Case Study: Social Media Campaigns Outperform Banner Ads for Driving Quality Web Traffic

Large brands like the ones we work with typically include social media marketing as part of a much larger marketing mix, as they should. They frequently run TV ads, banner ads, PR programs, pay-per-click, print ads, out of home, event marketing and more.

As budgets for social media marketing increase, one valid exercise in determining performance is to benchmark performance against other marketing activities in which you invest. We recently analyzed two campaigns we did last year for one of our clients (left unnamed here) and compared it to the performance of banner ads, an area where this client typically invests significant resources.

A few points to note here:

  • In each example, the banner ads and social campaigns were trying to drive quality web traffic to the same place. However, the two examples shown drove to different websites.
  • Neither campaign was attempting to drive to e-commerce. If they had, we would have been able to measure sales, which would have been nice.
  • To be as balanced as possible, each example pulled the first month of a campaign, even if the campaigns (ad or social) ran over several months.
  • In each case, we roughly calculated “net new visitors” by looking at visitors above the non-campaign site average, which was fairly consistent when no campaigns were activated.
  • This was a retrospective analysis, meaning we looked back after the fact to measure the performance, in part as a way to allocate resources for the next year.
  • The banner ad budget was part of a larger advertising budget and the social media campaign budget was part of a larger social media marketing budget.

Example One: Social Contest versus Banner Ads

In this first case, the client ran banner ads (produced and designed by another agency) to promote a specific product. Several months later, we ran a social contest that drove traffic to the same site while promoting the same product. Here are the results.

As you can see, in this campaign, social media marketing outperformed banner ads by 6.5x in terms of the cost per visitor. Not only that but by common metrics of visitor quality, the visitors coming to the site through the social campaign were more engaged than visitors from display ads. We’ve seen this “engagement multiplier” in many of our campaigns over the years.

Banner ads did have higher goal conversion rates (the goal in this case was to reach a key page on the site indicating high product interest), but social drove many more total goal conversions. This makes sense because banner ads are more direct in working to sell a product, while social campaigns have to engage users in an activity first.

Example Two: Banner Ads versus Social Game with Sweepstakes

Same client, different product, different campaign. This one involved banner ads again done by someone else, then a period of quiet, then a promotion Ignite Social Media did involving a social game in which you could also win prizes. As you’ll see, the investment in banner ads was a lot more significant than the investment in social media marketing (the social campaign budget was less than ¼ of the banner ad campaign budget), but the results favored the social media effort nearly 10 to 1.

In this case, the client was not tracking a particular goal page, so we don’t have the benefit of that metric for either traffic driver in this case. The social media campaign did have specific goals for those visitors (which we were fortunate enough to exceed), but since they were not the same goals as the banner ads, we did not attempt to compare them here. Both efforts were, however, designed to drive quality traffic to the product pages on this website.


In these two examples (the only two we’ve ever compared this way), we see some promising results:

  • Social media marketing campaigns outperformed banner ads roughly 6.5 to 10 times in terms of cost per visitor.
  • The quality of the visitors coming from social media marketing was also higher in terms of pages/visit, time on site and bounce rate.
  • Therefore, in these examples, it cost less money to drive more traffic via social media marketing, and that traffic behaved more optimally once it arrived.
  • When you can’t track online marketing all the way through to spend, one valid method of measuring return is to measure it relative to your other marketing investments.
  • When banner ads are meant to drive traffic (as opposed to branding), the relevant metric may be cost per visitor instead of cost per thousand (CPM) impressions.
  • Track more than online “buzz” such as mentions, fan growth, likes and comments. Be sure you’re asking your social media marketing to do some of the heavy lifting that your other digital marketing is expected to do.
  • Whenever possible, ensure that you have set up measureable goal conversion funnels that can demonstrate social media marketing’s contribution to meaningful business objectives.

This exercise was eye opening for both us and the client. Have you ever benchmarked your social campaign performance versus your banner ad performance, your pay-per-click performance or some other metric? How’d it work out for you?

Ignite Social Media