Can 100 million online shoppers be wrong?

If you’re thinking about investing much time or money in social media to generate sales, you might want to think again.

According to data tracked from 100 million online shopping experiences, traffic generated by paid search and email marketing absolutely clobbers traffic from social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

“Ecommerce Quarterly” is a study that analyzes a random sample of more than 100 million online shopping experiences from more than 150 ecommerce web sites. The results show that traffic from social media can’t hold a candle to traffic from paid search and email.

For the second quarter of 2012, the study shows that the average order amount from paid search traffic is $26.21 higher than traffic from social networks. And for email traffic, the average order amount is $18.53 higher than traffic from social networks.

I’ve been saying for a long time that social media has not yet proven to be a reliable or particularly valuable source of traffic.  Why do I say this?

It’s all about use

Understanding why traffic from social media underperforms isn’t difficult at all. It all boils down to use – and by that I mean how your prospects use each form of media.

Social media is used to share experiences through pictures, posts, witty sayings, entertaining videos, etc. So people are there for the experience, not to be marketed to. That isn’t to say that you can’t generate some traffic from social media. But the fact is, you have to jump through a series of hoops, many of which can be time consuming and frustrating, to generate any meaningful traffic from any of the social media sites.

Contrast this to how people use paid search and email. A significant percentage of search activity comes from people who specifically want to buy something. So your traffic generation efforts are directly matched to what the prospects wants.

The same goes for email marketing. While the percentage of people directly looking for what you’re offering is lower than search, people have been conditioned to expect to see advertising delivered by email. It can be a stand alone ad or an ad embedded in ezine or blog content.

Here again, you aren’t swimming upstream trying to force people to use these forms of marketing that contradict their primary reason for using them. So the amount of traffic you get will from these forms of traffic will always be far greater. And your conversions are naturally going to be more frequent and for a higher dollar value per order.

So what does this mean for your marketing?

First – as much as most people hate the hassle of using Google paid search, it’s still the grand daddy of paid search. Nothing else performs as well when it comes to paid search. So you should devote more time to making Google paid search work for your business. Bing is also performing well for a lot of my clients and has far fewer restrictions than Google. So it’s another form of paid search you should be testing.

Second – while email marketing can work very well, it’s expensive to test. You either have to rent email lists for stand alone mailings, pay for stand alone mailings in ezines and blogs, or place ads within ezines and blogs. All of which can be expensive.

So you only want to use email marketing once you’ve proven that your ads and conversions are working consistently by testing with less costly forms of marketing. In my experience, the two best forms of marketing for testing inexpensively are paid search and joint ventures.

Only after you’ve proven multiple times that your ads and conversion process work like a well oiled machine, should you start to use email marketing. But when your ads and conversion process do work, email marketing can be a gold mine.

Third – ditch social media marketing for now. It makes no sense to invest time and money into an underperforming marketing method. Sure, you’re going to be bombarded with promotions and editorial content that sing the praises of the social media marketing revolution. But don’t be fooled by all that. Pay attention to the studies based on real, unbiased data. If the data changes and social media does start to perform well for marketing, you can always jump in at that point.

One final observation. Have you noticed where you receive nearly all promotions for marketing with social media? Either in email promotions or articles or ads in ezines and blogs delivered by email! Enough said.

Am I nuts? Am I right on target?

 Feel free to let me know – or share your own experience with this topic – by leaving your comment below.

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9 Responses to Can 100 million online shoppers be wrong?

  1. Ellery says:

    I think you are right, Bob.

    Actually, when people are focusing more and more time on getting more “fans”, “follows” or “Pin”, I am not so sure if it is a correct way of doing marketing or not. But I don’t have enough research data to tell other people why it is so.

    And thanks for the blog post, I can now tell other people to pay more attention to search and email marketing.

    Thank you Bob.

  2. Alright, I give up. Where on the census site,,
    did you get these stats?

    • Bob Serling says:

      Hi Michael,

      Census site? As I mentioned in the post, the stats are from a study called Ecommerce Quarterly. It’s published by a firm called Monetate.


      Bob Serling

  3. Andy Iskandar says:

    “Have you noticed where you receive nearly all promotions for marketing with social media? Either in email promotions or articles or ads in ezines and blogs delivered by email!”

    That says it all Bob. Proof. Period.


  4. Jorge says:

    First I think you’re wrong about social media.
    I have not released a product yet–a CD in my case because I’m a pianist, but its proven to be a great source of traffic,
    way better then my email list as far as I have seen.
    Also, even if you don’t get clients you will get a lot of buzz. And word of mouth is the key in online marketing as it is in offline marketing.

    • Bob Serling says:

      Actually, it doesn’t matter much what I think about social media. I’m reporting on independent statistics tracked across 100 million online shopping experiences.

      Secondly, although I appreciate your comment, you misunderstood the point. The article was not talking about your personal email list, it was talking about the efficacy of renting email lists or placing ads in emailed ezines and blogs. Statistically, that form of marketing outperforms social by more than 100%.

      Finally, I’m not sure where you came up with the logic that word of mouth is the key to online or offline marketing. Any form of marketing is only valuable if it ultimately converts your prospects to paying customers. And since you have little or no control over word of mouth, which means you can drive far more traffic to your site with paid search, email blasts and some forms of free traffic, I’ll take those more reliable forms of marketing any day.

      Hope this helps.

      Bob Serling

  5. Ellery says:

    Hi Bob, I come up with another question and can you please give us your comment?

    In the statistics it said people buy through search or email, and not coming from social media. Now, can we say that social media triggers the interest of people and therefore they go to search/email for more information?

    In other words: social media causes people to search/check email and see if there is any offer, and buy from them.

    What do you think?

    • Bob Serling says:

      Unless there’s direct proof of that, it’s just a guess. And when it comes to marketing, guessing usually ends up costing you a lot of money :-).

      But think about your own search habits. I’d suggest that most people search out of a need for something – either information or a product they’re interested in. But I strongly doubt that most searches are the result of an interest that was stimulated by social media.

      I see people wanting social media to be more than what it is at this time. And I prefer to go with what’s proven rather than something that holds promise. If that promise is reach, then I’ll jump in full force with social media. But until that time, I’ll stick with what’s actually working now.

  6. jamal says:

    Thanks for the insight Bob. I was just thinking about this earlier today as I analysed the
    results of a local PPC campaign I did for a ladies boutique (it’s outside the U.S.).

    My results aren’t conclusive, yet given the limited budget I have on hand for future
    marketing tests the results give me some direction on next steps:
    1) Adwords PPC (content network only, not search) cost per click turned up to cost 60%
    less than facebook PPC [both targeting local users] – #0.33 for facebook, $0.20 for
    adwords. This meant I could generate way more clicks from adwords compared to
    facebook for the same amount of $$.
    2) I had traffic going to 3 versions of the landing page, all had a 1:29 length video up
    top followed by: short copy / medium copy / or long copy around the same offer.
    I suspect facebook users were there for the entertainment or quick info…
    ‘average time on page’ for long copy was 54 seconds from facebook vs. 4min 40seconds
    for adwords content traffic. It was a similar effect on the medium copy with adwords
    traffic sticking around 143 times longer.

    These are just initial data from a small campaign (I don’t have conversion data yet, that
    would be real interesting). While the ‘time on page’ isn’t a conversion, I’m just using it as
    indicator for what to test next.


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