Study Says Social Media Sucks at Driving Traffic

People, apparently, don't want to leave the comfort of Twitter and Facebook

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Study Says Social Media Sucks at Driving Traffic
[ Social Media]

Quite simply, when it comes to driving traffic to your website, social media sites like Twitter and Facebook kind of suck at it, at least according to a study done by a company called Outbrain.

Once the study is taken into account, even the Drudge Report, a much smaller operation by comparison, out does Twitter and Facebook combined. It should be noted that the king of traffic referrals is, of course, Google. So much so, in fact, they are lapping the rest of the field.


If the study’s validity is intact, the main lesson from Outbrain’s findings is social media sites do not drive traffic like content sites and search engines do, and it’s not even close. That means that, while all those retweets are nice to see, apparently, few people are clicking the actual link embedded within the tweeted message. The study also sheds doubt on just how effective social media marketing campaigns are. Sure, things are good if it’s part of a current trend, but if not, no traffic for you, apparently.

The same, according to the study, is true for all those Facebook shares, as well. People evidently only react to the subject line, and not the content contained within, or that’s being promoted. A look at the chart of Outbrain’s study shows these surprising numbers quite clearly:

Traffic Driving

David Sasson, Outbrain COO, had some thoughts on the study:

“With our second report, we’re able to provide a compelling look at fluctuations in traffic referral and reader engagement across some of the leading destinations online. Our hope is to leverage our unique data to paint a picture of macro-level trends in content consumption over time. As Outbrain expands on a global level, we’re able to introduce additional metrics into our report and evaluate international trends, comparing reader behavior across continents.”

It does make sense that Google is a clear leader in such a category. When people search, they usually click a result, which takes them to a webpage/site, ergo, traffic driving has occurred. Same with aggregate sites like Drudge Report and Reddit, although, Reddit’s score is a low 1.10%, which, while still higher than Facebook’s score, brings the study’s validity into question.

Ask Imgur.com how many traffic referrals they get from Reddit.

With all of that in mind, does the study make you doubt the effectiveness of a social media marketing campaign? Especially if people aren’t clicking the links? Even for stuff they apparently like? Let us know what you think.

Update, the report has been pulled, and an Editor’s note from Amanda Lucci’s blog says:

Editor’s note: Since this post was published, Outbrain has reached out and said they are rerunning the numbers “to ensure they’re accurate” and might have an update later.

Perhaps they, too saw the Reddit discrepancy and wondered if they needed to remeasure.

Outbrain has reposted their findings, and while the gist is the same–content sites drive more traffic than social media–their metrics aren’t as specific. If you look at the first table they created, you’ll notice Drudge Report drove more traffic than Twitter and Facebook combined. Now, that’s not the case:

Updated Study

As you can see, Facebook now ranks above Drudge, but Twitter still trails both properties. Another observation is the percentages are no longer with the new table. It’s also noticeable that Reddit didn’t improve much either. Considering the nature of the site, essentially, a news aggregate site, not mention the wide appeal of the site–just check Reddit’s Alexa ranking–the fact that Outbrain’s study says Outbrain drives more traffic than Reddit is almost laughable.

Granted, their Alexa profile is respectable, but it’s not as powerful as Reddit’s. With that in mind, despite Outbrain’s confusing devaluing of Reddit, the following statement continues the theme from the initial study:

…finally, social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Fark.com, reddit, Digg) send 11% of traffic to content pages.

And it continues the theme of this particular post, which is social media isn’t very dependable when it comes to driving traffic.

One of our reader’s comments captures the theme quite well:

Art Butcher says: I’m not surprised by these findings.

I believe people look at tweets or posts with links as a sales pitch.

And many are.

What would be different if the links were content oriented and provided value as you say content is a critical driver. My guess is it takes time to build a reputation as a value driven content provider.

Does the spammy nature of linked tweets make them less attractive to potential link clickers?

Study Says Social Media Sucks at Driving Traffic
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  • http://www.jarthurbutcher.com Art Butcher

    I’m not surprised by these findings.

    I believe people look at tweets or posts with links as a sales pitch.

    And many are.

    What would be different if the links were content oriented and provided value as you say content is a critical driver. My guess is it takes time to build a reputation as a value driven content provider.


    • http://www.ebusinessgems.com ebusiness-resources

      The study result seems to confirm my experience as well.

  • http://www.seraajfh.com Muslimah

    I agree many don’t click the links to any posts anymore…they only want to read the heading about the article and that’s it…it does make you whence at your marketing/strategy plan and say… let’s start over!

  • http://www.buyinginvestmentpropertyforsale.com Buying Investment Property For Sale

    Yes, I have heard the same thing about Social Media not offering much in the way of SEO or in the way of driving traffic. The conventional back links through blogs and forums etc. still are the tried and true way of increasing traffic.

  • http://www.flamencotravel.com/ Shomara

    let’s start over! the social media dont offer much in the driviing traaffic

  • http://twitter.com/#!/mugile Guy M

    While I can accept the numbers in this research I do not agree with the conclusions.

    The traffic you get from social media is to your freshest content. The traffic from google is to all of your pages.

    I believe that a more interesting data would be to take all the landing pages that you had traffic for from social media and compare the percentage of traffic to THESE pages from the search engines.

    Any other comparison does not show you the full picture and value of social media and misleading.


    • http://www.sem-advance.com Clint Dixon

      Traffic sent from search engines lands on only one page as well. And no matter where traffic comes from if the user is not engaged its one page and gone.

      Additionally marketing your freshest content on any site is where the user will land.

  • http://www.modeltrainhobbyist.com/ Lionel Bachmann

    I agree with the studies findings, although I think the reliability is a little shaky. I don’t think social media sites were meant for driving traffic to websites. They were meant for people to interact with one another. I do think social media sites are valuable to businesses as a way of communicating and interacting with their customers, and to build brand awareness.

  • http://www.facebookcashcodes.co Ted and Mark

    It all depends on how you market to the people on the social media sites.
    If you use direct marketing on these sites you will fail.

    What is Social media? It is a place to talk, share and socialise. It is not a place to be directly sold to and this is one of the biggest mistakes marketers make. You need to talk to people first and share in what interests them.

    If you want more traffic to go to your sites you must be prepared to socialise first before you do any marketing.

  • http://www.bestbuys4business.com Michelle

    I think the success of these sites driving traffic comes down to people not knowing how to use the tools to their advantage. There are a lot of sales pitches and too much noise on twitter, which means for your message to be noticed by enough people you have to send it at the right time before it gets pushed down the page and disappears forever.

    I have had some great networking opportunities through twitter and facebook (better with facebook) and I think that is important.

    If you are looking at twitter and facebook solely to drive traffic I wouldn’t recommend it, I would focus on search placement. It is my #1 source of traffic because my target market are looking for me not the other way around!

  • http://www.mohamedrashad.com Mohamed Rashad

    doesn’t say how effective paid ads on facebook are. This may affect how SEO companies will provide link building and social media submission services.

  • http://www.copy-e-writing.in/blog/ Ron’s SEO Copywriting Tips

    I would say, that social media is a very powerful thing but only at times. You cannot expect every news to go viral, and every content to spread like wild fire! But search engine marketing is more or less consistent, because of their very nature. People visit search engines to “search”, not come across something nice while they are chatting with their friends.

  • http://www.bouwjeeigengitaar.nl Rudy

    When advertising my products on social media sites i noticed a boom in sales, right away. I advertised the products i sell online trough Hyves.nl (a dutch social media site) and Facebook.com. Facebook allowed me very good targeting and it got me more sales than google (despite the fact i have a very good ranking there) and/or google ads. So it all depends on how you can target your market and FB is very helpful in targeting the correct market. I also advertise on a site called ‘Marktplaats’ (ebay owned), and Marktplaats outperforms them all by far.

    For non-commercial purposes, posting a few links on FB carefully will work fine too.

  • http://www.sem-advance.com Clint Dixon

    People do not go to social events to then shop for things they need. So why would online change this???… This is norhing but common business sense!!!

  • http://www.sem-advance.com Clint Dixon

    I would like to clarify. Using posts on social sites won’t drive volume traffic. However Facebook Ads are highly effective when demographic capabilities are applied along with proper looking ad.

  • http://www.busybeecandles.co.uk Busy Bee Candles

    Great post. Not sure if I agree with the findings of the report regarding traffic generated from social sites such as twitter. We are very active on twitter (@BusyBeeCandles) and have a growing following. We receive a significant proportion of our business from twitter by advertising promotions, vouchers etc. I think a lot of companies simply get it wrong when it comes to interacting with their customers. Who cares what you had for breakfast? Everyone takes note if your offering an exceptional deal.

  • http://how2gogreen.info Kimmo Pedersen

    It might be that people visit the social sites (facebook, twitter, etc) because they want to interact with their friends and family; and they don’t go there for shopping :-)

  • http://www.berlin-germany-fanclub.com/index.html Zhanna

    This article confirmed my thoughts as I checked the reports. No traffic from Social media sites. I even started to think that I do something wrong with those Social media sites.

  • http://12caliber.com/ shanker

    it is totally true what you are saying i am totally convinced with that
    i tied to do that with my website hunting in jordan http://12caliber.com/ but as you said ( Social Media Sucks at Driving Traffic )
    best regards

  • http://www.catbase.com Pat Bensky

    What about YouTube? We get more referrals from there than from all social media combined.

    • http://www.sem-advance.com Clint Dixon

      There are exceptions to the rule. Question is do you generate sales/leass from your youtube marketing efforts?? Is so great! If not rhen its a waste

  • http://www.petadoptworld.com/ Powerpets

    Very vague study. It doesn’t tell you anything unless you know which sites and types of sites were measured. For our sites (powerpets and petadoptworld) we use the social media sites to generate return visits (quite successfully), which is important since due to the nature of the industry, visitors don’t start spending until after their 10th+ visit.
    The value of social media sites (for sites like ours) is really in building loyalty, something that isn’t possible on search engines yet – though Google+ may change this.

  • http://www.kidcrazee.com Jennifer

    I have been tracking my Google Analytics and have found the same information there. I still continue with Social Media advertising, only as a secondary source of traffic, but I focus more on getting my links into Google’s sights.

  • http://www.ThisRocksMoney.com Greg Lightning

    I believe thats right..I make friends,they start to trust me and once in awhile they spend money with me..Am I getting rich like I had hope or even making a few bucks from sign ups? Not even close. I have great offers but no one believes you because of all the scams floating around and I can’t say I blame them..I donno what the answer is…Seems there all too busy Texting/Tweeting/Facebooking stupid crap about American Idol or Beavis an Butt head or god knows some other unproductive garbage that won’t produce a dime and more than likely take some of their money at some point.

    • http://www.sem-advance.com Clint Dixon

      Exactly, you should do some research on consumer intent. If you go to a concert are you likely to look for a coupon for diapers while you are there???

      Online changes nothing but the processing. Human nature remains unchanged for the most part offline & online.

  • http://www.jtzenterprise.com John

    This indicates social media should not be treated as just a source of traffic. Instead it is relative content related to your site’s content/theme. Used properly it can add credibility to your online presence and thereby increase ROI from your website. This means we need to focus on the friends we have rather than focus on getting more friends.

  • Kate Lennon

    Well, while I tend to agree with the overall conclusion – that social media isn’t effective at driving traffic to private websites – I am a bit wary of the stats presented here, and what they actually mean. For example: “social media sites…. send 11% of traffic to content pages” – what exactly does this mean? Are we talking about paid-for ads or links posted in message, groups fb pages, or what? Are we talking about “messages” that are clearly commercial promotions, or are we talking about messages in which people invite their fb friends to check out a link? Are we including video links/views? Are we talking about unique visitors (to fb, etc), or does “f traffic” include users who login twenty times a day?
    There are too many variables and unknowns in the figures given.

    Having said that, I have been using social media (mainly fb and Twitter) to promote my websites for almost two years now, and I have to say the results have been very disappointing – especially when one takes intro account the amount of time and dedication that is required to build up a fb or twitter “following” in the first place. It seems to me that it takes as much, if not more, effort to get people to “like” your fb page, or follow you on Twitter, as it would to get people to visit your website through other, less time-consuming methods of promotion. It is also true – as suggested in the article – that social network users (especially fb users) are extremely reluctant to leave their fb “comfort zone” to explore other websites or other online communities. It’s almost as if they are passengers on a liner in the Pacific, and have little or no interest in the other ships and small boats that they sail past. Their minds are in a particular mode, and it requires too much mental effort to “switch tracks”.
    To be honest, the only reason I’ve persisted for so long with social media is because I’ve read countless articles (supposedly by experts) talking about how incredibly effective social marketing is as a tool for driving traffic to websites. For a long time I kept thinking, “I must be doing something wrong”, but in fact I don’t thing I was, and I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that social media marketing is, if not a complete waste of time, then at least highly over-rated.

  • http://www.sellingbooks.ca selling books

    I think the study is correct. What they really mean is that the hype behind social media giving websites traffic is really just hype. I mean its OK to have social media like twitter accounts, facebook pages etc but they dont do alot in terms of sending you traffic compared to what google will send you if you seo optimiize correctly.

    Social media is good for things like branding, spreading the word, selling directly but I would not invest money into social media sites to get traffic unless it was worth it and delivered a ROI. Testing is the way to go!

  • http://www.wine-fi.com Robert

    I agree with the article, at least in my case. Tried Clutter I mean Twitter, Facebook, Ning etc. traffic generated was hardly a trickle. 99.5% of my traffic comes from generic search.

    Now what really gets on my nerves is all the SEO companies calling and emailing trying to promote Social Media to me. If they had “REALLY” visited my sight and done their research they’d see I’m already out there.

  • http://www.21nova.de Online Casino SEO

    I think that the retweets and reposts are still quite valuable for SEO proposes. It tells Big G that people like that link because it doesn’t know if actually somebody clicks on it. So your site gets some free social media SEO. That sounds actually good to me :)

  • http://www.wealthsuccessful.net Randy Gideon

    I agree with this article 100%.
    Almost all tweet followers that i receive, are pretty much as a sales pitch, of a product or information service that they are trying to sell me. Driving traffic with social media to your sites, really does not work.

  • http://www.childishfundraising.com Sarah Stickland

    I use social media as a networking tool, not specifically to increase visitors to my website. I’ve met valuable leads that turned into opportunities which definitely drove traffic to my website. If it wasn’t for social media I would have never made those contacts and my website/company would never have gotten the exposure it did.

  • http://www.marketingpipeline.co.uk Peter

    People don’t become leads any more. They research online, confer on social media and make decisions from what they’ve found online.

    So why should you expect them to drive traffic to old fashioned methods and why are you using old fashioned metrics to measure the effect?

    The problem isn’t new methods don’t work. It’s you.

  • http://www.menshealthcures.com Ken

    This is pretty fascinating as I use Google, Facebook and Twitter to drive traffic to my website menshealthcures.com.

    My findings equally confirm that the majority of my traffic is from Google, though I am trying to diversify to attract a broader group of people, and not held hostage to Google’s whims.

  • http://www.google.com/profiles/OneFineArt William MATAR

    I agree my big part of traffic comes from Google… even I have a strong page in fb

  • http://www.weightlossdietplanforfree.com WeightLossDietPlanforFree Team

    I disagree with the fact that we have been getting great results from both FB and Twitter. I believe that if you take the study as a whole then yes most traffic coming from social sites cannot be considered a heavy hitter. I think for smaller companies such as ours we can benefit greatly in the fact that we target rich and wanted traffic to all of our sites. Take our newly designed site for example: http://www.weightlossdietplanforfree.com We structured a micro niche site targeted at people looking for a free customizable weight loss plan that can be downloaded through the site.

    We expanded our visibility through both twitter and facebook and our visitors have been coming from all three major search engines based on the seo work done but both twitter and FB have given us some great results as well. For the smaller guys out there dont give up on socialization yet because it works….

    • Kate Lennon

      You lie. And you spam.

  • http://twitx.net twitx

    I agree with the point in the article about the low score for reddit. It’s a news aggregation site whose format is built around users clicking on links. Reddit has reach 1 bill. monthly page views.

    Newer sites with topical articles especially should get a much larger slice of their traffic than 1% from reddit.

  • http://www.miscfinds4u.com Connie

    I think the stats seem pretty reasonable. With 18K followers, I’m lucky to have 6 click on any given link I post. I think Twitter’s become much too spammy. Since FB is more conversational, most of the content is posted directly on FB and links are less likely to be followed.

    Still I think they have a greater value than just providing direct traffic. As a small business owner, it’s improved my name recognition greatly. I believe it’s improved my standing in my market place and for that it’s a cheap and easy way to get our name out there.

  • http://www.kissmarketing.com Deirdre Cavener

    If it looks too good to be true (i.e., the Social Media fix) it probably is. I have told my clients from the beginning of all the hype to put their money on PROVEN ways to generate business (i.e., Search Engines) instead of grabbing the next BIG thing. We are living in a time of quick fixes … there simply aren’t any magic pills for business growth.

  • http://www.whocanihire.com Rick Wall

    Not so sure. I am a partner in a consulting firm and a small business marketing firm that markets only through social media with great results. Specifically LinkedIn with the consulting firm (Compleat Consulting Group) and twitter and facebook for whocanihire.com.

  • http://www.gighive.com/ Duane Charles

    Browsing websites with many of my website traffic/ranking tools turned on, a majority of the sites I visited where webmasters had healthy social media profiles… traffic statistics never added up to what I thought they would be. Now I know why.

  • http://www.epalmspringsrealestate.com Abraham Baghbodorian

    Finally a study and some facts that deal with the obvious. You want business you go to Google, you need to socialize you go to Facebook!

  • http://africasiaeuro.com/wordpress Heinz

    There is little doubt the study reflects social behavior. In addition people on say twitter are weary of clicking short urls in fear of Malware and similar threats.
    The 32 odd percent in Google traffic is what counts most, and this brings us back to good old SEO. The right number of quality back links to your site is worth a thousand tweets with short url links attached.
    This statistic can be seen easy on bit.ly.
    Search engine ranking is still the Nr.1 factor for getting traffic to your site.
    wordpress” rel=”nofollow”> wordpressed

    • http://www.technicolorgoldfish.net Suzanne

      This brings up a good point though … this study looks at social media traffic going directly to a web site, but what about the effect of having posts and links on social media sites which in turn affect your search engine ranking? Maybe people are getting more traffic than they think indirectly from Twitter, FB etc. via Google? It would be great if someone did a more in-depth study on this.

  • http://www.electric-reviews.org Mark Demers

    Everybody knows Google was # 1 and I thought Yahoo would be next but you surprised me with AOL being # 2 and I see another surprise having the Drudge Report counted in the top 5.
    I always thought social media advertising was a waste of my time which is why I try to only tweet links to an articles I`ve just had published or I just keep my tweets personal in nature and I might even throw in a link to a new post or new content I have added to my site.
    Facebook was a little of a puzzle as to what the value really is but with this post I have a much clearer understanding for when I put out my new Facebook plans for my site – right now it`s just thumbnails of pages from my site.
    As for spammy looking links in tweets I personally don`t like them unless there is something of benefit such as new information about a subject or some content that has some value and not just a link to a product or sales squeeze page.

  • http://www.minnesotaseoservice.com Lee LaCasse

    This is something I was looking for. I did not think that Social Media could out do Google for driving traffic to a website.
    I base my business on getting sites to rank on the 1st. Page of Google which is what any business needs.

  • Biff

    Twitter and Facebook are so overrated as promotional tools for business it’s sickening … social media sucks in general…long live person to person contact

    • teetee98

      Great Statement! Nothing compares to the “personal touch”.

  • http://pathwaytocyberwealth.com Russ Turner

    It is surveys that suck, how many times do we read a seemingly authoritative survey on a particular subject only for it to be contradicted a few days later.

    Rely on your own statistics not any skewed survey.

  • Camping Dude

    Our business is seasonal, but our traffic breaks down like this 35% Google, 12% Facebook, 12% StumbleUpon, 8% Bing, 7% Yahoo, 26% others. The big 3 search engines make up 50% of Traffic, 24% just from Facebook and Stumble alone, the rest from blogs, article dir, shopping portals, YouTube, etc.
    Twitter is basically no where to be found. Never did like that place, seems to be mostly a waste of time, maybe i should try posting what i ate for breakfast, had for lunch, what i am watching on TV! Depending on what you include in the Social media realm, i would say our traffic is very good from this. Maybe somebody’s not doing it right.

  • http://chicagoseosmallbusinessmarketingconslutant.com Dusan

    The study seems rather broad. I wonder if there are industries where social media sites fare better. There might be other variables where rankings would be different.

    That said, in my experience, social media doesn’t perform as well as Google (when perform is defined as sales not as number of visitors).

  • http://www.go-tips.org/ Grey Olltwit

    At last a survey that shows what I have thought for a long time. Social media sites are not nearly so important as SEOs would have you believe.

  • http://www.cheers2wine.com Steve

    It’s not at all surprising that search engines send more traffic to websites than do social media sites. At #4 Facebook still has clout and can be an influence on how well a website does as can the lower ranking contributors.

  • http://www.oink.co.za Craig Nuttley

    No surprises here. Even the correction makes sense. Search engines (like Google) will rule the roost for a while yet. Social media? What many don’t realise is that the Twitters and Facebooks are, in fact, search tools … and that’s where the crux lies. You have business and you have social. Social is a big market, in fact, it is THE market. everything is evolving and all will evolve or fail. Why? Here’s the ting, I have never used Twitter or Facebook to gain followers (who, in business, wants a thousand Bieber fans following, who will never buy from you and have a tendency to Tweet stuff like “Follow me and I’ll follow you back”?!? Anyway, my point is, social media is good for search, because if you can fit loction, product and service in 140 characters, you CAN gain top 10 results on Google. I can give you a hundred targeted Tweets of mine which appear in the top 10 on Google.

    I’ve read elsewhere (i’m going looking for the article again after I’ve posted this) an article which suggests Google is all? Nah! As powerful as she is in bringing content to browsers, MSN (Bing) has a big trump card which I am not sure she even realises … and it’s all related to search. Bing search will, soon, start making serious gains on Google. With every computer/windows program bought, Bing becomes the default search engine for that user …

    Give it some thought … as a developer I track all … Google (of course I track Google … HOW? :-) Simple. but anyway, read this article again in a year from now … watch Bing, and never overestimate Google. Although I am, and have always been, a Google FAB FAN, the last 8 months of tracking, research and practical exercise has made me realise that where Google has provided my bread (as a developer) for a good few years now, there’s a new player who has a lot to offer and the tools at hand to make history repeat itself. All will fall and all will walk again, but never the same and ALWAYS REINVENTED. That’s life, that’s Google and for the next while … keep an eye on Bing in the search market.

  • http://darrylmanco.com Darryl Manco

    SMM is not the same as marketing on search networks. To harness SMM one has to analyze ones fans, group those findings into silos, and then reanalyze each silo in order to create marketing content that is relevant. Easy? Not! Art Butcher is hitting it on the head for the most part. Offline push yields poor results when taken online. Google leads in search since its technology evaluates the worth of a site’s content along with context to what the searcher seeks. SEM content has to speak to the searcher to fill the need for what is sought, and ad text to landing page content needs to be uncluttered. So as the web continues to evolve into becoming the ultimate source to find what one seeks, businesses will need to conform to meet the needs of the consumer instead of the reverse. Ask yourself, when was the last time you clicked on an ad your favorite social network? So why would you think a consumer would be any different? Thanks for affirming what I already knew!

  • http://www.ashevillelist.com elizabeth

    this is a no brainer. I’ve said it for years that its a waste of time.
    people on twitter and facebook are only looking for friends not to buy anything. So, Duh! Google says links have to be similar to your site too. So, unless you are a social media site I say you are wasting your time trying to get traffic from these sites. It amazes me how many webmasters jump on these trends just because its the thing to do.

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