Brainpower: The Online Engagement Battle is On – Discovery vs. Search vs. Social Traffic

|Alex Bennett

Online engagement is so much more than just an impression. Measuring how deeply an audience interacts with your content is an important step to understanding not just the quantity of interactions, but also the quality and level of audience engagement with the subject matter.

So what impact does the source of traffic have on reader engagement? According to our latest research there are considerable differences in engagement when it comes to three major types of traffic sources: search engines, social media and content discovery.

Since Outbrain tracks traffic to all content pages across our network of 100,000+ publisher sites, we are in a unique position to study engagement levels of incoming traffic at scale. We pulled a 3-month sample data set of over 2 billion consumer sessions that exceeded 3.4 billion page views in total. The data looks at sessions that started on external sites and compares engagement of traffic referred from search, social and discovery.

Audience Engagement Key findings

Discovery traffic views 100% more pages per session than search traffic and 165% more pages per session than social traffic.



Discovery traffic is 23% less likely to bounce than search traffic and 32% less likely to bounce than social traffic. Readers who discover content via paid recommendations may have the lowest tendency to bounce because content recommendations target an audience that is already engaged and in content consumption mode. Traffic coming from social media sources, on the other hand, has the highest tendency to bounce.



Regardless of platform (mobile, desktop and tablet) discovery traffic views the most pages per session of the three traffic sources.



Discovery traffic is most engaged with travel content, search traffic is most engaged with health content and social traffic is most engaged with entertainment content.  Discovery traffic is less likely than search or social traffic to bounce from every category except electronics (search’s highest performing category and discovery’s lowest performing category).




Overall, audiences driven by content discovery are more engaged and more likely to stay on-site longer than audiences driven by search and social.  These finding suggest it can be a much more efficient channel for both driving interactions with branded content, as well as developing longer-term sustainable relationships with audiences.

Measuring referred traffic engagement can offer real insights into how different audiences are interacting with your content. Through this understanding it’s possible to track what’s really working both in terms of sourcing traffic and keeping them engaged on your site for longer.

Download the full report below.

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Alex Bennett

Alex Bennett

Alex is a Business Intelligence Analyst at Outbrain, where she is responsible for extracting and delivering data-driven insights to content... Read more

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  • Rob| October 23, 2014 at 9:09AM

    Hey Alex,

    Thanks for the great research and visuals. Now I can easily convince clients and employers that using Outbrain is a no-brainer for content marketing initiatives.

    I am confused a little about where the numbers for search and social came from though. For instance, when you say “we pulled a 3-month sample data,” does that mean you purchased information from an analytic provider like Google Analytics? (I don’t even think that’s possible, but hopefully you get what I’m trying to say.)

    I get that it’s easy for you to get the data for discovery since you own the information. I’m just confused about how you got it for social and search. Wouldn’t that mean contacting hundreds … thousands of companies and asking them to share their analytics data with you?

    Again, if you could clarify, I’d appreciate it so much. Thank you!

  • Alex Bennett
    Alex Bennett| October 27, 2014 at 6:18PM

    Hey Rob,

    Great question!

    We’re able to track incoming traffic to all content pages across our network of 100,000+ publisher sites. When consumers land on these content pages, we capture data on where they came from (i.e., search, social, discovery) and how they engage with the content (i.e., page views, bounce rate).

    So, this report was created by leveraging our own data from our network of publisher sites and did not include any 3rd party data.

    I hope this helps!



  • Linda B| November 17, 2014 at 10:22PM

    Hi Alex,
    Would you please, for us novices, define the web’s dictionary meaning for traffic sourced as :

    Social Traffic

    It’s almost obvious, but just checking my obvious is accurate.

    • Alex Bennett
      Alex Bennett| November 18, 2014 at 10:10AM

      Hi Linda,

      Thanks for your question!

      In our analysis, search traffic included Google, AOL Search, Bing, Yahoo and Ask. Social traffic included Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Stumble Upon, Digg, Pinterest, and Reddit. And Discovery traffic included Outbrain.

      By the way, you can get more details like these by downloading the full report.



  • Sarah| November 20, 2014 at 10:10AM


    Why are we to trust these statistics that using ‘Discovery’ or ‘Outbrain’ is better than any other methods. What is the ‘Discovery’ method about? I didn’t see any explanation as to how it works or how one would use it. Can we sample it for free before we buy it properly and what are the prices?

  • Will Fleiss
    Will Fleiss| November 25, 2014 at 5:17PM

    Hey Sarah,

    Great questions! And sorry for taking so long to reply. Your question of “trust” is certainly the most important. While we do have a lot of user data that led us to publish the above reports, determining whether Discovery is a “better” method for you, really depends on your marketing goals. Before we get into that though, let’s answer your first question, “What is Discovery Marketing?” Discovery Marketing is about reaching your desired audience with high quality educational, entertaining, or newsworthy content while they are in content consumption mode on premium websites like CNN, ESPN, Slate, FastCompany, Inc, VentureBeat, Mashable, Time, and thousands more. They are reading an article or watching a video and in the mindset of discovering something new. They are consuming content instead of looking for something specific, “Search”, or engaging with online friends/followers, “Social”. Does that make sense?

    Our product for helping people discover your content is called Amplify, and it’s priced on a cost-per-click basis. You set what you’re willing to pay for someone to click on your article or video, and only pay when someone clicks. Depending on the quality of your content and what other people are bidding, you may have to raise or lower your CPC bid. We’re not currently offering discounts through our blog, but if you register for free here, sometimes we run promotional offers for those who have registered.

    Now let’s get to your goals, what content are you interested in attracted an audience to, and what would you like that audience to do when they come to your content?


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