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When SimilarWeb started, earlier this year, I gave it a quick glance (given the like-Alexa-but-better pitch) and forgot about it. Then, after a week of testing, I recalled that it had fairly detailed numbers (not absolute, but indicative) for traffic sources of websites. That IS interesting!

If you own a website, you’d get accurate traffic source details from Google Analytics. What if you don’t own the website and you still want to know the sources of traffic for that/those websites?

Alexa used to fit this requirement, but SimilarWeb seems to be doing a slightly better job right now. At least the UI is insanely better than Alexa. Now, tools like Alexa and SimilarWeb are competitive research tools, and should be used only to understand competitive environment. I did speak to a couple of industry folks and most of them said (when presented with this data that included a website they are associated with) the numbers – or at least the split – is not completely off the mark. They are not bang-on target – not at all – but serves the purpose as a rudimentary competitive analysis.

So, I spent some time in getting data and comparing notes around traffic sources for two industries (among others) for whom online traffic is mighty important (in terms of basic survival) – e-commerce and media. For e-commerce, I had a list of top Indian online stores (including a few travel websites) and 4 major global ones (excluding predominantly non-English dependent ones like Rakuten or Ozon). For media, I had a list of top Indian and international mainstream media websites and a list of global online-only media properties. I shudder to call QZ or HuffPo a blog anymore.

The results are very interesting, to say the least. Here are figures, in a table (click on the thumbnail to view larger table).

Overall sources of traffic

Social traffic split

E-commerce scene

In terms of Direct traffic (which perhaps indicates high recall value for the brand that people enter its URL directly), Zovi topped the list, surprisingly!

Myntra topped the Referrals pie, and this possibly tells us that their plan around referral traffic is working well. Myntra’s co-founder did mention this in a recent story in Business Today – “Almost seven to eight per cent of our revenue is generated by these networks” [like Tyroo, Komli etc.].

In terms of traffic from search (where, I assume SimilarWeb clubs both organic search traffic and paid search traffic via ad placements on Google, for example), Infibeam, Quikr and Olx top the list with about 50%+ of the traffic!

The most interesting parameter – at last to me – was traffic from social sources. UrbanLadder rules the roost with a mighty 39% traffic coming in from various social media channels! This is unusually high when you see that the next highest is from Zovi, with 23%.

Personally, I have seen a lot of promotional posts from UrbanLadder on Facebook, while I know for a fact that Zovi has a OpenGraph implementation for product-wise Likes on its store, for Facebook. That perhaps increases the potential reach of product purchases (or window shopping) between friends.

Pepperfry topped the traffic from email list, while Junglee, Amazon’s Indian aggregator topped the display list sorted by display advertising.

Going granular on the social traffic, some interesting patterns emerge. Even while the total traffic from social media sources is very low, for most Indian e-commerce brands, if you take the top 5 brands with 16-39% traffic from social sources, it includes Urbanladder (39%), Zovi (23%), Bestylish (20.75%), Jabong (20.46%) and Pepperfry (16.77%).

Of these, Facebook is clearly the largest individual social media source for traffic, with 97-99% traffic. What do you think the 2nd source is, after Facebook? If you thought it’d be Twitter, you’re wrong – it’s actually YouTube! If we go beyond these top 5 sites, there are brands like Junglee, Flipkart, Yebhi, Homeshop18 and Myntra that get 12-20% of social traffic from YouTube, with commensurate reduction in traffic from Facebook.

Traffic from Twitter seems negligible and this may indicate two things. One, the need to constantly try links on Twitter since things change on Twitter very, very fast. Two, it’s possible that Twitter is better suited for engagement than driving traffic – an indirect source of traffic after having made a customer happy using conversations on Twitter.

Juxtaposing this data with the 4 international e-commerce brands, Ebay leads traffic from Direct and Referrals, while Etsy leads Search traffic. Fab rules over traffic from Social, Mail and Display – in fact, it has double digit traffic from social, against the other three’s single digit. And 20.7% traffic from email, where the other three are in 2-3% – I’m guessing Fab’s mailers are wonderfully designed and more importantly, really well customized and targeted!

When you dig deeper within their social traffic, while Facebook still rules, Fab and Etsy get 10.86% and 29.75% of social traffic from Pinterest, respectively! In fact, Etsy has just 49% traffic from Facebook!

Online travel

The data doesn’t differentiate dramatically in the online travel space. I assume the fact that there is less impulse purchase opportunities (compared to physical and digital goods e-commerce) makes it a bit more need-based.

MakeMyTrip leads the pack of four in Direct, Social and Mail traffic, while Yatra leads Referral traffic. Ixigo has phenomenal traffic from Search – 70% – while others are in 37-50% range! Cleartrip’s traffic from YouTube (within Social, even if its actual social traffic is only about 0.66%) is 20%, much higher than others.


Among Indian media houses, NDTV leads in Direct traffic. DNA is much ahead of its peers in Search traffic (better SEO and SEM?), while The Economic Times leads when it comes to traffic from social media sources.

Going deeper within the social traffic, Facebook leads again, understandably. But, unlike e-commerce brands, traffic from Twitter is next only to Facebook, when it comes to media houses online! Outlook leads here with 35% Twitter traffic (with 59% traffic from Facebook), while Mint has about 33% traffic from Twitter. Mint also leads in traffic from LinkedIn (1.93%), while CNN IBN and The Economic Times are the other two with more than 1% traffic from LinkedIn.

NDTV gets maximum traffic from YouTube, among all others – 4.2%. But, can you guess the 3rd highest source of traffic (after Facebook and Twitter) within social for Indian media houses? Surprisingly, it is Reddit – Hindustan Times is a disproportionate leader here with 20.9% of traffic within Social, while others are in the 1-8% range! Wonder what Hindustan Times has done to earn this amount of traffic from Reddit!

But Hindustan Times has company from international publications when it comes to Reddit. Between Economist, Guardian, Forbes, NYT and WSJ, they get almost 13-18% of traffic within Social from Reddit, next only to Facebook and Twitter, and beating LinkedIn, Digg, Stumbleupon and others.

In terms of overall traffic among global media brands, New Yorker gets maximum from Social sources at 20%, with Newsweek as the next best, with 17%. Economist leads Direct traffic and Forbes leads Search traffic.

Online publications (Blogs)

Things get dramatically interesting when you consider the traffic of online publications of the likes of HuffPo and BuzzFeed.

Engadget leads in Direct traffic at 46% (with Boing Boing and Lifehacker in the 40%+ range). HuffPo leads in traffic from Referrals and, for some reason, email! Does HuffPo have a good email database and email content push?

Mashable rules Search traffic with 52%, with only GigaOm as a close second, at 46%. My personal area of interest is Social, and here BuzzFeed rocks the chart, with 49% of its traffic from coming from Social media sources! QZ is the second here, with 40% – the rest are in a lowly 7-27% range!

The most interesting picture emerges when you dig within the Social traffic. The leading source of traffic for most online publications seems to be… no, not Facebook or Twitter, but StumbleUpon! Rather, it is a close fight between Facebook and StumbleUpon.

For instance, Boing Boing gets a lowly 12% traffic from Facebook, but a whopping 60% from SU! GigaOm has a similar picture – 13% from Facebook and 50% from SU.

Arstechnica is the odd one out with most of its Social traffic coming from Reddit – understandably, given its focus. QZ and AllthingsD are also interesting cases – maximum traffic from LinkedIn – 36% and 30%, respectively!

While I understand that these are not absolute numbers, the overall trends indicate a few interesting observations.

1. Social, as a medium, seems underutilized by most e-commerce and Indian media brands, in general. Global media brands and online publications seem to have made use of Social traffic rather well.

2. Niche sources like Pinterest, Reddit and StumbleUpon are jostling for space competently among leading names like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. In fact, while Facebook rules over most else, Twitter seems better suited for mainstream media publications, with Reddit following closely. The power of StumbleUpon is amply demonstrated by traffic amassed by online publications.

3. It is perhaps useful to constantly keep a check on traffic sources to identify the potential of newer online avenues, when traditional strong-holds like Facebook seem to be going more and more towards becoming a paid, mainstream media like channel.

4. When it comes to transactional content (for e-commerce brands), Twitter seems to be a much less impactful channel. This is possibly an opportunity for them think on how to craft interesting tweets with links and drive traffic up by getting as many people to share such tweets.

5. Facebook’s lead could not just be because of its sheer reach (more than any other social network/channel), but also the fact that it has made a full-fledged business out of paid promotion. There is an organized way to pay Facebook and buy reach, much like one would do on television or print. But, as media budgets shrink, like in the case of online publications, they are discovering better sources like StumbleUpon and Twitter that seem to give them more traffic than Facebook.

6. Finally, a note on ROI. Direct traffic happens because people already know the URL and enter it directly. That can happen only with spends on mainstream media, for people to know, recognize and remember the brand when in need. So, the ROI here may not be directly attributable to mainstream media spends, but is more of an assumption. Search traffic, on the other hand, is a function of organic search, and SEO and SEM efforts. The better the SEO and SEM efforts, the better the traffic, obviously.

But, considering the case of online publications who don’t seem to depend so much on Facebook for traffic (as in paid Facebook promotions), they may be getting better ROI on traffic from other sources like Reddit and StumbleUpon, most of which are free! This could be because of inherent changes and nuances in content that are crafted with sharper headlines (for easier shareability on Twitter, for instance) and focus on the kind of content that is more likely to be shared.