Despite the hype, the value of social media referrals is questionable. Add another recent study to the un-social pile: Outbrain's Content Discovery and Engagement report showed that content sites provided more engaged users.
The Outbrain Study
For those unfamiliar with Outbrain, it's a company that helps connect users to web content they're likely to enjoy in much the way that Netflix recommends video content to its users. Outbrain works with numerous premium publishers. The Q2 Content Discovery and Engagement report looked at the behavior of users on the sites of those publishers.
Specifically, Outbrain looked at 160 million sessions on sites belonging to more than 150 of the company's clients. Outbrain specifically looked at the most common sources of referrals and how the behavior of users from a the various referral sources behaved differently.
While the ebb and flow of referral sources and the examination industry-specific trends is interesting, the key finding is that content links are far more valuable than social links.
The High Value of Content Site Links
The first way we can view content site links as more valuable is through the sheer volume of referrals: Inbound links from content sites provided 56 percent of referrals while social networks provided only 7 percent. Obviously, a permanent link on a reputed site has a strong value when it comes to increasing referral traffic.
More importantly, though, the users referred are more engaged:
As you can see, content referrals provide both the highest number of average page views and the lowest average bounce rate; users coming in from other content sites stick around.
This certainly doesn't mean social efforts should be abandoned. It does mean, however, that webmasters should focus on building valuable links on reputable sites. Link building, while it may be less important for SERP ranking as the years go by, is still a core element in building the volume and type of traffic you want.
Googleis the top traffic source to content pages. Here's the full top 20 list from Outbrain: