UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

If Social Discovery Is Beating Traditional Search, Then What?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 9 Jun 2010

Workshop on the Importance of the Social Web for Maximising Impact and Traffic

A year ago I facilitated sessions in a series of two-day workshop on “Improve your online presence“ which had been commissioned by the Strategic Content Alliance (SCA). In the run-up to the workshop, whilst preparing my session on how the Social Web can enhance access to resources I published a post entitled From Search Engine to Twitter Optimisation which was based on my observations that Twitter, and not Google, was becoming the most significant driver of traffic to this blog.

Further research revealed that I was not alone in noticing this trend, with a TechCrunch article being published around the same time pointing out, with evidence, that For TechCrunch, Twitter = Traffic (A Statistical Breakdown).

The Evidence

In my talks in the workshop I referenced another TechCrunch article which suggested that The Value Of Twitter Is In “The Power Of Passed Links. The venture capitalist Fred Wilson was quoted as predicting that “at current growth rates, Twitter [and Facebook] “will surpass Google [as a source of traffic] for many websites in the next year“.

That post was published on 16 June last year. On 2-3 June this year I took part in the first of a further series of workshops, again commissioned by the SCA and again delivered by myself in conjunction with Netskills. My slides had been slightly updated, but when I came to the slide referring to Fred Wilson’s prediction I had to stop and say “This isn’t a prediction – it has happened!“.

My comments were made in the context of a presentation given by George Munroe in the opening session of the workshop. George referred to a blog post on Search and Rescue: How to Become Findable and Shareable in Social Media published in SearchEngineWatch on 1 April 2010. This reviewed data from Compete from November 2009 which observed that a number of the top media properties are already seeing a dominant effect in traffic from social networking services.

As can be seen USA Today is getting 32% of its traffic from Social Networking services and only 6% from Google!

The Implications

Such evidence supports the observations I have been making on my blog.  But if this is true more widely, then what are the implications?  If, to restate the question, traffic is increasingly being driven by recommendation rather than metadata and clever algorithms, what are the implications for service providers?

For me it is clear that service providers will need to be engaging with the Social Web.  There will be a need to ensure that one’s social network is cultivated and maintained – and the associated dangers identified and avoided.

But I’d be interested in your thoughts on my question: if traffic is increasingly being driven by recommendation rather than metadata and clever algorithms, what are the implications for service providers?

Is this a valid supposition and, if so, what should we be doing, what should we be doing differently and what should we not be doing?

10 Responses to “If Social Discovery Is Beating Traditional Search, Then What?”

  1. AJ Cann said

    Teach people to build and curate effective personal networks.

    • I agreed that this is a real need. But who should have responsibility for doing this? Librarians have traditionally provided support in use of information retrieval tools, but would they feel that this should extend to supporting users in the development of their personal networks?

      • AJ Cann said

        If we’re saying that traditional search tools are being superseded by social recommendation, yes. Trouble is, librarians are not in a position to do this as academic network curation requires subject-specific knowledge.

  2. Tony Hirst said

    When looking at those results, I’d suggest that you also need to segment not on user, but on content type?

    Different content types may well receive different proportions of traffic from search engines vs social networks.

    If you’re a news site, then a lot of your content has a peak demand period just after it’s published. This is also the sort of thing that folk will natural share on social networks (“Did you that X just Y – [link]”).

    For content that is longer living, then I think discovery will still be weighted back towards the search engines. You might put out a query to a social network, but you’ll also use a search engine. Unless you imagine a limiting case where people predominantly only ask a social network (“anyone know where I can find X?”) and then maybe some of their social network who remember/know how to use a search engine send them a link back to a search results page…

    • Hi Tony, I’d agree on the need to avoid concluding that what might be true in one area (e.g. the news sphere you mention) is necessarily true in other contexts. This also relates to Les Carr’s point.

  3. I would personaly focuss on search traffic, it is still the most targeted traffic i know, that exists on the web. I think that media traffic is kind of overhyped and a lot of people should prever learning the basics, befpre they explore that kind of traffic.

    ———————————————————— epictrafficsystemsbonus

  4. Les Carr said

    EPrints ECS reports the following referers in the period 6th June 4am till 9th June 3pm

    Google: 5418
    Twitter: 42 18
    Facebook: 1 3

    • Useful evidence. It would be interesting to see the trends over time for your repository, and also how your experience compares with others.

      • It would also be interesting to know if most of the (admittedly small number at this stage) of social network refers relate to new items – and possibly even from their creators / depositors advertising them to their networks.

  5. […] If Social Discovery Is Beating Traditional Search, Then What? […]

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