Danny Wong

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Something’s fishy with Reddit’s latest user metrics. In closing out 2013, the impressively vulgar social platform shared surprising full year stats. The highlights include:

  • 56 billion pageviews
  • 731 million uniques

Holy mother… really?! *High fives all around* What’s even more noteworthy is these numbers are up quite a bit from 2012. The year before, Reddit served:

  • 37 billion pageviews
  • 400 million uniques

Effectively, in 2013, Reddit saw a 51% increase in pageviews and an 83% increase in uniques year-over-year. That’s HUGE, right?

But wait…

We decided to look at our own numbers within the Shareaholic network, which supports 200,000+ websites reaching 250+ million people each month (last month we tracked 322 million people across the web), in order to see how this “growth” translated into referrals to publishers (click to enlarge):

Reddit Referrals Report (data) Jan 2014

Here’s what we have:

  • Reddit’s share of overall visits to websites dropped 35.96% year-over-year (comparing Dec’12 – Dec’13)
  • During December 2012, sites saw 0.33% of their overall traffic come from Reddit
  • Last month (Dec’13), sites saw only 0.21% of their overall traffic come from Reddit

Our data, collected over 13 months (Dec 2012 – Dec 2013), shows how referral traffic numbers trended. Now, the only question worth asking is: Reddit, WTF?!

Reddit Referrals Report (chart) Jan 2014

Naturally, we’re shocked when we dug up this data.

While we cannot verify or refute Reddit’s user metrics, what our data does show is a drop in share of referrals to publishers from Reddit. Reddit seems to be hoarding its users and keeping all of its traffic within the social news site; our data, essentially, suggests Reddit is referring less traffic out to sites, which is strange behavior for a social bookmarking site.

And just ’cause…

Reddit Referrals Report (snarky chart) Jan 2014

Although activity on Reddit.com may have increased dramatically from 2012 to 2013, sites around the web, sadly, aren’t seeing much of that traffic.

If Reddit is sending fewer visits to sites, web stores and publishers, where else should brands, blogs and businesses turn to for social traffic? Our money’s on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter. At least, that’s what the data would suggest.

Ok, now it’s your turn to share your thoughts.

How have you seen traffic from Reddit trend for your site over the past 13 months? What do you think is happening here? and what’s the future of this snarky social network?

p.s. if you liked this and other data reports, be sure to subscribe to our blog and get posts about content marketing, traffic acquisition and more need-to-know data.

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20 Responses to “Reddit’s 2013 Performance Was Incredible, But Questionable”

  1. benjmartin says:

    It’s not just a “social bookmarking site” – it’s also a very active and diverse community. Also, a the majority of externally linked content is to image sites (mainly imgur), rather than actual content and publishers. Given that reddit’s main revenue streams (on-site ads and reddit gold) kind of rely on users spending as much time on the site as possible, I’m sure reddit staff will be happy to see that they’re sending less traffic away from the site than before.

  2. jen says:

    hi, i was just wondering: might it not be that your network of publishers is not a perfectly representative sample of the Web as a whole and that traffic from reddit shifted to other sites on the Web? At least partially, I don’t refute the claim that reddit became more self-centered..

  3. Randy Olson says:

    Hey Danny, I have serious doubts about your analysis here. Let’s say we trust your data and just focus on your analysis.

    You can’t simply compare Dec ’12 and Dec ’13 and claim that there’s a trend going on there. It takes three points to make a trend, not two.

    For example, you could’ve written this blog post in June ’13 using the same method and claimed that reddit referral traffic is skyrocketing. That’s a hint right there that the method you’re using is flawed.

    Fitting a trend line to the data from your post makes it pretty clear there isn’t a significant trend of declining referral traffic on reddit: http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=linear+fit+0.33%2C0.37%2C0.3%2C0.27%2C0.28%2C0.4%2C0.55%2C0.45%2C0.27%2C0.26%2C0.28%2C0.27%2C0.21%2C0.33

    An R^2 of ~0.067 means that it’s a wash — there’s practically no trend.

    • Danny Wong says:

      Randy, thanks for your comment and critiques here. You’re probably right. We could have reported on Jun ’12 vs Jun ’13 and noticed referrals were skyrocketing. Given the trend, we would have also come up with ideas regarding “how” and “why” the trend was happening. Naturally, our recommendation might have been to hedge your bets on Reddit if you wanted to drive more traffic (if the answers to “how” and “why” were sufficient enough that we believed this to be a sustainable trend). In September, the big drop in referrals would have forced us to amend our previous recommendation and suggest Reddit is no longer “where it’s at”.

      If our data is wrong, I’m happy to own up to that because not doing so would be irresponsible to our readers who want data regarding where they’re likely to drive more traffic. Of course, Reddit attempts to discredit us by shouting what I can only interpret as ‘hogwash’ and by stating our tools are “banned” on their site (see reporting here: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/01/reddit-is-big-growing-and-maybe-turning-ever-more-inward/283034/). What Reddit didn’t know was the data we track consists of ALL referrals coming into sites within the Shareaholic network, not just the ones that come through as a result of sharing through one of our tools.

      In a later story, the same representative from Reddit says, “we’re not in the business of sending traffic to publishers… Our site is designed for our users.” (see it here: http://socialtimes.com/reddit-referral-traffic-decline-data_b140531) That says it all.

      Finally, there are different ways to approach our analysis of the data. Reviewing data over 13 months simply made sense because it utilized the most *recent* information we had to offer, and compared that to the same time exactly one year ago, which limits the chance of overlooking “seasonal” trends. Public companies report quarterly earnings and often compare Q1 of one year vs Q1 of the previous year for similar reasons.

      Reddit referrals dropped last month, so we made sure our readers knew that. Armed with this data, they may now make appropriate adjustments to their marketing strategy. What we didn’t add this time around were reasons concerning WHY this is happening plus facts that clearly signal a continuation of this recent trend. I ended up doing so in an exchange with Business Insider, pointing to a shift within Reddit where more popular threads are now ‘discussions’ that feature fewer links, such as the “ask me anything” series in which famous people like Bill Gates or President Obama take questions from the public (you can read that here: http://www.businessinsider.com/reddit-traffic-stats-in-2013-2014-1). If there were signs that suggested the drop was only temporary, and that Reddit would work harder to drive more traffic to publishers, then I’d note that as well. But it’s clear that Reddit is less and less a place for *most* sites to post their links with the hope of gaining more traffic.

      • Randy Olson says:

        Hi Danny, I appreciate the response. Just so it’s on here: Here’s my detailed critique of the analysis: http://www.randalolson.com/2014/01/14/more-lies-and-bad-analyses-by-shareaholic-are-misleading-the-public/

        Your above response still doesn’t address my primary concern, which is the fact that there isn’t actually a *trend* of declining referral traffic. You simply can’t compare two data points and make statements about trends, as you have here. If you want to talk about trends, you need to consider all of the time points.

        You *can* say that referral traffic is less in Dec ’13 than Dec ’12, but that’s basically a meaningless statement. That drop could be to any number of reasons — weird seasonal fluctuations, a change in the user base, or even just chance — and it’s inappropriate to attribute your finding to all the reasons you have here (e.g., that reddit is hoarding its users). There’s no grounding — in the data or otherwise — for your theories, and because your report is making the rounds on the internet, you’re potentially misleading your readers.

        The issue of how referral traffic is presented here also needs to be addressed. As I wrote on my critique:

        “It’s even strange that Shareaholic presented this data in terms of fraction of traffic from Reddit. For example, they say: ‘During December 2012, sites saw 0.33% of their overall traffic come from Reddit.’

        Why not report the raw traffic numbers instead of a fraction? It could very well be that even though the fraction of traffic from Reddit went down, the total amount of traffic from Reddit went up. To drive this point home: even though 5% seems less than 10%, if we’re comparing 5% of 10,000 visits (= 1,000 visits) vs. 10% of 1,000 visits (= 100 visits), clearly the 5% represents more traffic overall. In other words, even if there was declining fraction of traffic from Reddit, it could simply be because the web sites Shareaholic tracks are receiving more traffic overall.”

        • Danny Wong says:

          I can’t argue with your statistical analysis.

          That being said, I thought I was very clear when I pointed to our methodology. We look at the most recent data, and compare that to data available for the same time period one year ago. There’s no seasonal difference if we’re measuring results for Q2 of one year vs Q2 the year prior, for example. Of course, as you stated, there are many variables at play. The most important thing to note is how Reddit is in fact focusing most of its engagement on-site. As @benjmartin:disqus pointed out, the inward trend is probably best for Reddit’s business.

          Reporting share-of-visits is a deliberate decision on our part. Jim Edwards of Business Insider made sure to ask that very same question before he published his story. My response was that it’s not suitable to mention those numbers. It would only serve to confuse readers. Why? We have a growing publisher base (and yes, like all businesses we experience a bit if churn) which means our data set is not fixed. We deliberately report numbers on a “share of visits” basis because of this. Dec’12, we tracked about 250mm uniques. Last month we tracked 320mm. Therefore the number of uniques we tracked has gone up. But many variables are at play here (number of sites on our platform thanks to new signups and churn, the uniques each site gets fluctuates, etc.).

        • Randy Olson says:

          I understand your issue with reporting fractions instead of raw numbers there. Of course, tracking more unique publishers could also increase the total volume of traffic referred from reddit. Here’s another possible way to report those raw traffic volume numbers.

          You could report the median and distribution (say, standard deviations) of referral traffic for your publishers. Each data point would be the total number of visits referred to a single publisher in your network from reddit. So say you track 1,000 publishers, then you would have 1,000 numbers indicating the volume of traffic referred to each publisher.

          Now you have a distribution of referral traffic to your publishers that you can use to compare actual traffic volume between Dec ’12 and Dec ’13. If you plot both of those distributions with, say, a box plot (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Box_plot), you can get a sense of their distributions. Is the median traffic volume way lower in Dec ’13 than Dec ’12? Or is it way higher? Or is it about the same?

          Then you can use a statistical test to see if the distributions are actually different. You’re probably best off using a test like the Wilcoxon rank-sum test (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mann%E2%80%93Whitney_U) to compare those distributions and get a p-value telling you.the probability that the distributions are different. If the p-value is < 0.05, you can be fairly confident that the distributions are different. Then you can say with reasonable confidence that the distribution (Dec '12 or Dec '13) with the highest mean & median had higher referral traffic, and make valid statements about whether referral traffic from reddit actually went up or down. (Although that's still not a statement about trends, but just that it went up or down.)

          Alternatively, you could look into constructing 95% confidence intervals (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confidence_interval) for the distributions and make the comparison that way.

        • Danny Wong says:

          Thanks for recommending alternative ways to report the data. You’ve been generous with your time, and I want to thank you for that too.

          I’ve taken these into consideration, and have decided that for now, we will continue reporting our data using our standard methodology. Ultimately, our goal is to provide data marketers can act upon, not data that they’d sit around in a room pondering about for hours on end.

          I respect that you disagree with our methods. I hope you can respect the way we’ve chosen to move forward here and handle our proprietary data.

        • Randy Olson says:

          Well, it’s ultimately up to you how you report your data, but your reports — both the analysis and the interpretation — are highly misleading in their current format. I understand the need to present your findings for your customers simply — I have to do the same thing when I write up science articles for the public — but that doesn’t mean you can’t also do a thorough analysis and present the findings from that analysis in layman’s terms.

          As a data scientist, it saddens me that you’re unwilling to make sure that your analyses are correct (as I’ve suggested in my past few comments), and by doing so are most likely misleading the public with your reports.

  4. Reddit isn’t meant for link sharing anymore. While the community is growing it’s also becoming more aware of spam and promotion, and not caring for it, it results in less outward facing links being shared and clicked on.

  5. daveevans says:

    I don’t think it’s sad at all that Reddit isn’t sending out as much traffic. Maybe your 200k sites aren’t reddit worthy? I’m all for downvoting brands off Reddit, it’s not that kind of site.

  6. […] But far from a mere farm for clickbait, Reddit is often the draw itself. Social media blog Shareaholic took a deeper look into Reddit’s astounding growth and found most of the traffic Reddit drives is actually to other places on Reddit. […]

  7. […] Reddit is now a much less important source of traffic, according to Shareaholic. Although activity on Reddit may have increased dramatically from 2012 to 2013, Shareaholic reports sites around the web aren’t seeing much of that traffic (Shareaholic) […]

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