On-site Social Optimization
is the process of actively driving social participation by users on
your site. This includes the number of users who register using a
social network identity, the amount of content and activity shared
to social networks, and the amount of time spent engaging with site
content together with an existing network of friends. The better
you optimize your site, the more your users, your users’ friends –
even the search engines – discover you and grow your business.
A socially optimized website can increase site traffic from social
networks, drive sales revenue, improve search engine rankings,
increase brand or product awareness, and reduce customer
acquisition costs. In short, the decision is no longer about
whether to socialize your site—it’s how to do it in a way that fits
your business strategy, and achieves your ROI goals.
An effective On-site Social Optimization strategy consists of three
key components: Social Connectivity, the Connected Experience and
Social Analytics. Let’s look at each one and how it can support
your business objectives.
Step One: Adding Social Connectivity
The first step in developing and implementing a strategy is to
connect your site to the social web in a way that maximizes the
number of potential participants. Fortunately, the major social
networks see the value in this as well and have provided mechanisms
enabling websites to integrate with them directly. These APIs are
sets of routines or data structures that allow websites to get
information from, and send data to, each social network.
Facebook Connect was one of the first APIs offered by a major
social network to third party websites, and it continues to be the
most prominent service as well as a cornerstone of any serious
connectivity strategy. But don’t miss an opportunity by connecting
your site only to Facebook; Twitter, LinkedIn, Yahoo, MySpace and
Google, among others, also provide APIs, enabling online businesses
to connect site users to whichever social network those users
Giving your users a wide range of social identity choices is
good business. Research has shown that providing multiple social
network connection options increases the number of participating
users, as compared with a single option, and that Facebook
typically comprises approximately 50% of connections1.
The chart below illustrates the mix of connections on PGA.com for
the live chat experience it offered to fans as part of the webcast
of the PGA tour championship in September 2009.
While Facebook Connect and the other popular networks provide
powerful connectivity options for online business, working with
them does pose a few challenges:
• Diverse APIs make implementation complicated: Each API has
different integration requirements and different core features. For
example, even though the Twitter and Yahoo APIs are based on OAuth,
implementation for each is significantly different and requires new
work for site developers. Sites that want to integrate multiple
social APIs may need additional expertise and resources.
• Managing updates to APIs is time-consuming: API providers,
including Facebook, make changes frequently, requiring sites using
these APIs to constantly maintain and make updates to their code
and website design each time a new version is released, typically
• New APIs continue to emerge, compounding complexity: As
additional social networks and identity providers open up, sites
who want to give users choice will need to integrate them. Sites
need ongoing technical support to integrate and manage new APIs.
For example, Yahoo made its APIs available in early 2009, LinkedIn
in late 2009. Twitter announced their first API in early 2009 and a
more feature-rich version in early 2010.
• API providers do not offer dedicated support: API providers only
offer self-service support. While there are several resources for
developers on each social networking site’s developers’ wiki, there
are no in-person support services available. As a result, companies
seeking to adopt without the help of a trusted partner may be left
in a precarious position if things go awry.
Step Two: Enhancing the “Connected Experience”
Connecting your site to the social web is just the beginning.
Unlike traditional web marketing, social interaction offers a
unique twist: you must optimize the “Connected Experience” by
designing and refining your user experience for the maximum amount
of socially-connected participation. This means enabling your users
to register with a social network identity, to share your content
with their social networks, and to interact with friends while on
To drive quality referral traffic from social networks, site owners
should focus on optimizing the quality and quantity of content and
activity shared by users. Best practices for sharing include:
• Keep users on your site for the entire sharing process. The
highest-performing sites open a sharing dialog box right on the
page with the content the user wishes to share. The new APIs create
a pipeline that provides permission to share content without
leaving the site. Contrast this with the first-generation sharing
technologies such as AddThis or ShareThis which open a new browser
window or tab, taking the user off of your page. This decreases
sharing conversion rates and risks the user not returning to your
• Build sharing into the overall user activity flow. Just as
removing unnecessary clicks is a critical part of any website
optimization, removing clicks from the sharing process wherever
possible increases the amount of completed shares. For example, a
site should prompt users to share with friends after they leave a
comment or take a poll, making it a seamless part of the activity
stream, rather than expecting users to click a separate “share”
button. This increases the likelihood that consumers will share
your website with their friends on social networks.
• Allow users to sign-in with social network identities. Too often
sites have separate and unrelated systems for registration,
sharing, commenting and other social features. If you know who a
user is, and what social network that person prefers, don’t make
them authenticate through a separate system to share. Not only is
it a bad user experience, but you lose important history for your
users. Allowing users to sign-in with existing identities also
increases registration conversion rates.
• Make it easy for users to simultaneously share to multiple
networks. While providing users with choice drives greater
participation, enabling them to simultaneously share with friends
on multiple networks can exponentially increase the audience
potential for your site’s content.
Step Three: Improve your efforts through advanced social
Just as businesses know the value of optimizing the user experience
with Omniture, Webtrends and other analytics tools, the same
applies to social web analytics. Businesses need to be able to test
and measure changes in connected user activity by social network,
and make changes based on that actionable data.
Some of the key performance metrics that sites should be tracking
for socially referred traffic include changes in:
• Monthly and yearly growth in traffic referred by social networks
overall, and by specific social site
• Percent mix of referral traffic by users sharing content from the
website, as differentiated from marketing efforts originating on
• Average number of completed shares (messages, status updates) per
connected user, by social network
• Average number of referred visits per shared item, and by
referring social site
• Interaction and engagement with social features
• The specific site content and activities which drive the highest
volume of sharing activity
These metrics, together with those measuring social registration
and engagement, can help site owners maximize social participation
and the return on investment in their social site experience.
2 Gigya customer data, Q4