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Facebook: Website killer

Bestselling author, Dave Chaffey, explains why the majority of corporate websites are in decline as Facebook snatches their traffic and the implications for marketing priorities?

I was recently listening to an interesting talk by Dave Wieneke where he looked at the way brands need to change how they engage with consumers. One of the nuggets he shared, looked at the relative importance of company Facebook page visits against their main website visits. So I dug into the original data -- 2011 research from Webtrends and Adgregate (PDF) and it tells a very interesting story I thought was worth summarising.

For many companies now, particularly those with non-transactional sites, visitor figures are in decline, while their Facebook visitors are growing.

I thought I would share this here, since it prompts important questions of how serious companies are about creating a strategy to engage their audiences through Facebook and whether they are allocating the right level of resources between website management and Facebook, either too much or too little. It also suggests questions should be asked about the balance of media investments; whether they should be used to route visitors to the website as traditionally, or to Facebook and other social presences. This is the story this research tells:

1. Visits to the majority of corporate websites are in decline

Looking at the year-on-year change in visits to Fortune 100 sites to 2010, the majority are declining, although of course there are similar levels of growth in others:

2. Growth in Facebook (and other social presences) occurs at the expense of corporate sites In many cases while corporate sites are declining in their level of unique visitors, Facebook visits are increasing:

Of course, this study looks at Facebook only, traditional website audiences are also visiting YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn which are excluded.

3. For some brands Facebook dominates

You'll know this, but this graphic makes the point forcefully:

In these cases, the dominance of Facebook is likely due to a deliberate strategy to focus investment and marketing resource into Facebook.

4. Retail and transactional sites are different

The report also looks at changes for major US retailers. Here both forms of presence are increasing:

Interesting stuff, really showing the changes we've seen in online behaviour over the last few years now.

This form of analysis looks a useful benchmarking analysis to perform for any company sector. Review growth in social media against changes in the traditional site using the many free tools available for benchmarking visitor traffic and social presences. I'd be interested to hear about any companies who have done this type of analysis, the type of tools used and what is has showed.

Dave Chaffey is CEO and co-founder of Smart Insights.

Dr Dave Chaffey is CEO and co-founder of Smart Insights (www.smartinsights.com), a digital marketing portal and consultancy who provide advice and software to help businesses succeed online. He is author of 5 bestselling books on Ecommerce including...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Kate Hutchinson

2011, November 22

While Facebook can provide high visibility to brands (and usually well-established brands, as featured in the Coke/Disney chart), the real problem is that the content on Facebook is owned by Facebook. Allowing Facebook to be the dominant form of engagement with your brand is tantamount to giving them ownership of your brand. Content on your website is controlled and owned wholly by you.

Recent news stories have pointed to the FCC being close to some sort of auditing/regulatory rules for Facebook, and it would be wise for any company relying on Facebook to evaluate what content they have shared on the site and determine the use of it. The best case scenario is to use Facebook to push users to your actual website through links. Then you can harvest the visibility of Facebook while controlling your messaging.

Commenter: Dave Chaffey

2011, November 19

Hi Guys, interesting comments!

@Christine and @Jonathan - I agree. The data doesn't show a causal effect of web visitors to Facebook pages. But as @Amy points out there are increasing numbers who don't "go on the web" but "log on to Facebook". The growth in Facebook visits to company pages is LIKELY to be at the detriment to visits to dot com sites. This data certainly doesn't prove it, but as I mentioned it should prompt the question: are we resourcing our presence of Facebook sufficiently in comparison to our corporate websites? The answer will differ for every company in different sectors and certainly, you're right the Fortune 100 are a special case.

Cheers, Dave

Commenter: Christine Hueber

2011, November 18

Fortune 100 companies by definition have very different Social Media Marketing and online presence goals than privately-held, growing businesses ... and eCommerce websites will have different goals than non-eCommerce sites.

The most important online marketing question FOR EVERY BUSINESS to ask is still: what's our goal for being online?

Christine Hueber

Commenter: Jonathan Richman

2011, November 18

There is a huge assumption in this article and all the work done around this question. That is, website traffic is going down AND these people are going to Facebook instead. This isn't necessarily a valid assumption. There isn't data in here that show that people are choosing to avoid the website and instead visit the Facebook page. The websites could be decreasing for a number of different reasons. Most have to do with the fact that people are spending time doing other things online versus visiting corporate websites. Facebook visits are on the rise because people are spending more time on Facebook.

The take home message shouldn't be that people are choosing companies' Facebook pages versus their corporate websites. This could be the case, but that really oversimplifies the situation and could be an incorrect (or at least incomplete) assumption.

Commenter: Amy Tobin

2011, November 18

To me the question is not WHERE corporations should steer customers, but WHERE ARE their customers already.