User behaviour Web metrics

Which social web platforms create the most return visitors to our website?

I’m in Europe right now doing a slew of web analytics health checks, workshops and evaluations to help various institutions are get the most out of the their digital initiatives in a rapidly constricting financial environment. Everyone is rushing to figure out which initiatives are performing better for them than others – especially as decisions need to be made as to which ‘experiments’ are worth continuing and which have been ‘learning experiences’.

In several workshops so far the ‘return visitor’ has been highlighted as a valuable key user of digital resources. Return visitors, the argument goes, are more likely to be engaged with the organisation (and the ‘brand’), and also more likely, where geographically possible, to engage with the institution offline as well as online. And, at a time where we are all tweaking our digital content strategies, design and interfaces, they are also the visitors with whom we can measure the relative effectiveness of techniques.

And so one of the questions raised more than once has been – “which, out of Flickr, Wikipedia, Facebook and Twitter” – is best at turning casual visitors into return visitors?

Now obviously the intentions of visitors who come in from these third-party sites is going to differ (not to mention the difficulties in accurately tracking visitors from Twitter), but we’re interested in the broad patterns.

I did some digging through six months (March to August) of Powerhouse data and this is what I found.

Unsurprisingly Organic search generates 72.34% of site visitation. 20.36% of this traffic are return visitors.

Direct traffic (browser bookmarks, typing the URL, etc) generates 13.88% of site visitation. 16.05% of this are return visitors. Interestingly this skews low because of the inclusion of several very popular educational resources in curriculum kits – students follow a very task-oriented link given by their teacher and don’t look around or come back.

Third party referring sites (people following links from other websites) as a whole generate 13.21% of site visitation. 20.36% of this are return visitors.

So let’s break down those top referring sites and look at traffic coming in from Wikipedia, Flickr, Twitter, and Facebook. None of these are generating enormous volumes of traffic but there are significant differences between them.

Site % of total visits % repeat
Wikipedia 0.63% 11.95%
Flickr 0.28% 42.64%
Facebook 0.49% 32.74%
Twitter 0.18% 34.50%
All referrers 13.21% 20.36%
Overall (100%) 20.60%

Of the four sites we are interested in, Wikipedia delivers the most traffic. However it brings the lowest percentage of return visitors at only 11.95%. This is well below the site average and also well below the average for all referring sites.

Facebook is next and 32.74% of these are return visitors performing well above the site average. Flickr brings the most return visitors at 42.64% whilst Twitter brings also performs well at bringing return visitors at 34.50%.

So ranked in order of traffic volume Wikipedia is a clear winner but in terms of those valuable return visitors the list transforms with Flickr bringing the proportionally more returning visitors.

Flickr is delivering nearly 3.5x the return visitor proportions than Wikipedia and the two social communication platforms Facebook and Twitter, almost 3x as much.

Thinking about why Wikipedia performs so poorly as a source of return traffic, it is clear that there is a difference in the user intentions. A visitor coming in from Wikipedia is likely coming for additional information on a subject or topic. But it looks like there is minimal brand association with that information retrieval goal – they get the answer and don’t explore further at a later date. This is what I’d call the ‘trivia quiz’ visitor.

I looked at which Wikipedia articles were sending the most traffic and the top five were a little unexpected. Wikipedia articles in order of volume of traffic were on Thrust bearing, Easy edges, Powerhouse Museum, Crumpler, Liberty bodice and a long tail of several hundred others. Other than ‘Powerhouse Museum’ this traffic is the equivalent of the casual visit traffic we also receive via the long tail of search – but is less likely to return to the site later.

Informational websites deal increasingly with entirely commoditised content, and this throws up the issue of where to dedicate resources.

The effort expended in the more social web platforms – social communication platforms (Facebook, Twitter) and social object platforms like Flickr – is working to create more valuable return visitors than the informational sites like Wikipedia and organic long tail search.

I was a bit surprised by this result so I narrowed it down a bit and looked at only traffic from Sydney. Here’s the results.

Site % total Sydney visits % Sydney repeat
Wikipedia 0.35% 26.87%
Flickr 0.20% 32.31%
Facebook 0.82% 46.43%
Twitter 0.16% 37.34%
All referrers 12.81% 34.09%
Overall (100%) 34.18%

Sydney-only and Wikipedia performs much better in terms of generating return visitors – but is greatly outpaced as a traffic source by Facebook. Here we find that it is clearly the social communication platforms that are generating the repeat visitation as well as the volumes.

Of course the overall volumes here are very low so there is a fair degree of statistical error creeping in but this is something I’ll be keeping an eye on – I’m certainly interested in why Wikipedia is creating proportionally more repeat visitors in Sydney than globally and whether this correlates to some notion of ‘brand awareness’.

More questions than answers.

6 replies on “Which social web platforms create the most return visitors to our website?”

Pretty clearly return visitors via Facebook and Twitter are more likely if you are continually pushing out links in those places. Clicking on links doesn’t rely on brand awareness or premeditation by the visitor and they may or may not convert to direct visitors.

Wikipedia on the other hand is not a proactive source, so I’m not surprised it is generating fewer return visits.

Interesting analysis.

Tracie – precisely!
Not only that, but the PHM has invested a lot of time and money into building a presence and following on Flickr, Twitter and Facebook. On the other hand all of their presence on Wikipedia has been generated for them by gleaning things (mainly from their Flickr stream). It would be interesting to compare this to those museums that have a proactive presence in Wikipedia: the British Museum, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, The Smithsonian Institution (African American), etc.

It is quite probable that most Wikipedia visitors are people searching for information (disparagingly referred to as ‘trivia quiz visitors’) and not coming to the PHM specifically – that just happens to be where the best footnote comes from. But that’s not comparing like with like. People who interact with PHM on Twitter and Facebook (and to a lesser extent Flickr) are the respective platforms’ communities. On the other hand, due to its sheer scale, people who click through to PHM from Wikipedia are generally the readers of the encyclopedia not ‘the community’.

You are right, the intentions of these incoming visitors is different.

‘Reaching Wikipedia readers’ is obviously an important rationale for museums who are devoting resources to Wikipedia. And as such it is important to work out whether these efforts actually achieve their goals beyond reaching traffic that otherwise would have been likely to visit in any case via other means. In other sectors, casual traffic might be considered ‘prospects’ and repeat traffic as ‘customers’.

Comparing like with like, here’s the figures for organic non-brand search (ONBS) vs Wikipedia traffic. The ONBS traffic is the same group of ‘casual visitors’ (the trivia quiz equivalents) who come via the long tail, primarily for collection resources.

ONBS traffic including all site resources: repeat visitation 16.35%
ONBS traffic including only collection-related traffic: repeat visitation 13.51%
(Wikipedia originating traffic from original post: repeat visitation 11.95%)

The volumes here are widely different – Wikipedia traffic is, as per the original post only 0.63% of the site total, whereas organic search as a total is 72.34% of total (non-brand being roughly 3/4s of this).

Once a visitor follows a link through from Wikipedia I’d expect that they would be an ‘interested’ user, a more likely ‘prospect’ than an organic searcher. They’ve probably reached the Wikipedia page in question through an organic search then given that they have bothered to follow an external link for more details, they are clearly more subject-engaged than someone arriving at our site via purely organic search means.

Consider this happening offline. Someone does an organic search for ‘Thrust bearing’ (the most popular referrer from Wikipedia for the Powerhouse). They read an overview article on Wikipedia and find that the Powerhouse has additional information. Rather than follow the hyperlink, they walk up to the front door. At that point we’d be wanting to engage them enough so that they remembered their visit and considered coming back. Obviously, ‘coming back’ is much easier online.

Using the Wikipedia Article Stats tool I can find that in the period of analysis (March to August 2010), the Thrust bearing article had 38,364 views on Wikipedia. Of those, 508 clicked through to the Powerhouse link. 18 of those came back a second time.

Organic search for ‘thrust bearing’ for the same period brought us 129 visitors – these are additional to the 508 from the Wikipedia article. Ironically, again, 18 of these came back a second time – the same number as from the Wikipedia article link.

I agree with Liam, when he says people getting to PHM website through wikipedia are encyclopedia readers and not members of ‘the community’.

Proof of it are they key pages generating traffic (‘Thrust bearing, Easy edges, Powerhouse Museum, Crumpler, Liberty bodice…)

Probably this visitors are trying to get som further information for this particular entries, as they get PHM website from clicking a Wikipedia reference or external link. PHM should be “the source” of this information.

Maybe we could say that this wikiedia-coming visitors are usually ‘external members’ of ‘the community’, and you’ve got the oportunity to catch them up or not.

Catalan wikimedian

I think the stats reflect where the relationship building is happening. But, that doesn’t mean that relationship building has to happen everywhere. Many people go to wikipedia for information. It’s exciting to think about some of that traffic spilling over onto museum sites since a lot of time there is also spent on publishing information for education, dissemination, etc. If people jump in and get the information they need, is that less of a user experience?

I have been following your blog for a while, both on mobile and analytics-related issues, and this post really caught my attention.

It forced me to ask a variety of questions, hence my retweet.
Question: What does the visit profile of referrals from these sources look like (lots of pageviews, time on site, etc.)? Second, I am not surprised by the Sydney statistics because there is a geographic focus to the content and collections, is there not? In fact, what I would expect is that folks within Sydney will be more deeply engaged in the content than folks from outside the region. It stands to reason, to me, that Wikipedia visitors repeat more often in this context because they have learned more about an important regional resource. Facebookers too would be more engaged, for many of the same reasons. In other word, the geography of our viewers matters. One wonders, as a follow-up question, here about the content that visitors peruse. Third, I wonder about the question you ask itself. Why is a second visit (or more) important? Does the website have as its goal repeated online visitors or to convert online visitors into actual museum visitors, either through long-term engagement (in, for instance, education programs) or short-term programs (particular exhibitions)? Given the goals, I am not sure that repeated visitors matter in any context but Sydney, or the South Pacific and Southeastern areas of Asia. Based on my reasoning, I am not at all sure that the Wikipedia audience should be an afterthought because these may well be folks outside the “network’ and folks that you can invite into the community…

Whatever my follow-ups, I am impressed with your continued consideration of the very important issues related to site analytics. Few if any serious discussion continues among the digital humanists about these issues, as too often we appear to work in the “if we build it, they will come, again and again,” motif. I include myself in this critique, though we do repeatedly reflect on our analytics.

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