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Search, Social and Direct Traffic – [TRAFFIC ANALYSIS]

This morning I spent a little time doing some analysis (using Google Analytics) of the traffic coming into my main blog – Digital Photography School.

My analysis was stimulated by a question from a reader who in response to last week’s two posts examining the place of Digg and Social Bookmarkingin a bloggers priorities asked me:

What role does Social Bookmarking traffic play in your blog?

I decided to dig into the metrics on DPS and find out the answer… or at least that is what I started out doing…..

As I began to analyze the stats I realized that DPS has four main referrers of traffic – each are quite different from the others and yet each are very important. What follows in this post is me thinking out loud on each source of traffic and what it means to my blog.

Looking at the big picture

Lets start by looking at the big picture of the traffic coming into DPS. For the purpose of this post I’ll go back to the start of 2007 with my analysis (the time I started using Google Analytics) and I will only be looking at traffic coming into the DPS blog (ie this doesn’t include data on the forums).

Here’s a snapshot of all traffic coming into the DPS blog since 1 January 2007 (click to enlarge all images in this post).

You can see over the last 22 months that the DPS blog has had steady growth. There have been 11.5 million visitors, around 25 million page views and they stay on the site around two and a half minutes per visit.

At 1 January the average daily visitor numbers were around 4,000-5,000 visitors. At present they average around 23,000-25,000.

Looking specifically at the main sources of traffic to the blog – there are four that are responsible for a little under 70% of all of the above traffic:

  1. Google (26%)
  2. Direct Traffic (RSS, Newsletters, Browser Bookmarks etc) (21%)
  3. StumbleUpon (11%)
  4. Digg (9%)

The next highest referrers are significantly lower in how much traffic they bring in and include Yahoo, many other blogs (big and small) and Delicious.

As you can see – Google is a fairly important factor in my blog. Add other search traffic from Yahoo, MSN, AOL and search traffic is responsible for around 30% of the overall traffic.

If I was to categorize all of the social bookmarking traffic (Digg, StumbleUpon, Delicious, Reddit, Popurls etc it accounts for around 24% of overall traffic (a little higher than ‘direct’).

OK – so this information is mildly interesting (to me at least) but when I dig down a little further and do some analysis of each type of traffic I find it more illuminating.

Digg Traffic

Since last week we were talking about Digg, lets start with that.

Here’s how Digg traffic to the DPS blog has looked over the last 22 months.

Straight away we can see the nature of Digg traffic. It is either there or it isn’t. The spikes can be fairly significant (in most cases they range from 10,000 to 30,000 visitors) but between them the traffic from Digg rarely gets over 100 visitors a day.

Lets look at a few other stats on Digg visitors over this period:

  • They viewed 1.39 pages per visit (site average was 2.17)
  • They spent an average of 54 seconds on the site (site average was 2 minutes and 35 seconds)

So in comparison to overall averages Digg users are fairly fleeting (although note as fleeting as I hear some people saying).

One other thing worth saying about Digg visitors. I’ve heard a lot of people say that they don’t ‘convert’ to regular readers. So lets have a look at my newsletter signups for the latest ‘Digg Event’ on DPS (that last spike on the chart).


As you’ll see there was a definite increase in subscriber numbers on the day of my last Digg event (Nov 13th). Of course that day had 14,000 visitors from Digg to the site and subscriber numbers were only up around 150 subscribers – so Digg users don’t become loyal readers in huge numbers – but some of them do convert. I’d suspect that RSS subscribers would increase by a similar sort of rate after a Digg event.

I’ve noticed similar sorts of increases in subscriber numbers on other ‘Digg events’. They don’t convert massively but I always do pick up extra readers each time – the stats on the site tend to look like this chart taken from my post – How to Build a ‘Digg Culture’ on your Blog:


This is actually one of the biggest benefits of social bookmarking traffic for me. While the actual spike in traffic is nice – the real benefit comes from those readers you’re able to convert to regular readers. 100 extra readers adds up to thousands of page views over a year.

One more stat on ‘conversion to loyalty’:

Over the last few months I’ve had a test running on Google Analtyics that analyzes how many visitors ‘convert’ to subscribers. I’ve set up a ‘Goal’ on Google Analytics that is triggered as achieved when people reach the thank you page for my newsletter subscription (meaning when they convert to verified subscribers).

Digg Users get to this page 0.48% of the time. This is in comparison to an average of 2.24% for the overall site.

Do Digg Users Click Ads?

One of the great things about Google Analytics now is that you can track AdSense earnings if you link your AdSense and Analytics accounts (they’re still rolling this feature for some).

While AdSense TOS prohibits sharing of too much information on earnings I’ll share some vague stats with you on how different readers ‘convert’ with ads.

  • The CPM (earnings per 1000 page views) has converted with Digg readers at about half the site average.
  • The CTR (click through rate) of Digg users is about a third of the site average.

So the common perception that Digg users don’t click ads is backed up – to a point. Some of them do click and when you consider that you can get 30,000 of them visiting your site in a day this can add up.

Keep in mind that Digg traffic can be useful for monetizing a site in other ways – particularly when you’re making money on a CPM basis where you’re paid per page view.

StumbleUpon Traffic

StumbleUpon actually sends me more traffic than Digg does over time. Here’s how the traffic from SU looks over the last 22 months.

Here we see that the nature of Stumble Upon traffic is actually quite different from Digg. While both are ‘bookmarking’ sites they are really quite different. When a post gets popular on StumbleUpon the traffic it generates is spread out over days (and even weeks and months). There’s often no single day when you get masses of traffic but rather it’s more of a slow burner (I’ve written more about this in a post titled Why StumbleUpon Sends More Traffic than Digg).

You’ll see that StumbleUpon traffic has actually grown significantly over time. What I put this down to is that as I’ve written more and more posts on my blog there have been more entry points for SU traffic. While traffic grows and then falls off to particular posts on SU if you have multiple posts generating traffic you can actually see it build to significant numbers (like they were in the period of June/July this year where I had about 6-7 posts doing very well in SU simultaneously).

Lets look at a couple of other metrics on the SU traffic:

  • They viewed 1.62 pages per visit (site average was 2.17)
  • They spent an average of 1 minute and 7 seconds on the site (site average was 2 minutes and 35 seconds)

So StumbleUpon traffic is a little more sticky than Digg traffic. They view more pages and stick around longer.

Do StumbleUpon users signup for the newsletter and become loyal? My stats show that 0.51% of them have reached the thank you page on my newsletter subscription process. Slightly higher than Digg users but a lot lower than overall site averages.

Do StumbleUpon users click ads?

Interestingly StumbleUpon users seem to click on ads less than Digg users with the limited amount of stats that I have on this. The CPM that I’m seeing with SU users is very similar to that for Digg users but the CTR was about a third of Digg users (and about a tenth of overall site averages).

Search Engine Traffic

My number one traffic source on DPS is that from search engines. Google takes the lions share of this but I’ve added in the others into this analysis (interestingly Yahoo has been on the increase of late). Here’s how the search engine traffic has grown over the last 22 months.

Again – a very different shaped chart to the others. The two spikes in traffic are both to do with search traffic increasing for terms around ‘fireworks photography’ at around 4th July – but other than that it’s very steady growth with little weekly spikes and troughs in traffic but not much else to note.

This traffic has gone up over time for a couple of main reasons:

1. I’ve been adding content – the more pages you have the more entry points that search engines can send people to

2. The sites authority has grown over time – the longer you’re around the more links you have pointing at your blog and the more authoritative search engines begin to give you.

Lets look at a couple of other stats from Search Engine Traffic:

  • They viewed 2.55 pages per visit (site average was 2.17)
  • They spent an average of 3 minutes and 20 seconds on the site (site average was 2 minutes and 35 seconds)

Interestingly Google readers view 2.51 pages and spend 3 minutes and 16 seconds while Yahoo readers view over 3 pages and spend over 4 minutes on the site.

In terms of ‘conversion’ via the newsletter – 2.72% of search engine visitors have made it to the thank you page (again it’s better for Yahoo than Google). This is better than the site average making search traffic more sticky than social media traffic.

Do Search Engine Readers Click Ads?

The common perception is that search engine referrals are more profitable when it comes to CPC advertising programs like AdSense. My stats back this up.

I’m seeing the CPM of my search traffic as about 10% higher than the site average and CTR up by about 10% also. Interestingly I’m seeing Yahoo traffic as about 30% higher than Google.

Direct Traffic

The last category of traffic that I want to analyze is what Google Analytics classifies as ‘direct’ traffic. This traffic includes those coming in from desktop RSS subscribers, newsletters, browser bookmarks, type in traffic etc. Here’s how this traffic has looked over the last 22 months.

Again we see a fairly steady growth in this area. The weekly spikes coincide with when I’ve sent out newsletters. The bigger spikes mainly coincide with when we’ve run competitions in our newsletters.

The reason for the growth in this traffic is largely that I’ve worked very hard on building a newsletter list for this blog (particularly over the last year).

Lets look at some more stats on this direct traffic:

  • They viewed 2.28 pages per visit (site average was 2.17)
  • They spent an average of 2 minutes and 55 seconds on the site (site average was 2 minutes and 35 seconds)

Both of these stats are higher than the site average but lower than search engine traffic. However considering that many of these visitors come to the site on a weekly basis and view hundreds of pages a year these averages are pretty good.

In terms of ‘goal conversion’ (or getting these people to my thank you page of the newsletter signup – they convert at 2.08%. This is slightly under the site average but considering many of them have already signed up – it’s pretty good.

Do Direct Referrals Click Ads?

This one interested me because I suspected that these highly loyal readers would become pretty blind to AdSense ads over time. However they are bang on average for the site with both CTR and CPM performance almost exactly on the site average.

Concluding Thoughts

I know this post has been rather long and so I will keep my concluding thoughts brief (I considered posting this as a series of posts but hope it’s more helpful seeing everything side by side).

All traffic has its place and serves different purposes.

One of the main things that strikes me about this exercise is that while some people write off different types of traffic – that together they come together in fairly significant ways.

For example – Digg traffic may not be that sticky or profitable – however as I think back to the early days of DPS it was the early series of Digg spikes that helped to get the blog going.

Even going back before January 2007 (before the charts above) DPS was on the front page of Digg quite a few times. Each time this happened the site step ups in loyal readers to the blog. This helped it grow even though at the time the site wasn’t generating much search traffic.

Overtime search has been increasingly important to the site in finding new visitors. The Digg spikes are handy and still draw people in that have not seen us before but in many ways they’ve served their purpose for the site and now our Google and Yahoo authority has kicked in we’re starting to see more benefits from there.

As I look forward I see both ‘search’ and ‘direct’ traffic as taking over even more from social bookmarking traffic. If things continue to grow as they are search and direct traffic will out number even the biggest spikes that the site might get from Digg.

This doesn’t mean I’ll not value the bookmarking traffic – but it’ll play less of a roll.

Social Bookmarking as an SEO tool

One last unproven idea that has been lingering in my mind lately is the importance of social bookmarking as an SEO strategy. I’m not sure how much of an impact it has had on the growth of search traffic on DPS but surely all of the links to DPS from Digg, StumbleUpon, Delicious, Reddit and other social bookmarking sites have had an impact upon the site’s search authority.

Even posts that don’t get to the front page of Digg that are bookmarked there must at least be getting some search engine juice from the bookmark.

More than that – getting on the front page of Digg or going popular on Delicious often has the flow on effect of being linked to by a lot of other blogs and websites that watch these pages. For example my last appearance on the popular page on Delicious stimulated at least 30 or so links from other blogs. Again – each link is adding to the search engine authority of the blog.

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  1. Nice traffic comparison of the major referrers. It looks like when you have stats to back it up, any referrer can be a good one, even if it’s only in one way or another.

  2. Thats nice to have some insight on how users from sources like Digg and SU affect income. From my experience most clicks are coming from the search engine visitors. I guess it is not surprising since they all are seeking something and not hanging around at random.

  3. I think advertisers like the search engine traffic, because I have seen in my site that we get paid more when someone coming from search engine clicks on the ad.
    I am confused about one thing thought, is that advertisers or the ad network, that love search engine traffic!

  4. Nice analysis, and I tend to agree with your conclusions.
    Just this evening, I was using google analytics to do a similar analysis on one of my websites, with similar results (although my search engine traffic is higher, at around 55%), with the social bookmarking having a similar impact on traffic volume over time.

  5. Good analysis. Traffic from multiple sources is always helpful especially when first starting out. You never know where that next group of traffic will come from unless you become more rounded and work all the different angles.

  6. Good analysis. If we keep traffic of our blog, when ever we find a dip in traffic then we can easily where the fault had occurred and so that we can easily take necessary steps to rectify it.

  7. Great Analysis Darren. I need to tweet this :-)

  8. Very helpful post, thank you!

  9. I didn’t know you could track adsense with analytics. I don’t think I have it yet, but I can’t wait for it. And for some odd reason I have this bias against Digg and I’m kinda glad it’s not a high yielding as Stumbleupon which in my book is a way easier bookmarking tool.

  10. I am loving all of your info via twitter! Had no idea you were the mind behind DPS. I am a new member there and love the concepts.


  11. I am very experienced but in a short period of time i have learned that stumbleupon is more ‘stable’ source of traffic than Digg, However it’s less easier to get a stumblers vote for you unless they have SU toolbar installed… and In general i believe visitors coming from Social bookingmarking sites are less likely to click ads rather in my experience they are annoyed unless the site owner has got a good site design and have placed ads in a way that don’t bother the readers like i do :P and i take it very seriously !!! anyway nice comparison and thanks for sharing! :-}

  12. Holy cow missed the word ‘NOT’ i am NOT very experienced just for correction :-p *blush*

  13. Very interesting post, it is certainly an eye opener into the very different behaviours of different types of visitor.

  14. Excellent analysis, but you seem to have overlooked one thing — those social bookmark visitors really are _people_, not just ‘traffic’. Sure, they are not likely to spend much time on their FIRST visit, but they do become aware of your existence. Then, when they want to go back (when they have a specific need for the kinds of information you provide), they have either bookmarked you and become direct traffic, or they use a search engine to find you again, and become search traffic. It’s all the same people.

  15. Traffic is steadly growing :)
    Good Analysis. THx.

  16. Trully fantastic post – one of those for which it is worth to subscribe to a blog.


  17. this was fantastic – thank you so much! It definitely motivated me to keep trying with Digg. I appreciate you drawing the analysis through the full cycle of gaining hits to gaining subscribers. This was a lot of work!

  18. This is fascinating analysis Darren! Our website is only a few months old and we can see overall traffic is primarily Google. But we do get a fair amount of traffic from Digg and SU, too. I like the information on quality of traffic too (do they stay long, do they click ads). Thanks for sharing!

  19. Darren,
    Phenomenal post – thanks so much for sharing all this data and your insight behind it. I have found that the more you dig into metrics, the more questions you have. This is not a bad thing – it is simply the nature of how engrossing it is to see how readers actually behave on the web and on your site.
    Have a great day.

  20. Great analysis. I really learn a lot from very detail analysis.What can I learn from you, We have to post quality article to get good traffic from social bookmarking.

  21. Thanks for the insights. It’s real numbers like these that help each of us determine where best to put our time and efforts.

  22. Darren, this article is huge, and your analysis is really helpful. Thanks!

  23. Great post. The more numbers we have to show clients the “real” everyting becomes.

  24. Great post. I will be very happy if I can boast of just 1,000 monthly view. Although I started my blog in july, i am still struggling with the traffic issue and i think google is not yet my friend because i have not seen any traffic from google whatsoever and all my pages are indexed but they have never sent me any traffic. I try to really write great posts and I put so many things into that but I get frustrated at times. Please can any body suggest practicals things that they have done that brought significant traffic to their website. I love what i do but I am a little not happy with the lack of traffic to my blog. If Darren would not mind, this is my blog url http://oketimothy.blogspot.com I will sure be expecting your friendly advice. Thanks, Oke Timothy

  25. Thanks, Darren. You are giving me great things to think about. I appreciate how you think strategically in an article like this.

  26. That google app is quite useful. I should take a look at that next. Thanks!

  27. Great information. I have seen other people report similar results. It always seems like stumbleupon traffic comes up as the best social bookmarking traffic from a stickiness standpoint. Nice to see that confirmed yet again.

    Time to stumble this post…

  28. Hi Darren,

    Thank you! This is what I have been looking for in terms of data to indicate whether or not Digg / Stumble provide a long term benefit. This was an excellent post and very helpful.

  29. I understand that every little bit counts when it comes to traffic and clickthroughs. But do you think that the time you spend in Digg and/or SU is worth the traffic it generates?

  30. I think your conversion of visitors to regulars is right on par. I had the opportunity to work in a sale / marketing job for a few years and discovered the following on customers that become clients:

    For every 100 visitors / inquiries I got, about 1 of those became a client. A potential sale.

    Of clients, for every 100, from 1 to 5 became a paying client.

    Sales is a pure numbers game and I translate my paying number sales to readers that become regulars, and regulars that may become interested in your products offered.

  31. To others: For the new blog, growth takes time if you don’t have the pure advantage of an international presence.

    Social sites could be worth it if you develop a niche of people who help you out… be weary not to promote your own stuff. It seems to hurt more than help.

    Every now and then, you’d be surprised who reads your material and links to you.. which helps the google rank definitely.

    I’ve been surprised on and off from my multiple # of blogs that I’ve been linked to on occasion, A&E networks, TV Guide, ESPN…

    It’s the little things that help and if you’re doing this because you have a love of sharing info, you’ll be OK. If you’re primary goal in fame and fortune, you may be in for a maniacal, frustrating uphill battle.

    Remember, it’s the goals you’ve chosen that can end up being the frustrating part of the equation.. not the equation itself.

    OK, I gotta sneak back onto the work intranet and get back to work. sshhh. -Bruce

  32. Great data. A must read. Thanks for sharing.

  33. Great tips. It take time to grow a blog. MyblogLog also is a good place to get people and get your site noticed.

  34. That’s pretty cool. I am curious as to how much time you spend strategizing about social media sites or promoting your site on them.

  35. Thanks Darren for the “intelligence”. I hope people take note and realize this is footwork you have done for us.

    Interestingly, I’ve noticed the same basic results for my traffic, though I haven’t hit the front page of Digg as often as I’m sure you have.

    Of all the social websites, Stumble Upon brings in the most constant traffic, however, none of them purchase any of my services – only searches from search engines seem to be my primary source of paying customers.

  36. Interesting and useful analysis, Darren. Thanks for sharing!

  37. Very cool post Darren! I love seeing the stats in graphic format for a blog that has been around for a while and has a good following. It’s amazing to see the traffic tendancies are so predictable!

  38. Epic Post! This is the type of content I love seeing on this website.

  39. Thank you for a great post — it’s very useful to me.

    Although my traffic patterns are very different (66% search, 27% referring, 7% direct), I see many similarities in RSS signups, average time on the site, etc. StumbleUpon has been a good driver of traffic, and my stats are about the same as yours.

    As my blog matures, I hope to increase the percentage of referring traffic, but right now it’s encouraging to see that my posts have a long shelf life and are SEO optimized.

  40. What a fantastic post, as a webmaster it’s fascinating.

    I kind of knew you’d appreciate digg in the end, they are the visitors who are most likely to link to you which is great for true authority.

    Really great reading, cheers.

  41. What would be interesting is how many Digg and Stumble visitors became type in traffic or Google visitors after their initial visit.

  42. I just made social bookmarking one of my daily routines. Besides promoting my own stuff, I try and share the love by raising awareness with all of the valuable articles I read. This post just validated that I’m on the right track. Thanks.

  43. I have been seeing in ancrease in traffic to my web site from a variety of sources.

    Google Analytics has been just great and helping me interpret trends and patterns in my site traffic.

    Social media webistes are about a 1/4 of my current traffic levels, but that is slowly increasing. But most of my visitors come from referral links or Google.

  44. Although i get very little direct Digg traffic i agree with the links you can get due to others watching Digg especially, i had a story ripped from me a few weeks back, they did give me a link at the bottom but it was pretty much useless for referrals.

    The site in question took the watermarks off my pictures .. all 3 of them. What i did get though was all the good people that saw that article due to it getting ~2000 Diggs actually used my original images and gave me much more credit for the story …. from those people i got plenty of links and still growing nicely.

    The article http://neilduckett.com/quarter-pounder-opens-in-shibuya-omotesando/ is now by far my most linked out story and traffic has grown steadily because of it.

  45. Darren,

    What a great post! As an up-and-coming blogger, it was nice to see the effects on traffic from various sources on such a large scale. I have not yet been fortunate enough to get one of my blog entries put on Digg or StumbleUpon, but this post gives me a great representation of what I hope will happen to my blogs soon enough!

    Keep writing a great blog!


  46. Great analysis and you have had a huge amount of success on your blog. I hope to have this amount of success soon too.

  47. Hi. I don’t know if my blog gets an older crowd who does not enable their cookies, but I find that Google Analytics’ numbers are not always accurate. GA does not pick up traffic from people whose cookies are not enabled.

    My webhost (asio.net) has a program to see your numbers which comes from them. Unfortunately, I don’t get alot of information with this program but notice most of my traffic comes from Google.

    I also use a plug-in stat program on my site and it too is much higher than Google. It give me a little more detail.

    I am wondering if anyone else is using different stats software and seeing this as well. This would surely alter data but I think in the end, it would similar to what Darren is saying but the traffic might be higher.

  48. Carl – you asked “But do you think that the time you spend in Digg and/or SU is worth the traffic it generates?”

    I spend less than an hour a week on StumbleUpon and Digg and they’ve sent me millions of readers….. I’d answer your question with a resounding yes it is worth it.

  49. That was a good case study. I’m about to start a new internet marketing blog, and was wondering what source of traffifc should I use. Here are my ideas:

    – Guest Posting
    – Commentating

    I haven’t heard you talk about using guest posting and commentating for traffic. Since some bloggers don’t achieve success with social bookmarking sites, what’s your say about using commentating and guest posting for gaining traffic?

  50. Digg/SU traffic is just a different type of traffic. It lacks the quality of organic, but it’s main advantage is the volume. Which I’ll take at any time :)


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