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Strategic analysis
Is Social Taking over Google?

Written by on May 26, 2009

Every person who creates content on the internet wants to know 2 things about their visitors; how many are there (traffic) and where do they come from (referrers). And the way this works is currently changing at an incredible rate.

The internet used to be a place that you visited to do or get something, much in the same way as you would ‘visit' your TV to watch a show. The internet was a place, or a thing.

But we are right now seeing an incredible change in how people use the internet. It is no longer a place that you visit. It's now like electricity. Today the internet is a part of us. It is a part of our existence. We no longer go online. We ARE online.

The internet is more than simply good content. It has a become a communication platform, connecting people with content (reading), content with people (commenting), content with content (FriendFeed, RSS etc.), people with people (#followfriday), and most importantly, you with people (Twitter, Facebook), and people with you (@replies, delicious).

This makes up the Social Web. It's the combination of people, content, communication and you. All happening as a constant stream, as opposed to something you visit.

The Traffic + Referrers of the modern web

Many people are now seeing this shift in behavior directly in their statistic. Mark Cuban recently wrote that his web statistics had shifted to Social networks, Business Insider recently wrote another article about it, so has a ton of other people. And I see the same on

In 2005, Google and the other search engines accounted for 65%. Today Google has dropped to 2%***. And I recently tweeted about my top referrers when I wrote:

Top 5 referrers last week ( Stumbleupon, Reddit, Delicious, Twitter, Google, Facebook - It's a social world :)

- Baekdal on Twitter

Note: *** Normal search via Search engines variations e.g. image search, language search, and other search engines - still totals 15%

This shift has a dramatic effect on how we look at the Traffic + Referrer. The traditional forms of measurements no longer make any sense. We need to look at it differently.

Traffic vs. Influence

Measuring how many people that comes to your site is no longer really relevant.

People no longer exclusively read your content on your website, via a browser. They might read it on Facebook, in an RSS feed, on one of the many news aggregators, or via other sites that are republishing your article, either in full, or as quoted segments.

On, more than 30% never read my articles via the website. That is a lot of people. Also measuring traffic, as in absolute unique visitors, has always been a bad idea. A person who visits your site does not necessarily read your content (in fact, many just skim the top part and move on). And even if a person does read it, it doesn't mean that she remembers it.

You need to forget about measuring traffic. It's inaccurate and it's irrelevant. Instead you need to measure ‘influence'. How many people have you really connected to today? How many people chose to make you a part of their stream? How many people decided to come back another time?That is your new ‘how many are there' statistics. Not people but Influence!

Referrer vs. communication

It's the same with referrers. Instead of looking at where people are coming from, when they visit your site, you need to look at it in a much broader sense.

You need to look at all the times people are referring to you as person, your company, product, content, website, and your social profiles. And you should not look at where people are coming from, but instead what they are doing. What they are talking about, what they are sharing, and who is subscribing to it.

Tracking referrers is the old way of using the web. The modern way is to monitor and track every time someone mentions, discusses, share, criticize, quotes or saves something that has to with you. You need to tab into not only the content that people post about you, but also the communication that is taken place with it.


But what you really need to do is to look at how people are reacting to your content (or you as a person). The point of this is to discover how people are responding:

  • Are they positive/negative?
  • Do they ask questions?
  • Are they having trouble understanding the topic?
  • Are they getting the wrong ideas?
  • Do they expand on the topic in new and exciting ways?
  • Do they come up with new concepts?
  • Are they using it to do more? ...or less?
  • ...etc.

In the past this involved a lot of work. But now there is a ton of new services that makes this whole process much easier. With Twitter you can combine a search for your name + a search on Backtweets for any links to your site and social profiles.

Old vs. New

This is the new web. It has changed from being a place that you visit, to a place where you are. And it is no longer relevant to measure traffic + referrers. Instead you want to measure influence + communication + reaction.

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.


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