Losing To The Social Web: Visualized


A brands website has been the single biggest ”online” focus for 99% of businesses over the last 10 years apart from banner campaigns and microsites here and there, but with the evolution of social media growing at unheard of rates (Twitter is up over 3500% alone this year, while Facebook increased over 700% to finally overtake MySpace and then turned them to dust!) businesses really need to think about what’s happening to their website traffic…

I recently read a great post on Supercollider by Geoff Northcott (via Martina on Adverblog) that talked about the end of the destination web, along with adage, we are social and adweek about how the times are fading for websites and microsites are dead – Geoff posted a few good Google trends graphs, so I thought I might take that a little further, find a few additional graphs and look at why and where this traffic is going…

What you’ll notice from the graphs below is that some of the biggest brands, websites and portals are loosing unique visitors hand over fist for the last 3 years. Doesn’t make sense right? More and more people are connecting online, brands are spending bucket loads of cash on digital campaigns, so website traffic should be the complete opposite? (note. the graph below with out a heading is the BBC.co.uk)


So with such dramatic declines in website traffic and rapidly increasing numbers of Internet connected people, where is all that traffic going? The Social Web – the emerging networks where everyone is connected, everything is relevant, and everything can be shared with a single click and browsed, summarized or bookmarked with ease…


There are 2 key reasons why website traffic is declining.

  1. Social Networks (obviously) are growing and most people prefer to hang out there instead of searching the big brands websites for content to interact with. Your friends on Facebook and Twitter share what you’re already interested in. Everything is relevant and you don’t have to leave to get the best content from 10 of your favourite brands / websites.
  2. Off-Site Content Distribution is rapidly growing, I’m talking RSS Feeds, Twitter, YouTube Channels, Facebook Fan pages and so on… All the best brands and websites now actively push their content (the same stuff you use to get from their website and still want to access) to as many various “off-site” sources and platforms as possible.So naturally this removes unique visitors from their main sites, channeling them into a maze of various networks, feeds and tweets…Oh, and ofcourse, widgets/apps – we’ve only just seen the start of these.

Over the next few years, brands will need to re-structure they way they deliver experiences to their customers online (the best ones are already doing it), and that means delivering unique content to anywhere customers want to experience it.

Maybe that’s the latest offers by RSS feeds, new product demos by YouTube, campaigns by iPhone apps, online shopping via widgets in facebook or branding exercises by seeding stopmotion viral videos (they seem to be all the rage!)?

The fact is, agencies and brands will need to work out how to deliver the relevant content, branding and experiences they are currently achieving on their own websites, into highly competitive social networks, feeds, apps and widgets, where every “campaign” or “offer” has to be groundbreaking just to get noticed… and then there was tracking…!

I don’t think websites & microsites are dead yet. There are still years and years of usefulness ahead for them, we’ll just need to come up with better ways to connect them and their content into the social lives of customers online

29 Comments For This Post

  1. Paulina Says:
    I do not think that brands’ websites are and will be dead as they play an important role in the communication stream from companies to consumers. They provide detailed information that is needed to decide on a purchase. Some purchases require much more product research and analysis (think buying a car vs. buying milk) that brands’ websites will provide. No social media will be able to replace that.What is changing is that these same brands websites are no longer doing the traffic pull; the social media is and will continue to do so. The impact will be clear – brands’ website will become more informational with gathering of social buzz from social media sphere (think Google’s Sidewiki). Companies, on the other hand, will spend 50% on their brand website and 50% on the social media around it.
  2. Brian Says:
    This is a great visual presentation of the fact that is no longer about drive users to your web site, but to reach them where they are spending time. Clearly, a bigger challenge to market to users on social networks – you can’t control the message as you can on your own web site, but yet, it is tight rope that needs to be walked.
  3. Dan Bishop Says:
    Aden- really liked your post. I recently resigned, but was formerly in the social media solutions group at Mahalo. We had developed a white-label version of the Answers Community that we had released in January. I totally agree that brands are in jeopardy of losing the relevance of their corporate websites, this is the message I was translating to brands/ agencies. The conversation is happening everywhere but their websites and more and more of those conversations are translating to dollar transactions so they need to figure out a way to capture those conversations (in a trusted fashion) under their brand, on their site. Issue that saw though is that these brands are slow-moving, un-informed and in many cases leave it to the agency… and in many cases those agencies are not necessarily up and with it either. I think the standards for an agency have risen in the last few years and having spoken to many of them, brands need to re-evaluate whether the best knowledge share is within the agencies.Cheers, DRB
  4. Desiree Ratcliffe-Lattimore Says:
    How right you are!
  5. Steve Poppe Says:
    It’s just, for the most part, desitnation brand sites are still pretty boring and static. That will change over time as we learn from the social web. Some sites are simply brochureware and others are using more dynamic content tethered to social media. The latter are winning the traffic game. Great charts, thanks.
  6. Christopher McLallen Says:
    Aden,Nice site! Your graphs and enthusiasm for building social networks on this post are great but what about Monetization? Its what every client asks about when discussing social media. I would be interested in seeing the graphs of direct sales from social media vs. those brands that just have an end destination.Cheers,
  7. Lou Says:
    Interesting but an unfair comparison when you consider user intent. Social site traffic is not commerce traffic. Almost all of those brands can justify a loss in traffic to a loss in customers. Besides, are you really going to comparison shop or configure the BMW you want on FB? Not likely…
  8. Chad Says:
    This is a very interesting thesis. Thanks, Aden for this posting. For me it would help to have the scale of traffic to each site to see the relativity between them. IS Hulu on the same scale as the Times? Also, I need a legend to quickly understand who is who when you put comparative web addresses against each other.Another interesting question here is the “who” question – are the transient visitors you point to actually buyers of products or are the online entertainment seekers. Are people who used to pass time by going to the big brand sites now getting their entertainment elsewhere, while seriously interested buyers are still going to these sites to make purchase decisions. Is BMW worried about losing potential customers and visitors to their website because the audience is going to facebook? I don’t know, but this certainly signals another layer of customer target fragmentation.I will be extremely interested to see if the trend continues when the economic cycle changes simultaneously with the aging of these new social networks.We are lucky to live in such interesting times. Thanks again, Aden.
  9. Alfred Lui Says:
    I’d appreciate legends to tell me what the red & blue lines represent. Labeling the vertical axis won’t hurt either. Just saying. :/
  10. Robert Morris Says:
    Hi Aden. Thanks for the post.The graphs tell an interesting story. I think you make a great point about distributed content. In a highly fragmented media world where consumers have the power to choose “when” and “where” they receive content, brands need to be sure their content can be found and shared through RSS, Social Networks, Mobile Apps etc.But I think the idea of Brands and agencies developing more relevant content into social networks, apps and widgets where every campaign needs to be “ground-breaking” really misses the point. BUT, a great topic for our group.Ad agencies and Brands think it’s about them – about the great creative content that consumers want to “experience.” But your graphs tell the story. Consumers don’t want the interference. They want meaningful connections with other people. (see
    http://www.gigabitmarketing.com/2009/10/social-networks-are-personal/ ) That’s why social networks are not an advertising/marketing channel. This is where Advertising needs to change. The best thing agencies and brands can do is get out of the way and focus on the fundamentals (http://bit.ly/samo).- Customer service
    – fresh and relevant website content that provides information
    – streamlined user experiences
    – search-able contentI would argue the decline in website traffic means the traffic is more relevant because people are there for a reason. I may email my friend on Facebook to see if he likes his new MacBook Pro or BMW. And his opinion matters to me. That’s why companies need to make sure his brand experience is a positive one. That’s what I mean by fundamentals. Make sure the product experience is positive and then let people talk about it.Websites are not obsolete, to the contrary. But they must be built with clear objectives in mind. If I’m in the market, I’ll talk to my friends, but I don’t want brands to interfere. When I’m ready, I’ll visit the website. Give me the facts. Make the process quick and easy with a clear value proposition. If brands do there job, they’ll lead me to take action. If my experience is positive, I’ll tell my friends…
  11. David W Says:
    Great thought provoking piece!
  12. Stas Antons Says:
    Good post, I like this point: “[o]ver the next few years, brands will need to re-structure they way they deliver experiences to their customers online”. It seems that customer engagement and increased interaction is another key aspect of the future successful brand, and corollary to your point.Thanks,
    -Stas Antons
    SmartSymbols Visual
  13. Richard Gaeta Says:
    We;re in the process of revamping out site and our creative director emailed your article. Are you able to direct us to sites that have begun the process of connecting to social sites by putting more than an icon connect button???Also – how can we best utilize Facebook, Twitter, etc. to maximize exposure and ultimately pruduce interest in our servicesMany thanks
    Dick Gaeta
  14. Aden Hepburn Says:
    Hey Mate,
    Unfortunately Google Trends doesn’t give traffic levels…
    If I compared them all on a single chart – then you’d see who is getting highest traffic!
  15. Daniel Hewitt Says:
    Again, nice post Aden. I think you can tell by the number of great thought provoking responses.Currently we are having a lot of fun battles with our clients. They can’t seem to get their head around letting their content go and sharing it out on the social web. These graphs are a great talking point.A good friend of mine @confrantzeskos talks about the “hub and spoke” approach. Use your website as the hub of information, and share content and conversations out on the web. Create a two way spoke to direct traffic in to your website and out to the users preferred social hang-outs ;)If people don’t want to come to your website (unless necessary for purchases etc), don’t force them. Go and meet them instead.
  16. chris masuy Says:
    Great post! It would be interesting to see this against time spent online per user.
  17. FrankG. Says:
    You might want to overlay a chart of the decline of the economy as we entered the current recession. I believe that will go a long to explaining the traffic decline of some of the large commercial sites you’re tracking. When the economy is good and vibrant people have lots of cash to buy lots of nice stuff. Those days will be gone until at least 2012, and one wonders if they’ll ever be back as consumers start behaving like the “depression era” generation represented by our parents, and for the younger generation, their grandparents. No doubt we’re all spending more time on social media. It’s cheap fun to stay connected with friends and family. And 99% of those on LinkedIn are there to find a job or make a connection to sell something. Yes, it makes sense for large brands to track down their customers where they live, and right now, that’s in the social media ether.
  18. Aden Hepburn Says:
    Hey Frank.
    I don’t think it has to do with the economy.
    If you look on http://www.quantcast.com/ you can see a little further back to Jan 2007 when the economy was booming! :)
  19. Rob Wong Says:
    Interesting post, but what I think it’s showing is that people are using the Internet for more things than they used to. What I think is interesting about social media is that brands will certainly have to understand how to get involved in the social media context. They (the brands) will also have to figure out what marketing/communication objectives they are trying to acheive in the communication process. Is it awareness, brand positioning – or repositioning, consideration, recommendation, store or online traffic, sales (off and online) or brand reinforcement/loyalty. In deciding this, brands will have to consider whether making people visit a “brand website” is needed, or not. Perhaps all that is needed is the right conversation on Facebook, or even the right online ad experience that achieves the marketing/advertising outcome. You don’t always need to visit a website after seeing an ad offline or hearing a bit of good news about a brand to have brand influence. We need to be thinking about “online anywhere” as a opportunity to influence. When we can campaign this online according to a client’s objectives we will be starting to master the online marketing opportunity based on users increased use of the online world – social media or whatever.
  20. Catherine Says:
    Some good points made within the comments.
    The trend is a move from having a website to having a web presence – that is inclusive of a website and participation in social media. A lot of our clients do advertise on Facebook and you can certainly insert links to your site etc. in Twitter. But there is still resistance to setting out into social media for clients because they can’t control the conversation but they’ll come around when they realize that its better to be part of the conversation then totally out of it. The graphs only show one data point so aren’t a well rounded view and the sites depicted don’t appear to be ecommerce based but still a good point is made that site traffic needs to be analyzed and acted upon. There was also too much reliance on visitor # rather than visitor behaviour. Now it is all about getting your name out into the web and maintaining credibility.
  21. Ragini Says:
    If you look at the evolution of marketing communications, it has been moving in the direction of empowering the consumer and social media has just provided the greatest push. Till now, all other forms of marketing communications (including company websites) were 1-way, with brand marketers pushing out their messages to a percieved audience. Social media, with its 2-way focus, has changed all that. Brand managers have to provide those positive experiences to their customers considering that almost all online activity is so measurable and its easy to determine metrics.Company websites will still have a role to play – they just will have to share a lot of the limelight with social media.
  22. Jim Says:
    Learn to spell, punctuate and structure, then you might find I take your ideas seriously. Flawed in many ways.
  23. Sean McDonald Says:
    Most Corporate websites are built for a transactional model. If you do not have a transaction, then no need to visit the website. Social sites are built for communication and relationship building – almost everyone has something to say and can benefit from increased relationships. The opportunity is for corporate websites to include social elements to their websites – provide your audience with a means of communicating and engaging with your company.
  24. Doug May Says:
    Perhaps the correlation between people having less disposable income and seeking free social networking as a distraction, is a better reason for this phenomenon than any suggested in this article?You think?
  25. Stephen Beck Says:
    Interesting and informative post Aden. Nice work. Also some great responses from your readers.I agree with some of this post but i think its a bigger issue than social networks vs. brand sites. Brand sites are not going anywhere. They are a facilitator for more than a presence across social networks could offer (think legitimacy or just straight forward branding). Social offers other valuable opportunities for brands of course, but not necessarily what the brand site offers. Consider how many people still navigate through search. If the brand site isn’t the first result, what is? And if it is a social network that pops up in first position, what value is that for the majority of customers online?I would argue that the shift in time spent is attributed more to the increased utility of the web for a broader audience. Myspace wasn’t for everyone, but Facebook has attracted users from all demographics. In general sites like Flickr are more useful today to a wider audience than even just a few years ago for various reason including advancements in other technologies (ie. iPhone – the #1 camera used by Flickr users today).I agree with @Lou. Intent is a key factor if we’re comparing social networks to brand sites. People visiting brand sites are further down the funnel than people interacting with a brand through social media. Customers spending time on a brand site are far more engaged with that brand than they would likely be while interacting with a social network, where their focus is more task-driven. The key is to define how the brand should exist in the social space. This is unique for all brands, but what is consistent is the need to create a ‘home base’ – a reliable standard for core brand and product information. Also some great points from @Robert Morris with regards to interest in a brand, but disinterest in disruption in the social space. We may be discussing a product with friends within a social network but that doesn’t mean we’re welcoming said brand to jump in and make a hard sell. The role that brands play in social media needs to be more transparent, utility-driven, and less sales-focussed.Additionally, social media often offers brands the opportunity for post-purchase brand interaction, building longer-term through product and customer service support. Its not always a marketing or sales channel.So many brands are not ready for social marketing. We’re still seeing a huge number of brands (national and global) taking initial steps towards some pretty basic web strategies including building an effective web presence. We’re also seeing many brands still late to online marketing in general (search, display, email, etc). All pretty basic, but necessary stuff. To insinuate that we’re now beyond all of these practices and moving towards a social-only landscape is optimistic at best. Jumping the gun on the basics and directly into social, or even just taking a lackluster approach to the basics and dumping majority effort into social is premature for the majority of these brands. So many would be far better off just getting up to speed with a baseline of digital initiatives.Perhaps one way to look at this issue is from a shifting landscape perspective. Maybe its less about a decrease in relevance of the brand site and more about an increase in need for brands to consider that everything they do online will inevitably become social. Brand sites should be offering features that encourage interaction and act as a two-way channel. Brand sites should be integrated with social network programs. Its perhaps more realistic to encourage brands to think more holistically and not separate their website, branding and marketing efforts, customer service, and social media strategies, but consider all of these initiatives part of one global effort and ensure that a social aspect is woven throughout.Last point, is Hulu considered a social network? I would have thought it to be more of an entertainment/content site.

    Stephen Beck / Engine Digital

  26. alastair cox Says:
    Great post and some good hard data.Brand sites are critical as they provide a platform for brand expression and transaction – it’s a much deeper experience.At the moment brands are working hard to develop their social infrastructure (no mean task) but closer integration with their sites is sure to follow.Maybe this is one relationship to track over the next 6 – 12 months … I’d certainly love to see a follow up piece :-)Similarly it would be interesting to see what proportion of site traffic was generated by social media activity rather than search or through media.Or experience to date is that it’s relatively small but you get a lot of bang for you buck when you do a bit of reaching out.Anyone dare to share?Al Cox
    Head of Strategy
  27. jerrys Says:
    Brand website audiences have always been much less than the numbers suggest when you remove all the flotsam and jetsam that makesup web traffic. Tend to beleive much of this decline is a lessening of the froth rather than the directed brand audience. You need to consider the older model of community activity – largely email with a bit of default homepage, chat/IM and various user communities, and how that has transistioned to the social networks.
  28. Jason Paul Grant Says:
    Found the article extremely interesting but surely social networks need a base to spring from? If one only has a presence in social networks, would people take that company serious?
  29. Aden Hepburn Says:
    @ Jason
    I think there still needs to be an emphasis on the brands website, after all that’s where the online transactions happen and the content base is broadcast from, but no longer can brands expect people just to “come” because you have a site…


  • March 24, 2012 at 9:53 pm // Reply

    Interesting view on the social media web sites

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