Stark Differences: Social Vs. Search Referrals & Ad Clicking Behavior

The search marketplace is still a relatively young industry, yet the technology and investment communities view it as a mature market. A near-total majority of web users utilize a search engine on a daily basis, and the largest players are now generally entrenched.

In this context, social networks represent the next growth industry — in use by a continually growing portion of the population and presenting unique use cases that attract consumers and brands that want to engage either directly and/or through ads on the platforms.

Search Engine Vs. Social Network Ad Clicks

Both search engines and social networks depend on leveraging massive amounts of data to put ads in front of eyes that want to see them. But for brands focused solely on driving more traffic to their site through social networks — like publishers and other ad-supported brands — the latest analysis shows that this strategy is unlikely to result in significantly higher online ad revenue.

To quantify this study, Chitika Insights analyzed hundreds of millions of impressions, and any subsequent clicks from within the Chitika ad network. The data set analyzed consisted of impressions cataloged from December 1 through December 7, 2013.

We then specifically examined impressions and clicks generated from users referred to a page either through a search engine (specifically, Ask, Bing, Google, or Yahoo) or through a social network (specifically, Facebook and Pinterest). Twitter was excluded from this analysis due to Twitter app clients (e.g., TweetDeck) largely masking referrer data.

Online Ad CTR_

Visitors coming from the social networks included in the study exhibited an average online ad CTR that was only 29% of the average CTR of users coming from search. Breaking this down by individual referrers, we see that even the search engine whose users had the lowest average CTR (Google) had a much higher CTR than that of the best performing social network.

This information builds upon a previous Chitika Insights study, which found that visitors coming from search engines exhibited higher online ad CTRs as compared to users coming directly to the URL from other pages within the site, or from other sites on the web as a whole.

In terms of online ad engagement, users coming from either Facebook or Pinterest are, on average, one of the least likely groups to click, with a CTR largely on par with what we previously observed from direct site visitors.

Behavior Differences: Search Vs. Social Visitors

So, why the large difference in behavior between search- and social-referred visitors? There are several potential contributing factors, and all relate to the dissimilarity in how a user processes and engages with each platform.

Search remains more of a tool to drive traffic to content, while social networks act largely as hosts of content. After a user visits a link posted within their social network — a photo or product page for example — they are likely to be drawn back to the social network to further explore more content. Also, a visitor’s interest in the topic may be more of a network effect, meaning that the user followed the link because of who posted it, not necessarily because of what was posted. Conversely, direct interest in the topic or content is implied by using a search engine to navigate to the page.

For website owners and advertisers, these data paint a distinct picture — while social networks can be a tremendously plentiful source of traffic, you shouldn’t expect those users to contribute a great deal to your online ad revenue in terms of clicks.

The potential traffic boost is the main reason behind the increasingly ubiquitous share button, which seems to indicate that sites are having a great deal of success using the power of social networks to drive traffic towards their content.

Shares, Likes and Tweets can give a piece of content a life beyond the usual marketing reach of the site. However, this extra traffic doesn’t perform as well as search traffic from an ad engagement perspective.

Traffic Monetization

Websites with heavy social traffic such as BuzzFeed have adopted alternative paths to monetize that traffic through promoted posts, which they then advertise on the social networks themselves. BuzzFeed going through these dual efforts point to the value of social traffic (despite its low CTR) and the need to get creative in monetizing the large number of potential eyeballs it attracts.

As most sites are likely to get some combination of search, social, direct and outside links, it’s important for site owners to first understand their traffic mix, and then look to implement more traditional or newfound monetization strategies.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Analytics | Analytics & Marketing Column | Channel: Analytics | Display Advertising | Social Media Marketing | Social Media Marketing: Advertising | Statistics | Statistics: Online Advertising | Statistics: Online Behavior | Statistics: Social Media


About The Author: is a Data Solutions Engineer at Chitika and a lead author for reports by Chitika Insights, the research arm of the online ad network. Some of his main responsibilities include understanding fluctuations within Chitika’s large network of enterprise-class publishers, developing optimizations to improve ad monetization, and using analytical techniques to extract market share information from internal data for use in conducting research and generating market studies.

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