Traffic Sources and Attention

There’s been good debate around how the source of traffic to sites is changing, shifting from the search engines to social sites such as Facebook and Twitter. I confirmed that I too am seeing a greater percentage of traffic come in via links shared on social sites and shared a colleague’s theory about what this would mean for Google’s advertising revenues. Fred Wilson also posted about this topic here and here.

What about attention? How does the average visitor from a social site compare to someone from a search engine? Niall Kennedy tweeted the following stats from his referral logs:

  • Twitter: 7 seconds
  • Digg: 20 seconds
  • StumbleUpon: 40 seconds
  • Facebook: 52 seconds
  • Delicious: 82 seconds


Here are my stats for the past year:

  • StumbleUpon: 40 seconds
  • Digg: 42 seconds
  • FriendFeed: 53 seconds
  • Facebook: 60 seconds
  • Twitter: 86 seconds*
  • Delicious: 110 seconds
  • Techmeme: 114
  • MyBlogLog: 176 seconds

Compared to the attention span of those coming from the major search engines we get:

  • (MSFT): 21 seconds
  • Yahoo: 35 seconds
  • Google : 40 seconds
  • Ask: 46 seconds

It would be interesting to see figures from other sites, especially online shopping sites which are the ones most interested in getting (and therefore likely to pay for) traffic. While it’s clear that visitors from social sites are more engaged with my blog because they tend to hang around a bit longer, that may not be the case with a shopping site where there is less intent to purchase than if they come from a search engine but Mark Essel thinks otherwise.

Increasingly, the flow of web links is being made between individuals via social media sites.  Your good fishing buddy who knows the Bay area, shares a link to his favorite supply store.  As focused communities become populated across geographic barriers, local quality referrals become more likely.  But what if you want to know what store fishermen prefer in San Francisco?  You could simply use twitter search for fishing san francisco.  In real time you could send a message to several individuals who are interested in fishing in that region.

Shared links are compelling but they need to be matched with impulse buying or discoverable when you’re looking for it. I’m thinking of O’Reilly’s flash discount shared via twitter (44% off to celebrate the 44th president) which was effective in bumping registration at the recent Web 2.0 Expo. The other way to generate business via shared links is to make them searchable so you can find what you need when you want it – but then we’re right back at sending traffic via search again.  Yes, you can search twitter but you can find this stuff on Google too.

The jury’s still out as I think this will be a slow shift of behavior that will take a long time to impact existing business models. The real prize is back to social search which would combine the best of the recommendation trusts of social networks with the ability to find what you need when you’re looking for it.

Facebook recommendations married to Google ‘s structure and ranking? That’s the subject of another post.


* I dug into the Twitter figures because they’re so out of whack with what Niall is seeing and it looks like there are a few visitors that hung out for a long time that are pushing that average higher than it should be.

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2 responses to “Traffic Sources and Attention”

  1. Social Marketing Avatar
    Social Marketing

    This is great information and I have seen the same numbers, especially with regards to Twitter. Thanks for sharing this! 🙂 Maria Reyes-McDavis

  2. Udo Szabo Avatar
    Udo Szabo

    Ian, thanks for digging deeper into the topic – this looks like a great endeavor with many things still to uncover. If it hold true that not only the amount of traffic from social sites is increasing, but the value/attention of that traffic is even greater then the once generated by search engines it practically means the reasons for change are multiplying – making the change either faster or bigger! The O’Reilly’s example is a fascinating one and one that kept me thinking over the last couple of days on the last missing pieces – how to turn the changing consumer behavior into a scalable monetization instrument. Most attempts have been to route or re-route attention within the web itself, following the principles Googles has established. What if we have to leave this behind and think bigger within the social shear? After all the basics of our existence are all social, not search – and the economic incentive, especially the once that have not even been touched by any web advertising model are much larger in the real world. I am sure we will hear more about this soon as different people digg in and find more evidence and more ideas arise to turn this into a functional economic system.

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