Survey: Twitter Less than 1% of Traffic to Newspapers and Magazines; Facebook 1%

For my presentation on Twitter Marketing Tactics at SMX West this week I wanted to get a sense of just how much traffic Twitter is driving to major news sites. So I conducted an informal poll of 10 US newspaper and magazine sites that Define works with or I am friendly with.

The surveyed group included a mix of sites covering general and breaking news as well as specific topics such as lifestyle, sports or entertainment. Most organizations prefer to keep their figures private so I’m not able to share the actual sites but they are all well-known brands. I looked at referral data for 2008, 2009 and 2010 to-date and for comparison also included Facebook and Digg.

So what percentage of total site traffic came from Twitter and the other social sites? Here are the group averages:

Twitter, Facebook and Digg to newspaper and magazine sites

To-date in 2010 Twitter represents an average of 0.7% of total site traffic.

10 newspaper and magazines sites is not a sufficient sample so take this survey for what it is, but the data does provide a rough idea of what major publishers are experiencing. Among the surveyed sites the highest Twitter percentage was 2.9% but the majority fell below 1%. The highs for Facebook and Digg were 2% and 7.2% respectively. The Digg percentages varied the most with straight news sites faring best.

Some notes:

  • While all of the surveyed sites have some form of social media strategy none of them are doing as much as they could be. So these figures represent the experiences of typical news sites, not ones that have fully dialed in SMM.
  • Despite the low percentages, to-date this year Twitter and Facebook are top 25 referrers for all of the sites and top 10 referrers for most. It is interesting that a top 10 referrer can represent such a small percentage of total site traffic. But since total monthly traffic for most of the group is in the millions, tens of millions or more those small percentages do represent substantial numbers. And if social media is bringing in traffic that the sites might not have otherwise received that’s a nice bump.
  • Well-established brands still get a large portion of their traffic via direct navigation. Among the sites surveyed the figures ranged from 30-60%. Partnerships with other large content sites and cross-network promotions were another major driver.
  • Natural search engine referrals ranged from about 10% to over 40% and Google.com was the #1 or #2 referring domain for nearly every site. So despite all the attention that social media deservedly gets, search is still its daddy.
  • It is interesting that Digg is trending down this year. Not every site in the group was a natural fit for Digg and we are still in Q1 2010 so it is difficult to draw any strong conclusions. But even among the sites that do very well in Digg the numbers have dropped.

REQUEST:

I’d like to expand the size of the survey group, so if any newspaper or magazine professionals out there are willing to share their percentages it will be much appreciated. You can contact me via this form or direct message me on Twitter. Your anonymity will be maintained. Alternatively if anyone is willing to share their figures publicly please leave a comment below. Thanks!

Comments

  1. The fact that 1 single site on an internet of millions or BILLIONS of sites is responsible for 1 out of 100 referrals is absolutely incredible. In this case, you must ignore the perceived tinyness of 1% and recognize it as being a huge number.

  2. I wonder if these numbers correspond to the growth rate of these social networks. Obviously FB and Twitter users continue to grow. Is Digg losing steam?

  3. Annie, that’s an excellent point, it is all in how you frame and interpet the data. I could have just as easily made the headline “Twitter Now Nearly 1% of Traffic to Newspapers and Magazines.” Also when all social media referrals are grouped together (though defining what is or isn’t “social media” can be a challenge), that collective figure is starting to be more competitive with things like search referrals or content partnerships.

    Nathan, I ‘m wondering that about Digg too. As Digg went more mainstream over the past couple years lots of newspapers and general interest magazines have seen increases in traffic from it. But at least among the group I surveyed, things have dropped off so far this year. I’d like to get more data on that.

    Thanks for your comments.

  4. Thanks for sharing these figures. I wonder though whether the true Twitter percentage might not be higher than it seems. Often people are only counting the traffic from Twitter.com, and many third party Twitter clients result in what looks like direct traffic as, it seems, they don’t pass a referrer.

    Here’s a post on the issue from Joost de Valk:
    http://yoast.com/twitter-analytics/

  5. Assuming that “a mix of sites covering general and breaking news as well as specific topics such as lifestyle, sports or entertainment” means more traditional publications(10 US newspaper and magazine sites) then we are talking about large traditional media organizations. Their sites are secondary to their product newspapers and magazines. Most of their web traffic comes from more traditional web sources as well.

    Large organizations with large natural traffic(regular users) generally have about 1% come from social media, if they are active on them. For big traffic social media stills needs more people! Last numbers I heard were about 20% of US internet users use social media daily. Anyone have any new or related numbers on that please contact me or post.

    The real difference social media can make is for small and medium businesses, bloggers and consultants. There is a more natural fit. It would be cool to analyze your flow as an example.

    Small and medium business can benefit from a blog in the same way but for organizations seeing 1Million+ monthlys, social media’s ~1% looks small but is large and in the top 10 referrers as you lay out in your final points.

    The greatest insight I gleaned from what the numbers say – for most sites – is that people use search engines to find things even if they are searching for the actual website name to find the website, we’ve all seen it in analytics.

    Frank’s point about the click through inaccuracy from Twitter apps should be noted. I find this to be frustrating when measuring the twitter effectiveness of shortened links used for ongoing campaigns.

  6. That’s a good point Frank, thanks. Danny Sullivan wrote about this in SEL a while back too: Is Twitter Sending You 500% To 1600% More Traffic Than You Might Think?

    Kemp, yes the surveyed groups would be considered traditional publications. I did a different survey last year that included some newer and Web only outlets as well. At that point (over a year ago) the sites were seeing anywhere from less than 1% to nearly 20% of site traffic coming from various forms of social media. Thanks for sharing your insights.

  7. Interesting facts and figures; most people probably haven’t thought of Facebook and Twitter in these terms before.
    Nice post!

  8. One more, nearly immeasurable, number to consider is the amount of traffic sent to news sites via blog posts and comments posted by people who first became aware of a news article via Twitter or Facebook.

  9. Good point Kevin. There is a degree of link cannibalization going on in which people who previously would have shared (and linked to) content on blogs and sites are now doing so on Twitter, thus reducing the number of links with SEO value that the content receives. But those links still drive traffic, and exposure through Twitter and other social media sites fosters a lot of secondary links generated in the way you described (which do have SEO value).

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