Search vs. Social: Which One Packs More Punch?

It’s 2014 — do you know where your website visitors are coming from? If you’re not the type to pore over your traffic numbers and other analytics, the answer may surprise you.

Analyzing traffic from 200,000+ sites that reach more than 250 million unique monthly users, the number-crunchers at Shareholic found that referrals from organic searches is dropping while those from social media are booming. According to the data, referrals from search engines dropped 5.87% between Nov. 2012 and Nov. 2013 while referrals from social networks more than doubled (110.95%).

That doesn’t mean search is dead — organic referrals still dwarf social ones, 42% vs. 15% — but it does point to a shift in user preferences that anyone with a practice website will want to pay attention to.

As Shareaholic’s Danny Wong puts it, “Search’s heyday is over; social media has barely outgrown diapers.” That’s because the former is a mature channel — pretty much everybody who uses the Internet already uses search, depressing potential gains — while the latter is gaining strength from both the number of new social networks and the increasing hours people are spending on them.

Of course, driving traffic to your website is only the beginning; it’s what visitors do once they’re there that really counts. The more time they spend, the more pages they view and the percentage of them that leave the site after viewing a single page (aka, their bounce rate) are all good indicators of how helpful they find your content and, in turn, how likely they are to evolve from curious consumers to potential patients.

So, what social networks drive the most engagement? According to another Shareaholic study that looked at the major services, the leader was YouTube, where the average visitor spent 3:47 (minutes:seconds) and viewed 2.99 pages, with 43.9% bouncing away.

By comparison, the average visitor from Facebook stayed 2:07 (mm:ss) and viewed 2.03 pages; the average visitor from Twitter stayed 2:03 (mm:ss) and viewed 2.15 pages, and the average visitor from Pinterest stayed 1:04 (mm:ss) and viewed 1.71 pages. All three had a bounce rate of 56.35%, meaning more than half didn’t stick around to even view a second page.

Truth is, many doctors may find that their engagement numbers from the major social networks are even lower for the simple reason that many potential patients don’t necessarily want to share their aesthetic journeys with everybody on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Even with increasing acceptance of cosmetic surgery, it is for many people, a subject handled better in privacy-protecting “whisper conversations” than via a social megaphone.

That may be why RealSelf tallies more than 5.5 million unique visits a month — and, perhaps even more importantly, why community members who then go on to visit doctors’ websites stay on-site longer (3:54 mm:ss) and visit more pages (5+) than visitors from any of the majors.

Doctor Takeaway

Search vs. social is not an either-or proposition

With organic search still playing a major role in people’s online habits, remaining visible in search results is still a worthwhile goal — it just shouldn’t be your only goal. Being active on social media ensures you’re also present in the channels where people spend much of their time, where they go to find answers to their questions and where they find answers from the people they trust most. Add in the fact that being social can significantly boost your search rank, it’s obvious that the best strategy incorporates both.

About Rob Lovitt

Rob Lovitt is a longtime writer and editor who believes every good business has a great story to tell. He has written for dozens of magazines and websites, including NBCnews.com, Expedia.com and the inflight magazines of Alaska, Horizon and Frontier airlines.

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