Search Traffic or Social Media Traffic – Which is More Important to Content Publishers?

social media apps iphoneSearch engines drive the vast majority of traffic to most websites, but social media referrals are growing quickly while search traffic is slowly decreasing.

That’s just one of the findings in Shareaholic’s new Search Traffic vs. Social Referrals Report, which tracked data from November 2012 through November 2013 from its network of more than 200,000 sites that reach more than 250 million unique visitors each month.

Search Traffic vs. Social Media Referral Traffic

Between November 2012 and November 2013, Shareaholic found that social media referral traffic from the top five social media sites (Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, StumbleUpon, and Reddit) increased by 111% while search traffic from the top five search engines (Google, Yahoo!, Bing, Ask, and AOL) had decreased by 6%.

Taking a closer look at the report, you’ll see that a year ago 42% of traffic to websites came from search engines while just 11% came from social media referrals. Fast forward 13 months and search engines account for just 39% of traffic while social media referrals grew to account for 24% of traffic to publishers’ websites.

As the data shows, the gap between search traffic and social media referral traffic is closing. Not only is the overall usage of social media growing every day, but user behaviors also affect the closing of the search traffic vs. social media referral traffic gap. Danny Wong of Shareaholic explained:

“People who use the web tend to defer all of their searches to their main designated search engine; connected individuals use multiple social networks (sometimes simultaneously) to connect with their friends, fans, and people they follow. Therefore, new social networks may continue to sprout up and capture more and more of users’ leisure time, but users are less inclined to use multiple search engines to find information they need.”

Recommendation for Content Publishers

Search traffic isn’t dead. Search engines are still the biggest traffic driver for most websites, but social media referral traffic will continue to grow as search traffic declines. User behaviors are changing, and to ensure your traffic is shared and found by the growing social audience, you need to invest in attracting more social traffic. While other content publishers are spending all of their time chasing Google’s algorithm with search engine optimization, you’ll be getting organic and sustainable traffic via social media referrals.

Image: Jason Howie

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