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It seems like new social media channels are popping up every year. Some gain some traction and take off like a wildfire, while others fizzle out and die.
Each of these channels has its own way of allowing users to interact with each other, and some can even be leveraged by businesses to drive traffic to their sites.
In fact, many blogs get the majority of their traffic from social media channels, and I’m not talking about a trickle of traffic. When done the right away, social media channels can send tens of thousands or more visitors to a site each month.
With that being said, do you need to leverage social media channels to grow a successful niche site, or can you simply focus on organic search to drive traffic instead?
In this post, I’ll cover the pros and cons of creating social media accounts for your niche site and let you know what we’ve discovered while growing four successful sites.
How Social Media Can Benefit Your Niche Site
As I mentioned above, there are many large niche sites out there that get the majority of their traffic from social media alone. That should tell you that there’s a lot of potential if you can figure out how to leverage your social media profiles.
Get Initial Visitors More Quickly
As I outlined in an earlier post about the importance of being patient, growing organic search traffic takes time, a lot of time. I’m talking about 9-12 months, sometimes longer, before you start seeing any significant traffic coming to your site.
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That’s one area where social media traffic differs significantly. You can start a Pinterest account and start getting some traction within a few weeks to a few months.
The same goes for Facebook, although that has gotten more and more difficult over the last several years.
Regardless, posts on social media can get eyeballs on them relatively quickly, and if something gets shared a few times, you could see a trickle of traffic coming to your site pretty early in the process.
And that brings me to the next benefit of using social media…
Benefit from Virality
Social media in general has a viral nature to it. Because most of these networks are built around finding and sharing content, if something gets shared a handful of times, it can get in front of a lot of people quickly.
This means you could post something on social media and get it in front of thousands of people in a matter of days if it happens to strike just the right note with your audience.
We’ve had this happen many times on Pinterest with a couple of our accounts. We’d notice a huge spike in traffic in a single day, sometimes for multiple days. When checking the analytics, we’d see that it all came from one pin that just happened to go viral.
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This viral traffic can have a somewhat lasting impact as well. If you use social share icons on your posts and get a post to go viral, those share numbers will help to improve the trust factor when someone visits that post.
Grow Your Brand
While the traffic benefits that I mentioned above are definitely nice, this is the most important one in my eyes. Whenever we create a new site, our goal is to create a brand.
By posting on various social media channels, whether it’s Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, or the numerous others out there now, you’re improving the visibility of your site across the web.
By putting content out across several difference platforms, you’ll give your visitors the impression that you’re much larger than you might actually be. This can help to gain the trust of your visitors, which will lead to better user engagement metrics and higher rankings.
It’s also thought that Google factors in your social media presence to some extent, which again could help you rank faster in organic search. You’ll also gain some backlinks from those social accounts, and while they might not be strong backlinks, they’ll likely still help to improve your site’s authority.
The Drawbacks of Managing Social Media Accounts
While there are clearly some major advantages to using social media for your niche site, that’s not to say there aren’t any drawbacks. In fact, there are some major drawbacks to consider.
It Takes Time
If your goal is to create a passive income site, the last thing you want to do is to create and manage various social media accounts. Social media can be a huge time drain, and it only gets worse as you gain more traction.
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Posting content to social media takes plenty of time on its own, but that’s not the only time-suck you have to worry about. If you truly want to grow your social media audiences, you’ll need to be diligent about engaging with your followers on each platform.
Engaging with you audience means answering comments, commenting on other people’s posts, sharing posts, etc. And as your accounts get larger, this will take more and more of your time.
While that might sound bad enough, the real drawback when it comes to time is the time this takes away from focusing on growing your niche site. How are you supposed to create content for your niche site when you’re spending all of your time answering comments on Facebook?
Posts Tend to Have a Short Lifespan
Another drawback to consider with social media is that most posts will have a relatively short lifespan. When you post an article on an evergreen topic on your site, you can expect it to bring traffic for years. On some social media channels, it might bring traffic for days.
Again, if your goal is to create a passive income stream, the last thing you want to do is to publish something that has a lifespan of only a few days. Your time would be much better spent focusing on creating content for your site instead.
That’s not to say there aren’t some exceptions. Pinterest is one social media platform where your pins can bring traffic to your site for years, just like the posts on your site.
Social media is very volatile by nature. As I mentioned earlier, it’s not uncommon for a post on social media to gain some viral traction, which means a nice traffic surge for you.
However, those traffic surges don’t typically last long. Sometimes, they’ll last for a few days. Other times, they’ll last for a week. You definitely can’t count on that viral traffic being there when you wake up tomorrow.
Outside of viral posts, the networks themselves have proven to be very volatile. It used to be quite easy to drive a lot of traffic to your site from Facebook, but seemingly overnight, they changed their algorithm and put on the brakes.
It doesn’t do Facebook much good to send traffic away from their platform, so it’s not surprising that they made some changes that effectively keep people on Facebook instead of going off to a random blog.
Pinterest seems to be going down the same path as we speak. Over the last year, they’ve released several algorithm updates that have led to a significant decrease in the number of visitors leaving Pinterest to visit a blog.
Again, it doesn’t benefit these social media networks to send their visitors somewhere else, so they’re going to do everything they can to keep their visitors on their platform. This makes sense, and you really can’t blame them for it, but it’s something you have to keep in mind when considering whether or not you want to use these platforms.
What About YouTube?
So far, I haven’t mentioned YouTube. That’s because YouTube is a bit different from many of the other popular social networks.
While YouTube functions in many similar ways as the other networks with sharing and commenting, it’s also a search engine. You can type a search into the search bar at the top of YouTube, and it will return results in much the same way that you would expect with Google Search.
This means it’s not quite as volatile or viral as some of the other networks. You can actually post a video about an evergreen topic, and people will continue to find it through the search feature on YouTube for years to come.
YouTube can also be monetized by running advertisements on your videos, once you’ve reached a certain threshold. This means you can make money on YouTube without sending traffic to your site.
Lastly, some content simply works better in video format. While you certainly can embed videos within the blog posts on your site, it typically makes much more sense to post them on a platform like YouTube, which will get them in front of a larger audience.
Our Current Strategy
Now that you have a good feel for the pros and cons of using social media to grow your niche site, you might be wondering what we do with our sites.
First, to give you some context, we currently have five sites. The fifth is relatively new, so I’ll leave it out of this discussion for now. At the time of this writing, each of our first four sites are bringing in over 250,000 pageviews per month.
With site #1, we have a Facebook account that we started when we first launched the site a little less than four years ago. That account has roughly 5,500 followers and brings in close to zero visitors per month.
For all four sites, we created Pinterest accounts pretty quickly after we launched. We’ve managed those accounts with a tool called Tailwind that helps to semi-automate the process of pinning.
Our four Pinterest accounts vary drastically in size, with the first two bringing in a combined 80,000 pageviews per month, and the last two bringing in less than 10,000 pageviews per month.
Basically, what we’ve seen with our Pinterest accounts is that they all grew rapidly early on, then about a year ago, Pinterest stopped organically showing new pins to users. Our first two accounts were already established by that point, but our two newest accounts were still growing.
For all four sites, they basically stopped in their tracks a year ago. The traffic we were getting from old pins is still coming to our sites, but we haven’t been able to gain any traction with new pins.
With that being said, we halted all Pinterest efforts several months ago, as it appears to be a sinking ship. Thankfully, we’re still getting the same amount of traffic from those older pins.
Lastly, we have YouTube channels for three of our sites. However, one of them only has two videos and another only has about 10. We’ve really only put effort into one channel, which has one video being posted per week.
That channel still has a ways to go to be monetized, and the traction has been slow. However, it’s something we’re going to put more focus on going forward (for all three channels).
What I Recommend
Hopefully by now, you can see that social media platforms do hold some value when it comes to growing a niche site. However, you should also be able to see that they’re not necessary for a successful site.
For the most part, our social media efforts have all been tied to Pinterest. We’ve now abandoned that ship and are focusing on Google Search and YouTube.
If time is not a factor, I absolutely think it makes sense to at least create accounts on several social media platforms and post occasionally. The idea behind this isn’t necessarily to get a ton of traffic, but to grow your online presence.
If you do gain some traction on one of these channels, that can help to reduce your risk by not having all of your eggs in one basket (Google Search). You might also get some initial traction that can help your site grow more quickly than it would otherwise.
If you have limited time, but can focus on at least one social media channel, I highly recommend going with YouTube. Since YouTube is a search engine and can be monetized independently, it doesn’t have the significant drawbacks of most other platforms.
With that being said, producing content for your niche site will always produce the best return, so if time is a limiting factor, always put your website first.
Social media has opened a lot of doors for many online publishers, some of which would not succeed any other way. When done right, you can leverage your accounts to grow your brand and even drive a ton of traffic over to your site.
On the flip side, managing those accounts can take a ton of time, and the volatile nature is a real concern. These are real drawbacks that need to be considered when crafting your overall strategy.
At the end of the day, you can absolutely grow a successful niche site without leveraging social media, and organic search has historically been the most consistent and reliable traffic source. However, if you want to grow more quickly and reduce your risk, it can make sense to manage at least a couple of social media profiles.