On average, what percentage of referral traffic to publishers comes from search, social media, links and direct navigation? That’s a question I’m commonly asked by organizations that are attempting to establish benchmarks and assess their current performance.
To get an idea of where things currently stand, I pulled 2013 referral data for a selection of 52 magazine and content sites, all well-known brands from major publishers.
Here are the averages for the year, according to each site’s Referrer Types report in Omniture:
- Search 37.8%
- Social Media 10.2%
- Other Web Sites 22.3%
- Typed/Bookmarked 29.7%
Organic search had a strong showing at 37.8%, so reports of its decline as a major traffic channel are simply not correct, especially for media sites.
The social media figure seemed a little low; I was expecting search to come in around 30% and social to be closer to 15%. Among the 52 sites examined 21 had social figures above 10%, the highest being 28.9%. But there were enough below 10% to pull down the average.
Strength of Brand Makes a Big Difference
It is important to point out that when it comes to setting benchmarks, overall percentages should be no more than a rough guide. A big reason is that the percentage of direct navigation traffic will vary greatly depending on the strength of the brand.
For instance among these 52 sites the typed/bookmarked average was 29.7% but two of the biggest brands came in at 59.5% and 62.6%, bringing their search percentages down to 18.5% and 16.2%, respectively. Despite this their total search referrals for the year were still much higher than many of the other sites.
So the bottom line is what constitutes good performance is relative, and you need to consider multiple factors including strength of brand, nature of the content, publication frequency, site architecture, level of promotion, etc.
Similar Findings from a Larger Data Set
After I pulled these figures our team at Define Media Group decided to do a larger-scale analysis. Published last week, it analyzed referral data for 87 sites from a number of major publishers, constituting 10 billion visits for 2013.
You can get all of the data here: Hey BuzzFeed, Search Traffic is Doing Just Fine
The findings were similar, with the organic search figure even higher and social media more in line with what I’d expected:
In addition you can see that while social continues to have strong growth, which makes sense since it is a less mature channel, search is also growing: