Which Channel Has the Highest Inbound Marketing Mojo?

Which Channel Has the Highest Inbound Marketing Mojo?

By John McTigueJan 24 /2012

I hate conventional wisdom. That's why I attack it more often than Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich attack each other. Conventional wisdom in 2012 says that organic search and social media are the most prolific and efficient sources for inbound traffic and leads. Our data says otherwise. Referrals from authoritative sources, such as syndicated blogs, started to take over in late 2011, and the trend is continuing this year. Here's what I think is going on.

The Data Doesn't Lie

Unlike Presidential politics, interpreting raw data and trends leads to wisdom. If you look at our sources for inbound website traffic and leads over the past 2 years, there are some unmistakable trends (see charts below). First, while our inbound marketing efforts, especially blog writing and lead generation content, have yielded steady gains in traffic and leads, breaking down the data into discrete sources offers some surprises.

mojo organic seo visits

Organic Search

While organic search traffic is increasing steadily, lead conversion rates have been going down since the summer of 2011. We haven't changed our content or SEO keyword strategy over that period of time. In fact, if anything we are more focused on content and keywords that should convert very nicely into leads.

mojo social media visits

Social Media

We had a nice increase in social media traffic in late 2011, but lead conversion rates have decreased over the same period, although they appear to be back on the rise lately. Having once been a dominant player in our overall traffic and leads, social media appears to be losing ground to other sources, especially referrals. Our social media reach and engagement has increased substantially over the past two years, so it's not that we aren't trying...

mojo referalls visits


Wow! We appear to have struck gold with incoming traffic and leads from relevant content syndication sources, such as business2community.com and socialmediatoday.com. While referral traffic is still less than either organic search or social media, it is growing rapidly, and referrals are becoming our dominant source of inbound leads at nearly 30%. Our lead conversion rates for referal traffic are about twice as high as any other source.

mojo leads

Let's interpret some of these trends.

  • We may have some work to do on our SEO strategy. We're still getting good traffic, but what kind of traffic? Our recent lead generation content is apparently not as appealing to this group. It could be that as we shift our content towards more mid-funnel topics, with fewer how-to's and more what-we-do's, we are alienating some of our core followers who find us via searches for general topics, such as SEO or web design. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Our strategy is evolving towards capturing more qualified sales leads, even at the expense of overall traffic.
  • We may be seeing a shift in social media in general. I think our target market (marketing people) is getting saturated with too much marketing content that's available across the social media sphere. We may have reached a peak in peoples' attention spans on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn - especially when it comes to business topics. Maybe Google+ pushed us over the edge. I'm feeling that myself - getting a bit bored with the same recycled stuff that comes out every day. We probably need to start rethinking how we use social media for B2B and B2C marketing.
  • Consumers in general are becoming far more prone to trust independent sources. Instead of coming to our website as a trusted source, they're going to the best known curators, where the best blogs are posted, the readership is higher and there are many more comments from independent sources. I think this trend is showing up dramatically in our referral traffic and leads. Because people find our blogs on industry leading syndication sites, they are far more likely to read them, add comments and follow through to our website for more information. The really good news is that we have already established a level of authority and trust by virtue of being "selected" - which leads to higher lead conversion rates for referral visitors.

Rethinking Our Strategy

Observing the raw data and trends is causing us to rethink our inbound marketing strategy in 2012. We are focusing more on high quality content designed to attract high quality leads. We are leveraging our visibility in syndicated blogs as much as possible and seeking new curation sources. If our traffic starts to tail off, so be it, but we think it will remain high as we expand our list of referral sources. We are rethinking SEO too, looking for more relevant keyword search results, even if they fall on pages 2-10 of the Google SERP's. We will stay in social media, but we will adapt to the trends and spend more time listening and engaging and less time publishing. We'll let you know how it goes as the year progresses.

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The Author

John McTigue

With over 30 years of business and marketing experience, John loves to blog about ideas and trends that challenge inbound marketers and sales and marketing executives. John has a unique way of blending truth with sarcasm and passion with wit. You can connect with John via LinkedIn and Twitter.