Search Sends More & Better Traffic To Content Sites Than Social Media, Study Says

Search is the number one source of external traffic for content sites, handily beating social media by more than 300%. That’s according to the Content Discovery and Engagement Report, Q1 2011 from Outbrain, makers of a popular widget platform that’s used on dozens of major publisher sites such as USA Today, Slate, Newsweek and others.

In looking at traffic from 100 million sessions in the first quarter of this year, Outbrain found that search drove 41% of external traffic, with other content sites (31%), portals (17%) and social media (11%) coming behind.


(Outbrain lists AOL Search under the “Search” category, but AOL itself under “Portal.” Ditto for Yahoo search vs. Yahoo. Other portals include Yahoo and MSN.)

Not surprisingly, Google was the primary source of referral traffic to sites in Outbrain’s network, directing almost nine times more traffic than the average site referrer. AOL’s homepage/portal surpassed Yahoo and Facebook to the the number two spot.


Search traffic is also quality traffic, according to Outbrain’s study. Reader engagement is very high with search traffic creating the highest number of average page views per session.


Outbrain also measured reader engagement via bounce rates and “hyper engaged readership” — i.e., readers who view more than five pages in a session. In both of those cases, Content Sites were tops on the charts (lowest bounce rates, most engaged readers), and search traffic was second. Social media traffic created the highest bounce rate per session in the study.

News and entertainment sites make up more than 50% of the publishers that work with Outbrain’s platform, so the results are skewed somewhat toward that type of reader. So, while it may not be indicative of web traffic on the whole, it’s still an interesting look at what’s driving traffic to content sites. You can read more and download the full study on Outbrain’s blog.

Related Topics: Channel: Strategy | Features: General | Google: Web Search | Stats: General | Stats: Search Behavior | Top News


About The Author: is Editor-In-Chief of Search Engine Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He recently launched a site dedicated to Google Glass called Glass Almanac and also blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. Matt can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt's disclosures on his personal blog.

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  • George Michie

    Yet, at traditional marketing conferences it’s almost impossible to get a speaking gig these days on paid search. Thank goodness for SMX!

  • Tom Schmitz

    Sure search is driving more traffic over all. But, if you are growing a website’s ranking authority and influence better use social medium as the fulcrum to leverage the big search boulder.

  • I.N.

    Until one gets search engine ranking with authority, Social media is the way to go however in my opinion.

  • SarahT

    Whilst search is sending more traffic to site, social networks also benefit from having the ability to offer customer interaction within the same platform. Search is crucial in getting your brand noted for service searches, but once you have the reputation, you need to support with social.

    WIth fcommerce and the increasing ability to turn your facebook page into an experience much like a website, we cannot use this data to tell our clients tthat search is better than social for their business – it’s a crucial part of a blend which should feed into and from the social experience.

  • TeacherPaul

    This study just makes sense. Might be just the push that Facebook needs.This is why I totally expect Facebook to get search heavy when it goes public. The day Facebook goes public investors will demand search revenue, bye bye Google dominance. If they integrate it flawlessly, like they usually do, I would definitely search google and bing 50% less.

    Prior to last year I had a great deal of Google stock. I have been dumping it after realizing Facebook was considering going public. They are the next tech giant to implode, without a doubt.

  • Nick Trendov

    Wow, I was about to post about Panda whe I saw this piece, a blast from the past, circa 2005. Trust trumps search and Adsense optimized content farms will sink Google as Social Media is an easy option so they had no choice.

    Panda, however is just a tiny step as it doesn’t appear to leverage the taxonomy capabilities that Google acquired and definately doesn’t help mobile search enough to offset the spammer response of creating Apple Apps and Amazon ebooks, a lame attempt to offset pre-Panda change and still offer an Amazon buy button.

    Actually after Panda the charts above are even more suspect, bwthdik.

    The good news here is that I can add a little more to my Panda post and hopefully make the bridge to why more traffic comes to these sites from search–the site owners have to create a new value, other than sending in ‘followers’ and posting silly questions or answers and linking to videos, oh boy.


  • petryshen

    Diversity is good for everyone. Most marketers and businesses, with the exception of eHow, understand that you need to have more than one source of traffic and revenue to survive for the long haul.

    It’s just good business.

  • Mark Rogers

    It is not surprising that social media traffic bounces. Search data is going to be more highly qualified than social (better information about the page is stored in the search index). Social media traffic is disproportionately likely to be interested in one aspect of a diversified content player’s site (e.g. Taylor Swift stories). It would be great to see the underlying data though.

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