SEO is the umbrella term for many tactics, all of which aims to optimize your content for search engine algorithms, so that you rank higher when a potential visitor asks a query. The higher you rank, the better your natural traffic becomes, and the more chances you get to convert that traffic into a loyal, revenue-generating audience.

However, SEO in 2018 is not the SEO you remember: Google is always tinkering with algorithms and features (like AMP), and that means the best SEO tactics constantly change. Sometimes quite radically.

What are the ranking factors that influence your SEO score most these days? Google famously doesn’t give us full transparency on ranking factors, but recently large studies by intelligence platforms such as SEMrush have cast some light into the ranking darkness. The answers probably aren’t what you expect.

The days of keyword stuffing are over

No, it’s not keywords (in the anchor, body, title or anywhere else) or backlinks. It’s your engagement metrics. The top 4 ranking factors are direct website visits, time on site, page views per session and bounce rate. This isn’t surprising really when you think about it: Google wants to find the ‘best’ answers for queries, so happy Google users are a key indicator. What they’ve worked out is that engagement indicators, like low bounce rate, high pages per session and superior dwell time, are the best signs of a good search answer. They’re also hard to game, which can’t be said for keywords and backlinks.

This all means that there is now another very obvious reason to try to increase your engagement metrics: high engagement is a virtuous cycle. More engagement directly means more new organic traffic, which in turn means a greater opportunity to monetize your site and build a loyal audience, which means higher engagement and more organic traffic.

Source: SEMrush

SEMrush’s study results are backed by industry experts such as Larry Kim, Founder of WordStream and CEO of Mobile Monkey. He says that “having positive website engagement metrics is critical” and he presents the data that shows the relationship between engagement rates (such as bounce rate and time on site) and rankings here.

So, yes, you shouldn’t ignore keywords and backlinks, but the biggest opportunity to increase organic traffic from Google comes directly from boosting on-site engagement metrics. This is especially true for established sites that already rank fairly well.

That leaves one question: how do you improve your SEO? If you’re already creating great content, what can you do that will impact these metrics right now?

How to effectively raise your site engagement and search traffic

SEO expert Matthew Woodward describes internal link building and content recirculation as “the most powerful SEO tactic you are not using.” Why? It increases engagement.

Internal content recommendations, or related posts in the WordPress ecosystem, are the best way to help readers discover relevant content that they really want to read. This means fewer people leaving after reading just one article, more articles per session and more time on your site. Most importantly, the more of your content they explore, the more likely they’ll be to come back. Search visitors can be fickle if they’ve come looking for a particular piece of content and often leave as soon as they’ve consumed it. You give yourself the best chance of converting them into a loyal audience member by providing other high-quality related posts that are relevant to their interests.

Using related posts is even more important when you consider that, for over half of publishers, fewer than 10 percent of visitors enter the site via the homepage, according to research by Parse.ly. This means your content pages also have to do the job of the homepage and help people find the next piece of interesting post.

What all this adds up to is this: related posts are crucial to growing your traffic and keeping a loyal audience!

SEO has a renewed importance, and the days of keyword stuffing are behind us. You should be doing everything you can to improve your user experience, and an easy way to do this right now, as well as implementing tools like AMP, is great related posts.

Mads Holmen

Mads Holmen is founder and CEO of Bibblio, a company working to revolutionize related posts for WordPress with machine learning algorithms and a lot of hard work!

The post The Decline of Social Traffic and the SEO Renaissance appeared first on Torque.

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