How to Increase Traffic with Social A/B Testing

How long has it been since you considered the placement of your social buttons? Do you know if longer or shorter tweets convert better? What phrases in your profile attract the most followers? When is the best time to share to reach the most people?

If you’re not considering these factors (and they are factors, believe me), you may be selling yourself short socially. If you want to find the maximum amount of followers, increase clickthrough rates on your shares, attract the maximum amount of traffic via social shares and build a tighter network of influencers, you’ve got to optimize your public face.

Social media is becoming an increasingly important factor in site optimization and traffic generation. Whether you’re engaging in social media to take advantage of Google’s growing interest in social signals as ranking factors or you want to establish a presence for your business to engage with customers, optimizing your social presence is quickly becoming an essential part of a successful site strategy.

Social sharing helps attract more visitors to your site, and the social signals the search engines receive act as a sort of social proof to your visitors that your product is trustworthy; if someone likes your site or your product, their friends can see those likes, +1s and tweets in Google’s results and in their various social networks.

socialized search results

Let’s lay some groundwork first. Social optimization is not as foreign a concept as it may seem on the surface, it just has to be treated like something many of us have already done: landing page optimization and conversion rate optimization.

So how do we test and optimize our social face? First, we need to change our perspective on a few key aspects of social:

The Four Cardinal Rules of Social Optimization

  1. Social buttons should be viewed as call to action buttons, and just as important as getting a user to click a buy button.
  2. A social profile is a landing page.
  3. Sharing content IS content. Optimizing your content doesn’t stop when it’s published, you’ve got to make sure the copy associated with what your sharing works too.
  4. As with all testing, you need significant traffic numbers to quantify significant results. Ideally, your testing pages should see a total of 1,000 visitors over the testing period to make any informed conclusion.

Three Phases of Social Optimization

So let’s look at each of these in a little more depth. First, we’ll talk about how we can optimize our social presence on the site itself, then we’ll take a look at how to perfect our profile pages and, finally, we’ll investigate how we can optimize the actual sharing we do.

1. Onsite Optimization – Social Buttons are CTA Buttons

These are all conversion buttons

Why do it?

Why should you care about where your social buttons show up? For the same reason you care where you place your buy button on your landing pages; optimal button placement leads to higher conversions, whether the conversion in question is a fresh share of your blog content or product page, or a new Facebook Fan or LinkedIn group member.

In this sense, social buttons need to be viewed as calls to action. Find places on your pages that are the most visible and drop your social buttons there. What works best for your readers? Scrolling sidebar? Above and below the posts? All of the social buttons or just a select few? Test it and find out.

How to do it:

There are several ways to go about testing your social button placement. I’ll suggest a few here for you to start with, but feel free to expand and investigate alternate methods. If you find any good ones, let me know in the comments!

  • Use heat/click maps to see where your visitors click. Use a service like CrazyEgg to see where your visitors are lingering on a page and then place your social buttons accordingly. Once you’ve got your buttons in a spot that you think will convert well, run another click map to make sure you’re getting the focus on those buttons!
  • Just because the new button placement worked on a blog post doesn’t mean that it will work on a product page. Test your button placement and track the social action over a number of new posts and pages to see which works best.
  • Get creative with your social button placement. If you find that it converts best in the top-left corner, try putting the buttons in a scrolling sidebar. Or, if above/below the posts works best, make it a scrolling footer or header. Do users click social buttons at the bottom of posts rather than the top? Have your buttons pop up in a dynamic window once they scroll past a certain point in the post.
  • As always, only put social buttons where they make sense; you don’t want to pull people away from the final steps in your checkout process so they can look at your Facebook page. Buttons that allow you to share should be placed in locations that will attract more visitors: product pages, blog posts, the homepage, testimonial pages, etc. As a general rule, the further down the marketing funnel you go (IE: the closer you are to a conversion), the less you want to include social buttons.

While you’re testing your button placement, be sure you’re adhering to basic A/B testing practices. Don’t put too many social buttons on your site. For me, I’ve found that placing three key sharing locations works best for me. It’s like the holy trinity of social sharing.

highlighted social signals image

But don’t take my experience as law; test your site and see which works best for you. If you overload your page with social buttons, your conversion rate will drop significantly. As a general rule, don’t put social buttons on your page for networks that you yourself are not active in. If someone shares your article on Orkut, you’ll never know and you won’t be able to engage with them.

2. Profile Optimization – Your Profile is a Landing Page

Why do it?

Your profile is how people find you. Several social tools making their way onto the scene are mining your profile to find topics you’re influential on, for example, Followerwonk. Examples of people who have increased their fans or followers abound. Rand Fishkin, well-known co-founder of SEOmoz, increased his Twitter follower accrual rate by just changing his profile picture.

rand fishkin profile change

Beyond the profile picture, your bio and description are critical to attracting new fans and followers. Whether it’s your Twitter bio, your Facebook fan page description, or your LinkedIn group’s description, you’ve got to make sure your description attracts new people. Optimizing your profile increases the likelihood that you show up higher in the search engines for the keyword you’re targeting (as should be obvious for anyone working in SEO). If your potential follower finds you through Twitter’s proprietary search engine or a fan runs a basic Google search to find sites in your niche, having a profile that is optimized for the correct keywords will help you show up higher in the results. Easily identifiable interests in your profile attract targeted followers.

How to do it:

First, before you can gather any quantifiable results, you’ve got to establish a baseline. Monitor your profile’s performance for at least two weeks and tally your follower/fan/member accrual rate. Now try modifying your profile (changing logo, profile pic, etc). Do keyword research, just like you would for any other piece of content you’re trying to promote on the web. Monitor your accrual rate for another two weeks. Repeat ad nauseum.

A sure way to alienate potential followers or fans is to stuff your bio full of strong and identifiable keywords. Limit yourself to two or three that describe what you do, what you share on, and what they can expect to see. Steer clear of overused phrases like “[subject] ninja/guru/expert” in your bio. Tell your fans what you do and allow them to decide how good you are at it. This may be more subjective than the other points here but hey, test it and see what works best for you!

3. Sharing Optimization – Sharing Content IS Content

Why do it?

Knowing when to say something is as important as knowing what to say. Sharing your best content when none of your followers are online to see it is just as useless as throwing spam to a crowd of followers. Using tools that identify when your followers are most commonly online and optimizing the time at which you share your content can increase conversion, reshare and retweet rates.

How to do it:

There are several tools out in the wide world of social analytics that can help you identify when to share to get the most impressions and reshares/retweets. Use tools like Tweriod and Crowdbooster to find out when your followers are online and tweet accordingly. You can schedule updates via apps like Timely and Buffer. If all else fails, you can simply post an update at the right time (crazy, right?).

For other metrics, like how well a share converts based on length of the update/share, employ some good, old-fashioned Excel data tracking. Rand Fishkin (again) found that, for him, shorter updates yielded higher clickthrough rates. What works best for you?

While you’re testing, though, be sure you don’t spam to test conversion rates. There’s no quicker way to lose followers and fans than to blast the link over and over in different formats. In the linked page above, a survey found that 66% of Twitter users would unfollow someone for spam sharing, and 58% would unfollow someone if they appeared automated. Space it out, get some friends to tweet variations of your message and see which does best. Automating your profile will also get people to block/unfollow you, so don’t completely automate your sharing.

In summary, use this list to start optimizing your social media campaigns:

  • Find the most-viewed areas on your site with a heatmap (CrazyEgg).
  • Use A/B testing to identify optimal social button placements (KISSmetrics, Optimizely).
  • Identify when your followers/fans are online (Tweriod, Timely).
  • Schedule your updates or share manually at appropriate times (Crowdbooster, Buffer).

Good luck and happy sharing! Did these points help? Are you already using some of these optimization tactics? Know of any I missed? Let me know in the comments!

About the Author: — Mitch Monsen is an entrepreneur with several years of experience creating optimized web content. He operates WhiteFireSEO, an SEO consulting company based out of northern Utah. He also blogs about SEO, internet marketing, social media marketing and entrepreneurship. For more, follow him on Twitter: @mmonsen7!

  1. Brian D. Hawkins Sep 07, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    Thanks Mitch, I appreciate that you not only said what is important and why, you actually explained what to do along with some tools to use. This type of article is hard to find; at least without a price tag. I know I have a lot of work to do to get the most from social media. Thank you.

    • Glad you liked it! Actionable points are important to me; all the info in the world won’t benefit anyone if they don’t have a way to implement it.

      • Is there one on the page that individual blog posts appaer on? I don’t remember putting one in yet, but could have missed it!There’s definitely older/newer links on the overall blog frontpage though, where the list of blog posts appaer.

    • If time is money you’ve made me a waelither woman.

  2. For an ecommerce site, how do you ensure that share button placement isn’t going to cannibalize sales (i.e. distract from the purchase call-to-action)? I’d be concerned that optimizing one would inherently hurt the other in the short term, and longer term benefits would be more difficult to track.

    • Really, it goes back to the basic theory of the article: test. If you toss some social buttons up too close to the conversion point and you see sales decrease, try removing the buttons that are closest to that point.

      As I mentioned earlier though, it’s best to thin out or remove social buttons altogether once you’re close to making a sale. You don’t want someone to share a lead gen form or jump to your Twitter profile mid-shopping cart.

  3. It is evident that A/B testing has sense when you have tons of traffic. And sometimes it is expensive to test – no positive ROI

    • You can do that on smaller amount of traffic and once you discover great conversion funnel, you can attract some money for scalability of your project.

  4. Mitch,

    This is a great article/post! More and more time/resources/research needs to be dedicated to social optimization.

    Our company, 3#Labs (http://threepoundlabs.com) is doing just this. We are building super smart technology to optimize your content sharing on social networks.

    Though we are trending towards a powerful open API, our technology can be seen demonstrated in our free consumer application http://Queued.At.

    Queued.At allows you to intelligently share content across MULTIPLE networks…and it’s dead simple. Our SmartShare Engine crunches a ton of variables and then picks the best day and time to share your content. We’re seeing 122% increase in engagement on content run through our SmartShare system.

    Lastly, and most importantly, our technology works like artificial intelligence; the more and more a user posts with our system, the smarter the algorithm gets on a user by user basis! Everyone is different and has a different audience…and our system knows that and optimizes around that.

    Check it out! We’d really love your feedback. We’re young and just starting, so more features and stuff is in the pipeline.

    All the best!

    Eric VanderSchaaf
    @ericvs

  5. Social media follows are important, but I suspect for many online businesses, having visitors click the buy now button is much more valuable.

  6. Nice guide for the starters. I was thinking about what to do with social networking after launching my website. I will go ahead with this guide.

  7. I thoroughly enjoyed this article, it also gives me fuel for a company photo shoot.

  8. Good sharing!!!!!!!

  9. What a terrific article. I agree – definitely helpful to continue to optimize using A/B tests. I did my own experiment when I first joined Twitter – and found that using my picture increased followers tremendously (versus a picture icon)… but I hadn’t gone beyond that to use different pictures! I also love the suggestion of scrolling buttons once you find an optimal placement. Great resources too. Thanks so much!

  10. It is always a delight to feel what I believe – that information is inspiration. Thanks for sharing.

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