January 25th, 2007

Not All Traffic Is Created Equal

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We all bow down to the gods of traffic, but the reality is that not all traffic is created equal. Perhaps if you’re selling junk page views to an ad network for rock-bottom prices, it’s all the same, but for most pages on most “quality” content sites, some kinds of traffic are definitely better than others.

Digg and other social news sites have captured the imagination of publishers because of the massive amounts of referral traffic that Digg in particular can drive, leading to the obvious comparisons to Google and search engine traffic. Danny Sullivan points out that, in terms of raw traffic, sites like Digg seem to beat out non-Google search engines. (TechCrunch’s referral sources was an important reference point.)

But mounting evidence suggests that Digg traffic in particular is less like networking with like-minded individuals at a social event and more like getting attacked by a pack of wild dogs, who leave nothing of value in their wake, other than lessons learned on closing comments and crashed servers.

SiteLogic has a great, detailed analysis of how traffic from different sources behaves on three different sites. The third analysis, of Kim Kraus Berg’s CRE8PC, has specific data on Digg vs. Del.icio.us vs. link traffic vs. search traffic. The difference is striking.

Digg referrals spent an average of 3.6 seconds on the site, compared to link referrals that spend an average of one minute or more. Search and Del.icio.us traffic don’t spend much time, but Digg’s average is only 25-50% of the other averages.

Kim herself wrote a post titled “I Don’t Digg Being Dugg”, where she observes what many others have –Digg users are abusive and generally uncivilized:

Another way of looking at it is this. You take a walk through a park and quietly enjoy it and the experience. Perhaps you will recommend it to someone else. Or, you can visit the park and leave graffiti all over the benches, paths, and toss toilet paper into the tree branches.

Many sites, including the New York Times, have put “submit to Digg” buttons on their content pages, figuring that they need to bow down to the traffic gods like everyone else. But it appears that the Digg traffic god is not a benevolent god.

At some point sites are going to start to discriminate among traffic sources in terms of quality rather than quantity. Sure, if you have advertisers who are willing to blindly monetize any page view, it might not seem to matter on the surface. But I wouldn’t count on that lack of discrimination to last.

  • Good post, but it's not clear to me why it's bad to get an occasional surge of readers from a source like Digg. Unless it brings your servers to a crashing halt, you'll almost always find a few new marginal readers among the hordes from this source, and at no cost. It's no different than circulation-building techniques: Your most desirable subscribers are the ones who renew time and again with little or no prompting (or marketing expense). Next are those originally referred by complementary, desirable sources. But to meet your numbers, you may have to resort to "cheap" sources occasionally. They give you a rush of trials, and you accept the fact that they won't convert as well. It costs you little or nothing and you won't spend anything trying to convert them later. "Bad" traffic will go away on its own, so no need to take action against it now.

  • regarding the "submit to digg" button still on the post:

    I don't think the problem here is with Digg, or the traffic from Digg, or even the whole of the Digg community-I'm all but sure that the majority of the Digg reading community don't comment on the posts (I can vouch for this at least personally-most Digg users go for news and interesting content, not for the "discussion") but instead look for interesting media and topics and then head over to those links that interest them.

    I think that the traffic isn't the bad part, it's the segment of the Digg community that tends to go with the traffic that's problematic. By and large the folks who comment on Digg are..well..everything that's already been said and is widely understood. The rest of the folks, who don't generally go to Digg for anything but news and linkworthy content, are just fine.

  • Interesting post, useful information. Funny the post still has "Submit to Digg" link below it. :)

  • That's about all I needed to hear about it. Who needs readers like that. Or are they just trolls?

  • Lawrence, do you have examples of Dugg articles that have received lots of links from Digg users?

    Prof. Daga, you can see Digg's demographics here.

    HMTKSteve, good for you but not good for your advertisers is a market imperfection and it won't last.

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