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Welcome to Shareaholic’s Search Traffic vs. Social Referrals Report. In this report, we analyzed data collected over the last 13 months across our network of 200,000+ sites that reach more than 250 million unique monthly users.

Here, we tracked the amount of traffic the top 5 search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing, Ask, AOL) and the top 5 social media sites (Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Reddit) drove to publishers.

Let’s dive into the numbers (click to enlarge):

Shareaholic search traffic vs social referrals chart Dec 2013

The numbers shown are represented as a “share of visits” — a percentage of overall visits, which include direct traffic, social referrals, organic search, paid search, etc., publishers received. We do this because the overall visits (and uniques) our network of publishers receive changes month-to-month. For example, in November 2012, we tracked ~250mm uniques; last month, we tracked ~320mm. Also, sharing our raw data — hundreds of millions of visits — wouldn’t enable you to appropriately benchmark your site’s traffic against what publishers received.

Now, let’s take a look at the results (and dissect what they mean):

1) Search’s heyday is over; it’s a mature channel. Organic search’s share of visits to publishers actually dropped 6%. Search engines are more likely to see drastic growth in their personal market shares than they are to see substantial growth in the overall market. That’s because everyone already references search engines when they need information. Simple as that.

2) Social Media has barely outgrown diapers; things are just getting started. Referrals from the top 5 social media platforms more than doubled (growing 111% year-over-year)! People are more active on social media than ever. This year alone, we’ve witnessed Facebook’s sheer and utter dominance in the social media realm, Pinterest’s sky-high growth and Twitter’s gangbuster debut on the public stock market. Yet social media is nowhere near full maturity. Indeed, this is just the beginning.

Shareaholic search traffic vs social referrals graph Dec 2013

What’s happening here?

People who use the web tend to defer all of their searches to their main designated search engine; connected individuals use multiple social networks (sometimes simultaneously) to connect with their friends, fans and people they follow. Therefore, new social networks may continue to sprout up and capture more and more of users’ leisure time, but users are less inclined to use multiple search engines to find information they need.

What to make of all this?

The obvious conclusion: Marketers should invest more in social media since it is clearly a strong and growing source of traffic. This reinforces what marketers are all thinking (investors too), which is social is the way to go.

The bottom line: If you rely on social media platforms for a large portion of your traffic, get ready to scale up your social media marketing efforts and budget. If you’re currently inactive on social media, begin carving out more and more resources for social. The data suggests you won’t regret it.

How have you seen inbound traffic grow or shrink from search engines and social media sites over the last year?

A Note From the Editor: We publish this blog to share advice, insights and tips to help you navigate the murky waters of digital and content marketing. If you’ve learned something today and like what you read, feel free to share it. If not, tweet me @dannywong1190 to let us know. We’d love to chat about how we can build a better blog for you.

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