Social media might be a growing source of traffic for many content providers ― but social doesn't deliver the most engaged readers, according to a new study of large publishers. Users coming from other content sites or search engines are more likely to consume more pages per session.
, a content discovery platform, looked at publishers using its platform to determine where readers are accessing, finding and engaging with content. The study
pulled data from a random sample of 100 million sessions across more than 100 premium publishers.
The largest slice of traffic for this group of publishers is still direct or in-site traffic (61 percent), but the study delves into the slices coming from other sources.
Social traffic has undeniably blown up in the last few years, but it's still a sliver of the pie. Search is the largest driver of known external traffic sources (41 percent), followed by other content sites (31 percent); content portals, such as AOL and Yahoo (17 percent); and social (11 percent).
metrics are different across these sources ― which is important to note as publishers shift metrics to engagement rather than page views
. A hyper-engaged reader ― one who views five or more pages per session ― is most likely to come in from another content sites out of all other traffic sources, the study found.
Visitors who come from a search engine or other content sites tend to have the highest page views per session. However, the study notes that the engagement levels for search are skewed by Yahoo users, who tend to be twice as likely to be hyper-engaged than the average referrer.
Traffic from other content sites has the lowest bounce rates, which makes sense because the audience is already engaged and in “content consumption mode,” the study notes. On the other hand, social media traffic has the highest tendency to bounce.
It's interesting that social doesn't seem to bring in engaged users, considering “promoting engagement” is such a big mantra behind social media campaigns. Even when looking at Facebook and Twitter separately, the study found them both to drive similarly engaged audiences. Except Facebook drives more unique visitors, whereas Twitter's audience is made up of more repeat visitors.
So what does this mean? I wouldn't say that social doesn't promote engagement, but it doesn't look like it promotes engaged traffic (at least among big, consumer-focused media brands). Social media is more likely useful to foster users who are already engaged ― providing a community to keep them loyal to a media brand.