This week, I published a data report which caused quite a bit of controversy.
Under the title "Reddit's 2013 Performance Was Incredible, But Questionable," the post began by introducing Reddit's 2012 and 2013 user metrics. The numbers revealed the social news site saw a 51 percent increase in page views (to 56 billion) and an 83 percent increase in uniques (to 731 million) year-over-year.
Given that traffic to Reddit and activity within the site grew dramatically in 2013, you'd easily assume Reddit's traffic gains might somehow trickle down to website owners who provide some of the content Redditors reference in their discussions.
But you'd be wrong.
In fact, data gathered from Shareaholic's network of 200,000-plus websites, which collectively reached more than 320 million people last month, suggests a completely different trend.
Reddit's share of overall visits actually decreased 36 percent year-over-year, down from 0.33 percent to 0.21 percent. To see Reddit's growth in context, here is another report which compares referrals into the Shareaholic network from all of the other major social media platforms including Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter. Even Facebook has referenced our stats in public announcements.
It is worth noting that the primary aim of the report was not to bash Reddit and then have a good laugh. Rather, the aim was to inform site owners about interesting data they could use in optimizing their traffic acquisition strategy.
Essentially, our data suggests Reddit drives less traffic to most websites. Although there are several websites that still get loads of inbound traffic from Reddit (imgur.com comes to mind), your average site has seen a noteworthy drop in traffic from the social bookmarking site.
In an attempt to discredit the data, Reddit's General Manager Erik Martin, shared the following with The Atlantic's Robinson Meyer over email:
We block [Shareaholic's] tool because it's used by spammers so frequently ... Their numbers need more salt than uncooked pork.
Be that as it may, our data is not derived exclusively from our sharing tools, but from analytics on sites in our network.
In a discussion with Mona Zhang of the Social Times, Martin noted:
...[W]e're not in the business of sending traffic to publishers ... Our site is designed for our users.
There you have it.
Reddit's impressive year-over-year growth proves the social news hub has been very successful in providing an engaging and entertaining destination for hundreds of millions of users around the world.
It is just not suitable for site owners who want more traffic for their content.
Reddit's list of its "Top Ten Posts of 2013" says it all. Forum-like/discussion-based threads (e.g., Bill Gates' ask me anything) dominate the list, revealing an "inward" shift.
Reddit's most popular threads do not focus on one link from an external site or news source. Rather, the site's most popular threads are heated debates or discussions amongst Redditors, with content originating from users. While many of those discussions may highlight links in the comments, the links are not front-and-center. Sadly, a very limited number of Redditors end up clicking those links.
Business Insider's Jim Edwards makes another interesting point:
Plus, news organizations -- Business Insider included -- now more frequently use Reddit as a source of news rather than a source of traffic. One example was this Bitcoin theft, which was described mostly on Reddit by other Bitcoin users -- very few outgoing links were involved.
So other publishers are linking in to stuff that is already on Reddit; previously, Reddit users linked out to things they found elsewhere.
Don't get me wrong. I'm a big fan of Reddit. The site is awesome.
The unfortunate fact is, I can no longer rely on Reddit to help me drive more traffic to my websites. Knowing this, I have revised my marketing strategy accordingly.
You'd be wise to do the same too.
Danny Wong does data, growth and marketing at Shareaholic, a content discovery and sharing platform. In the past, he also served as the Lead Evangelist for Blank Label a luxury menswear company.