Is Social Media Driven Traffic Less Engaged?

Outbrain released a study in April on the referral sources driving traffic to content pages, in terms of percent of referrals and the quality of the referred traffic.   They describe the dataset as 100 million sessions from over 100 premium publishers using their services.

When traffic quality is assessed by page views per session, search is the strongest traffic source followed closely by content sites with portals and social networks trailing.   Looking at an inverse measure, bounce rate, social networks and portals show the most one-page-and-out behavior, followed by content sites and then search…the least bouncy.    Looking at hyper-engaged sessions, defined as 5 pages or more, content sites lead, followed by search with portals and social networks trailing.

So…it would seem that social-media driven traffic is less engaged than traffic from other sources.   But I think there’s more going on here than meets the eye, as I’ll note on the other side of these charts from the Outbrain report.

I don’t think this finding is really about loyalty.   It’s about how specifically each of these traffic sources drives users to the exact content within the site that’s of interest to them.

When people enter content pages through search they may be searching for the site per se, using search as a proxy for typing in the URL.   They’re likely to come through the front door of the site,  the home page.   Multiple pages per session through search may not indicate loyalty but rather a fumbling about trying to find the specific content on the site that’s of interest.   In contrast, when they come through social networks they are being directed to a very specific piece of content referred by a friend…they go directly there, read it and bounce away.

The site experience may, in fact, be superior for social networks even though the loyalty metric looks weak.   And it may be a desired outcome for the publisher if that one page is deeper in the site and commands higher premiums than more generic content near the front.    Not all page views are created equal.    The value of social networks may not be sheer tonnage of page views generated but rather more targeted page views…driving visitors more directly to the pages that the publisher most wants visitors to consume.

Though loyalty (or lack thereof) looks the same for social networks and for portals, I would bet there’s a critical difference.   When visitors go one-page-and-out after being referred by a portal they are likely bouncing off the home page.    When they go one-page-and-out after being referred by a social network they’re likely bouncing off a specific post or article, some of the site’s more premium content.

We’d have to dig deeper into the data to prove my case….

But that, I think, is the story behind the story of these charts.