A study conducted by Northwestern professor Rich Gordon and Syndio Social CEO Zachary Johnson sought out to understand how sites, large and small, are connected on the Web. To get their answer they examined links between more than 300 Chicago based news sites and looked at analytics data and referral sources for 100 of them.
The findings were recently published [PDF] and, while meaty at times, it provides a great read. There are a number of important takeaways here for small business owners and some big lessons about why social media may be critical to the success of your SMB site.
Some of the highlights from the study:
1. Smaller Sites Rely on Traffic From the Local Ecosystem More Than Larger Sites
Part of what the study sought to accomplish was to understand how sites fit into the larger local ecosystem of the Web. For example, do sites owned and operated by the same organization tend to link to one another more than they do outsider sites? If yes, what percentage of their traffic do those links make up?
Perhaps not surprisingly, the data shows that the share of traffic that smaller sites receive from other ecosystem sites (related niche sites) is more than 11 times as great as that of larger sites. Obviously this is partly due to larger sites seeing a greater number of traffic overall, but it also stresses how important it is for SMBs to become part of their local community. If you want to grow an audience in your town, you need to become part of that town’s online ecosystem and to contribute.
For small business owners, this means partnering with other local companies when you can to form those relationships, looking for opportunities to get involved in your community, and forming links (relationship links, not Web links) between you and the organizations around you. Host events together, throw a block party – just let people know you exist and your part of the community.
2. Social Media Sites, Especially Facebook, are Critical for Driving Traffic
Here’s a data point to take to your boss: According to the study, Facebook and Twitter drive more than half of all referred visits for small business sites, three times the percentage of larger sites. Facebook, specifically, was shown to be extremely important to smaller sites.
If you’re a small business owner still weighing whether or not you should get involved in social media, that’s huge. Again, it’s also a testament to the power of getting involved in your local community, online and off. If you’re taking the time to engage people on Facebook and to create content that is valuable and relevant to their needs, you have a great opportunity to significantly increase the traffic to your Web site, even more than a site much larger than you.
As a SMB, if you’ve ever taken a look at your Web analytics, you’ve probably already noticed that social sites like Facebook, Twitter and Yelp are your top referrers. That’s not an accident.
3. To Get Links and Traffic, You Have to Drive Links and Traffic
Link out! Send traffic to other websites. Don’t try and trap everyone on your own site, in fear they may not come back to visit you again. Those of us who spend time in the SEO world, have long known this to be true, but it’s something small business owners still struggle with. However, the data shows, the more you link to other sites, the more they’re inclined to link to you. It all goes back to building those all-important relationships. You have to give it to get it. And the smaller and niche you, the more this applies.
The takeaways here for small business owners are clear:
- Share local content.
- Emphasise social media.
- Send traffic and links to others in your online community.
No business is an island. To be successful you need to be social and support those around you.
If you have time, I recommend reading the complete Linking Audiences to News II [PDF] survey. It’s one of the most interesting reads I’ve caught in helping us all understand the different roles we all play in the Web ecosystem.