Have you ever went on to your Google Analytics and seen a big spike in traffic? Like every good marketer you probably commenced with your happy dance before embarking on a mission to find out how exactly that happened, and more importantly; how to do it again.


Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and all the other social networks typically are unveiled as the source. All it takes is 1 share on social media from someone with influence to reach many and grow your referral traffic.

Referrals have always been a goal of effective marketing strategies. Companies that can build relationships with their customers that foster referral generation are well positioned to increase their brand exposure and expand their business with minimal effort.

This works as free publicity to help to spread the word about your products and content – a beneficial strategy that offers minimal investment and greater returns on your marketing budget.

The Importance of Referral Traffic

Ideally, every user who visits your website is there to engage with your brand, read your content, and make a purchase. But this is not always the case. Some users come to your site by accident and others only stay to view a page for a few seconds before bouncing. This is why the number of website visitors can be a very deceiving statistic.

Referral traffic is different. It is a more desired type of traffic because users who visit your site based on a referral, especially through social sharing, are already interested in what you have to offer. In this sense, referral traffic acts as a pseudo-lead qualifier – making it an important factor in your brand’s online marketing success.

With Google regularly making changes to its search algorithm, you can’t rely solely on organic search traffic. If your website is impacted by updates to the algorithm, it could significantly impact your traffic volume and search ranking. However, referral traffic remains constant, regardless of Google’s actions.

As outlined in Why Referral Traffic Is More Important than Visitors, “As any marketer will tell you: content is important. The content on your site determines your SEO, and therefore, your reach and readership. Referral traffic and social sharing allows your brand to reach audiences not usually obtained from organic traffic (i.e. search engines). This means niche markets and target audiences.”

Use Social Share Buttons to Drive Referral Traffic

To help drive traffic and increase referrals, social share buttons are popping up all over the place, and for good reason. We are seeing them on homepages, blogs and many other strategic locations online.

“Regardless of company size, marketing strategy, or target market, businesses are experiencing success using social share to make it easy and desirable for online users to share brand and product information in their social circles,” says Subhro Sen, in Social Share Excellence: Use Cases and Tips

Rakesh Soni adds to this point. In 4 Effective Ways to Boost Traffic by Adding Social Share Buttons, he states, “It is one of the most effective ways to drive referral traffic without spending a penny working as a completely organic growth strategy.”

Where should you use social sharing buttons? Soni suggests the following four strategies:

  1. Add buttons to all of your content, including blog posts, e-books, images, and videos
  2. Include buttons on all landing pages
  3. Utilize in email campaigns
  4. Include for registered website users in the admin section

It’s also important to make social sharing buttons part of your marketing strategy for:

  • Press releases
  • Infographics
  • Email signatures
  • Guest blogging and feature articles
  • Company bios and profiles online
  • Landing pages
  • Product pages

Placement of Social Share Buttons Matter

From a user experience perspective, it’s important to make using social share buttons as easy as possible. You also need to make them visible and an intuitive part of a user’s experience with your content.

There are 4 main location options when placing your social share buttons online:

  1. At the bottom of the content page (blog, landing page, etc.)
  2. Left side of the content that moves when the page is scrolled – ensuring an opportunity to share is always readily available
  3. Top right side of the page, near the title of a post
  4. Embedded directly into your content – “Click to Tweet” buttons within the body of content are growing in popularity

According to usability expert, Jacob Nielson, in a study that he conducted in 2006, users tend to read web pages using an F-shaped pattern, as identified, hence the reason to include social share buttons on the left side and top right section of a page.


How to Get the Most Out of Your Social Sharing Efforts

  • Display social buttons prominently: Make sure your social share buttons are prominent. They need start out and be visible as soon as a user visits a page.
  • Know the difference between share and follow buttons: People often get these confused, and it could impact your referral rates through social media. Follow buttons promote your business presence. Social share buttons make it easy for website visitors and content readers to share your content through their social networks.
  • Ask users to share your content: One really simple, but often overlooked, part of using social sharing buttons is asking users to use them. At the end of an article, blog post or page, always ask your users to share your content. Also encourage sharing in calls to action.
  • Less is more: Use buttons for the social media sites that provide you with the most referral traffic. Refrain from having too many buttons – it could give your page a cluttered look and could impact page load times.

Which Social Media Websites Refer the Most Traffic?

Focusing your time and effort on social networks that generate the most referral traffic is the key to increasing quality visitors to your website. As most would expect, Facebook is leading the way when it comes to referral traffic through social sharing.

According to Marketing Land, “Facebook accounted for 22.36% of total referral traffic to publishers in the Shareaholic network in September. That’s four times more than second-place Pinterest (5.52%) and three times more than Pinterest and the next six networks — Twitter, StumbleUpon, Reddit, Google+, YouTube and LinkedIn — combined.”

Here is the data for Q3 2014:


Here is the data for social share percentage from September 2013-2014:


A poll conducted with the 50 most popular websites in the world by webaholic.co also finds that Facebook, as well as Twitter, are the most widely used social sharing buttons:


A third study was also conducted by TrackMaven, exploring which social media websites are used most to share blog posts. Once again, Facebook and Twitter come out on top:


What does all this data tell us when it comes to driving referral traffic using social sharing?

Stick with the big guys. Focus your efforts on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Google+ if you want to maximize the return on your investment in this marketing strategy.

While niche social media platforms may work for some companies, it will not be worth your while for most. The key is to identify where your traffic is coming from and focus on a social referral strategy based on that platform.

Subhro Sen, in Social Share Excellence: Use Cases and Tips provides a great summary of how social referral traffic can benefit your business:

“Whether your online presence takes the form of an eCommerce site, a mobile app, or a blog, social sharing can help your reach expand and your business grow. Both individuals and businesses want to be able to make well informed purchase decisions and share products and information that helps or excites them. Social share helps them to do so by making it easy for online users to gather advice from their social networks and spread the word about your brand name, products and content; all of which will help your business the same way it helps those companies featured in use cases discussed.”

To Conclude

The basis of this blog is that social sharing converts your users into brand ambassadors and when done right, it is an effective strategy to help boost referral traffic rates.

It is a strategy that can be used by any company, with any type of content, and on any social media platform. The key is to focus your social efforts on the networks that will provide you with the greatest return.