Study Says Social Media Sucks at Driving Traffic

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 t...
Study Says Social Media Sucks at Driving Traffic
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  • 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 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,, 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?

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