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Apr 6, 2009

Understanding Twitter Traffic - Analysis from the UK

What would a Google-Twitter marriage mean?

Last week it was reported that Google is in talks to purchase Twitter. Therefore, now seems like a good time to revisit some of the stats, starting with the top level traffic figures. As the chart below illustrates, UK Internet visits to Twitter have increased 6-fold since the start of the year and 32-fold over the last 12 months (March 08-09). Last week (w/e 04/04/09), Twitter was the 50th most visited website in the UK, and the 5th most popular social networking site. To put that figure in context, last week Twitter received more UK Internet visits than the Daily Mail, RightMove,MSN UK SearchDirectgov, and all retail websites with the exception of eBay, Amazon UK, Play.com and Argos.


I should also add the usual caveat: the service is probably even more popular than our numbers imply, as we are only measuring traffic to the main Twitter website. If the people accessing their Twitter accounts via mobile phones and third party applications (such as Twitterrific, Twitterfeed and Tweetdeck) were included, the numbers would be even higher.

Turning to relationship between Google and Twitter, I thought that it would be interesting to compare the UK’s favourite micro-blogging website with its favourite social network (Facebook). During March, 24.3% of Twitter’s UK Internet traffic came from Google properties, whereas for Facebook the figure was 34.6%. A typical website in the UK receives 39.9% of it traffic from Google properties, so Twitter is less reliant on the search giant for traffic than both Facebook and the UK average. However, Twitter’s largest source of UK Internet traffic is actually Facebook (which accounted for 18.2% of its traffic in March, compared to 15.4% from Google UK), presumably a result of the integration between Twitter updates and Facebook status feeds.

Looking at it from the other direction, Twitter also sends less of its downstream traffic (10.9% during March) to Google properties than Facebook does (17.9%). The top downstream website visited after Twitter is Twitpic, followed by Facebook. Google UK ranks third, while the only other Google properties in the top 20 are YouTube (4th), Google.com (6th) and Gmail / GoogleMail (8th). Therefore, while there obviously is quite a bit of traffic flowing between Google’s properties and Twitter, there isn’t as much as there could be. Assuming that Twitter continues to grow, increasing this traffic would provide a good reason for Google to invest in the site.

But what about the other places that Twitter sends traffic to? It may be the 50th most visited website in the UK, but Twitter was also the 36th biggest source of traffic to other websites in the UK during March. In order to see how Twitter shapes up as a traffic source when compared to the ‘competition’, I’ve created the graph below. It illustrates the percentage of Twitter’s downstream traffic that goes to key online categories and compares this with the same data for Facebook, Google UK and MSN Live Mail / Hotmail (respectively the UK’s most popular social network, search engine and webmail service).


Heather Hopkins conducted a similar analysis in the US, and my conclusion is very similar: as a source of traffic for other websites, Twitter is more like a social network (i.e. Facebook) than a search engine or email service. Like Facebook, Twitter sends the largest amount of its traffic other online media websites. The top four downstream categories from Twitter are Entertainment, Social Networks, News & Media and Lifestyle, which together accounted for half of all post-Twitter UK Internet visits during March.

In contrast, just 4.7% of Twitter’s downstream traffic goes to Shopping & Classifieds websites, whereas Google UK sends 13.9% of its traffic to online retailers. Given that Google is still much bigger than Twitter, this means that Google UK alone currently sends 377 times more traffic to websites in our Shopping & Classifieds category than Twitter does. As you can see from the chart above, the picture is similar for other ‘transactional’ industries, such as Business & Finance and Travel.

So, as it currently stands (and assuming that Twitter can develop a viable business model), acquiring Twitter wouldn’t have much of an impact on Google in the areas that currently generate the most paid search revenue, such as retail, travel, insurance, telecoms and finance. However, it would help to imbed Google further within the online media landscape. The combination of Google Search, YouTube, Twitter, Google News and Blogger would certainly have a dominant position in the market.

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