Organic Search Leads Traffic, Conversions -- But Trails In Budgets, Mindshare

If a marketer from Mars landed on earth today, read through the last 12 months of tech news, and was asked to come to a conclusion about the largest drivers of inbound traffic to web sites based on the frequency of coverage, his answer would probably contain the words "Pinterest," "Twitter," and "Facebook," and organic search would not even be on his radar.

However, marketers are not from Mars, and are supposed to care about “data.” They are highly familiar with the statistics that point to search's place at the top of the purchase funnel -- such as Marketing Sherpa’s, which states 81% of online adults use search engines to research products.  So why has the media been so successful in distracting marketers from the data-driven, core marketing tactics that drive the lion's share of traffic?

An overwhelming example of this was a recent TechCrunch article, “Pinterest Overtakes Twitter on Referring Traffic.”  Reading this headline of the post, you may be left thinking you need to shift serious online marketing effort to Pinterest.  I have no doubt many marketers forwarded this to their teams asking “Should we be doing more on Pinterest?”

What was not mentioned, however, was the glaring discrepancy between the traffic Pinterest is driving, even at its current growth rates, and what tried-and-true channels such as organic search continue to generate .  Using a sample size of 270 million visits, Pinterest is now 1.05% of all visits, beating Twitter at less than 1% (.82%) of all visits.  Google’s organic traffic is nearly half (48.81%) of all visits – almost 50x Pinterest’s traffic, and 5x more then all social sites combined.  In our example, the marketing VP wants to know when his team is going to ramp up their Pinterest strategy -- yet he probably does not have a comprehensive SEO strategy, has not spent a lot of time thinking about how his company can build a competency in SEO, and is spending valuable thinking time about the less-than-1% of Pinterest traffic potential. 

It seems short-sided to focus on the latest hype when a major opportunity is in front of us -- and by fracturing our focus, we  put our core channels at risk (remember when marketers were going crazy over URL shorteners?).

It may not be surprising for longtime online marketers to be reminded that Google organic search is the largest driver of online traffic. However, being the biggest driver of traffic is not enough for us to draw conclusions about its value relative to other channels as a driver of leads. Marketers also want conversions. A recent Hubspot study shows:

  • SEO Has the Best Lead-to-Customer Rate of All Inbound Marketing Channels:  The highest percentage of leads (15%)  end up as customers from SEO, a higher conversion percentage than both paid search and social media.
  • SEO Increasingly Important to Marketers As a Conversion Generator:  More than half (52%) of marketers say SEO has become increasingly important as a source of leads over the last six months. Interestingly, fully one quarter of respondents state PPC has become less important to them over the last six months – this may be because it is moving closer to being on auto-pilot, versus something they can throw more strategy at to make a huge impact.

Organic search is not the inbound channel that gets the most ink in media coverage, but the latest data with a non-trivial sample size tells us it remains, by far, the largest driver of inbound Web traffic.  Organic search is also the best channel for converting customers. It has the best lead-to-customer close percentage of all inbound channels.


There is little question that there is value for online marketers in leveraging hot trends that have the potential to drive traffic and create buzz for their online property. But acquisition marketing is supposed to be data-driven, not hype-driven; for many marketers in the trenches, this might mean continually pulling out data like the above when an excited executive wants to divert substantial resources and budget to the latest new thing.

Data is not just for campaign optimization. Use it to set your priorities.

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1 comment about "Organic Search Leads Traffic, Conversions -- But Trails In Budgets, Mindshare".
  1. Don Korolyk from GoMobile , April 20, 2012 at 3:52 p.m.
    Good article. You mentioned that 15% of all leads turn in to customers. Do you know what the cost was to get those leads? It would be interesting to see what the ROI is on those leads. The conversions seem really good, but at what cost...Does one lead cost $10 or $100? In highly competitive markets it is extremely difficult to get first page or top rankings...Web sites in the #1, 2 and 3 spots will get the bulk of the clicks, while the others get what is left over. I was surprised to hear that PPC is becoming less important. With SEO becoming more challenging and Google constantly changing their algorithm, PPC seems like the only guaranteed way to get to the top of the listings. SEO as a long term strategy makes sense, however I'd like to see what the real ROI is on those efforts...those numbers seem to be illusive. Again interesting article...