Sunday, December 11, 2011

Referrals: Google Plus versus Facebook versus Quora

I ran into this article where Google plus supporters claimed that all the estimates of Google plus usage are low. In other words, Google plus is far more popular than the estimated 50 million users. I wouldn't be surprised if the number of people who've logged into Google plus is incredibly high, north of 200M. Google has been pushing the notification bar and Google plus relentlessly, and integrating it into more and more products, while eliminating products (such as Google Reader) whose model don't fit into Google Plus's model.

Far more important than the sheer number of users, however, is the engagement of those users. For instance, while Buzz got pushed to nearly every Gmail user, most non-Google affiliated users told me (on Facebook, no less) that Buzz was a dead zone for them. So I used my own blog analytics to see whether Google Plus users got referred to my blog.

The number one referral (visitors who came from another sitee) to my blog came from That's Google+, right? No. It turns out to be Google Reader. The next most popular referral was Facebook, which was almost as popular. (Though Google Reader users are really engaged: they visit 4 times as many pages as Facebook readers, who presumably see the link, click to read the article, and immediately leave) The next best referral came from Quora, the question answer site. This came as a bit of a surprise. Then the dropoffs become really steep, my own Books web-site and Friendfeed, a so-called "dead" service. (As an aggregate-site of all my online activity, Friendfeed beats the heck out of all the other sites)

By the time I got to Google+ and Hacker News, I'm down to one fifth the visitors that Google Reader sends me. This is incredibly low. I doubt if Quora has 200M users, but their users are incredibly engaged, unlike Google Plus's.

Here are a few lessons I would draw from this:
  • RSS support is really important. Reader, Facebook, Quora, and Friendfeed all support RSS export or RSS import so you can track somebody's content. Google Plus insists on you manually typing in a share with no method of automation. Even Twitter supports an auto-export from my blog to my Twitter stream. While I do try to promote blog posts on Google Plus, I don't always do so, especially for book reviews.
  • Google Plus is still extremely niche. Even though I'm not active on Hacker News, for instance, it's still way better at sending me referrals than Google Plus.
  • Twitter messed up. I have no way whatsoever of tracking Twitter referrals at all. As a result, it's not surprising that I rarely find time to engage on Twitter. But, because of the automation provided for sending blog posts, etc, automatically to Twitter, it costs me nothing to twitter my blog posts, so I do it. Which goes to show that automation will make up for other poor decisions on the social network front.
  • I really miss the old Google Reader. The old Google Reader gave me 2X the engagement of the current Google Reader, according to the referral logs. It's a pity Google was willing to give up all that engagement, but I'm guessing that as usual, small fry like me don't count for very much.
In the past, I would plea for Google to integrate blogger posts automatically into my plus stream, but I'm now wary of asking Google to "integrate." Google's concept of integrating Google Reader was to destroy my Google Reader community and cutting engagement by 50%. I dread to think what Google would do if it seriously tried to integrate Blogger into Google Plus. I used to be able to trust Google to do what's right by its users, but now all I ask is for Google to leave the products I enjoy using alone.
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