AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT DISCOVERY VS. SEARCH VS. SOCIAL

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1 AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT DISCOVERY VS. SEARCH VS. SOCIAL FEBRUARY 2014

2 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Critical to developing relationships with consumers and audiences on the web is the ability to engage them beyond a mere impression. Measuring how deeply an audience interacts with content is an important step to determine not just the quantity of interactions, but also the quality and level of audience engagement with the subject matter. By analyzing traffic sources and their impact upon engagement, one can see considerable differences in engagement when it comes to three major types of traffic sources: search engines, social media and content discovery. Overall, audiences driven by content discovery are more engaged and more likely to stay on-site longer than audiences driven by search and social marketing properties. This higher level of engagement is seen in multiple data points and consistently across different categories of content. The wide margin of difference for content discovery suggests that it can be a much more efficient channel for both driving interactions with branded content, as well as developing longer-term sustainable relationships with audiences. KEY FINDINGS Discovery traffic views 100% more pages per session than search traffic and 165% more pages per session than social traffic (see chart 1) Discovery traffic is 23% less likely to bounce than search traffic and 32% less likely to bounce than social traffic (see chart 3) Discovery traffic is most engaged with travel content, search traffic is most engaged with health content and social traffic is most engaged with entertainment content METHODOLOGY Since Outbrain tracks traffic to all content pages across our network of 100,000+ publisher sites, we are in a unique position to study engagement levels of incoming traffic at scale. We pulled a 3-month (June 1 st August 31 st 2013) sample data set of over 2 billion U.S. consumer sessions 1 that exceeded 3.4 billion page views in total. This analysis focuses on the portion of these sessions that began on external sites and compares engagement of traffic referred by Search (Google, AOL Search, Bing, Yahoo and Ask), Social (Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Stumble Upon, Digg, Pinterest, and Reddit), and Discovery 2 (Outbrain). 3 2

3 READER ENGAGEMENT BY TRAFFIC SOURCE This analysis employs multiple metrics to measure reader engagement, including average page views per session and bounce rate 4. Since the goal of this study was to measure the impact of traffic source (Search vs. Social vs. Discovery) on reader engagement, it was important that the results reflect the impact of the traffic source itself and not any other factors that might vary between traffic sources. To this end, we identified such potential factors prior to our study and ensured they were held constant between the three types of traffic sources. Specifically, the set of publisher sites where a source is sending traffic can have a strong impact on reader engagement levels. Some publisher sites are inherently more engaging than others (e.g., slideshow sites generate more page views) and that should not be what drives the results. Therefore, we excluded four slideshow-heavy publisher sites from our analysis 5 and ensured that no single publisher site accounted for more than 10% of a traffic source s page views. With slideshowheavy sites removed from our sample and each source s traffic more evenly distributed between publisher sites, we proceeded to our analysis. First, we looked at average page views per session for each type of traffic source: Average Page Views Per Session Social Search Discovery Discovery traffic 6 views an average of 3.5 pages after clicking through to a piece of content, which is 100% more pages than search (1.8 pages) and 165% more than social (1.3 pages). Next, we compared the average page views per session between the top referring sources in our analysis in terms of traffic volume. These included Google (54% of sessions), Facebook (17%), Twitter (7%), Bing (6%), Yahoo (5%) and Outbrain (4%). 3

4 Top Traffic Sources: Average Page Views Per Session Twitter Facebook Yahoo Google Bing Outbrain Average Bounce Rate 86% 76% 59% Social Search Discovery Discovery traffic only bounces 60% of the time, which is 23% less than search traffic (76%) and 32% less than social traffic (86%). Readers who discover content via paid recommendations may have the lowest tendency to bounce because content recommendations target an audience that is already engaged and in content consumption mode. Traffic coming from social media sources, on the other hand, has the highest tendency to bounce. 4

5 Top Traffic Sources: Average Bounce Rate 86% 85% 81% 76% 74% 59% Twitter Facebook Yahoo Google Bing Outbrain ACROSS PLATFORMS: READER ENGAGEMENT BY TRAFFIC SOURCE There is no question that the device a person uses to consume content has an enormous impact on their level of engagement with that content. We thought it would be useful to take a look at our results within each user platform 7. Page Views Per Session by Platform DISCOVERY SEARCH SOCIAL Mobile Desktop Tablet Search and social traffic view the most pages per session on desktop computers; whereas discovery traffic views the most pages per session on tablets. Regardless of platform, discovery traffic views the most pages per session of the three traffic sources. 5

6 ACROSS CONTENT CATEGORIES: READER ENGAGEMENT BY TRAFFIC SOURCE Finally, we looked at reader engagement levels for each traffic source within eleven different content categories. We chose to use bounce rate as our engagement metric for this analysis, because content length (i.e., number of characters or pages) can vary between categories and the page view per session metric might falsely favor categories that inherently lend themselves to long form content. The bounce rate metric places each category on a more level playing field. Bounce Rate by Category Travel Autos Business and Finance DISCOVERY SEARCH SOCIAL Recreation Health Home and Lifestyle Entertainment Sports News Technology and Internet Electronics 100% 90% 80% 70% 60% 50% 40% 30% 20% 10% 0% As you can see, discovery traffic is least likely to bounce when consuming Travel content and most likely to bounce when consuming Electronics content. Search traffic, however, has its lowest tendency to bounce when it is directed to Electronics content and social traffic has its lowest tendency to bounce when sent to Entertainment content. Discovery traffic is less likely than search or social traffic to bounce from every category except electronics (search s highest performing category and discovery s lowest performing category). 6

7 RECOMMENDATIONS FOR MEASURING REFERRED TRAFFIC ENGAGEMENT If you re driving traffic to your content, make sure to separate between earned traffic (incoming links from blogs, direct search) from paid traffic (Sponsored stories on Facebook, Promoted tweets on Twitter, Paid discovery on Outbrain or Paid search on Google Compare engagement levels within sections of your site rather than across the full site. If you have a commerce section on your site and you re driving traffic to it via paid search, its engagement KPIs will be very different from those of your content areas. When comparing engagement levels, take out the pages that can skew your analysis (e.g., high page view sections like slideshows and very low engagement pages that got very little traffic). Focus on the areas of the content that got the largest volumes of traffic. Optimizing those areas will yield the highest impact on KPIs and business results. With the latest release of Google Analytics, it s possible to track segment behavior rather than just the behavior within a single session. This enables a better understanding of how your audience moves down a funnel over multiple sessions. See more here. SUMMARY Audiences driven by content discovery are more engaged and more likely to stay on-site longer than audiences driven by search and social marketing properties. The wide margin of difference for content discovery suggests that it can be a much more efficient channel for both driving interactions with branded content, as well as developing longer-term sustainable relationships with audiences. 7

8 ABOUT OUTBRAIN Outbrain (www.outbrain.com) helps people discover the most interesting, relevant and trusted content wherever they are. Outbrain provides personalized recommendations across a network of premium publishers, including CNN, Fox News, Hearst, Rolling Stone, US Weekly and Fast Company. Through Outbrain s all-in-one content Outbrain solution, publishers, brands and marketers are able to amplify their audience engagement by driving traffic to their content - on their site and around the web. Outbrain is currently installed on more than 100,000 sites and generates more than 10 billion page views per month. Founded in 2006, the company is headquartered in New York, with 15 offices globally, including the U.S., U.K., Israel, Singapore and Australia A session is defined as a series of page views within a publisher site with no more than 30 minutes between one page view and the next Discovery only includes Outbrain because there is no other discovery platform for editorial content only and Outbrain accounted for 90% of all sessions referred by paid recommendations The sample included 82M+ discovery sessions, 1.3B+ search sessions and 608M+ social sessions (totaling 2B+ sessions with 3.4B+ page views) Average page views per session is defined as the average number of pages visited by a user during his or her session. Bounce rate is defined as the percentage of sessions that only lasted one page view. These included Bossip, Reader s Digest, ROFL Zone and various Rev New Media properties Discovery traffic refers to all traffic that is delivered to content pages via paid recommendations (i.e., the traffic source is a paid redirect) and does not include organic (i.e., in-site recirculation) content recommendations User platform refers to the platform that the reader used to access the content (i.e., desktop, mobile or tablet) Get Your Content Discovered CONTACT 8

9 DISCOVER OUTBRAIN WWW.

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