The State of Website Engagement - Oct 2014

Published October 6, 2014

"Where does engaged website traffic come from?"

At Megalytic, we’ve taken a crack at answering this question. We analyzed millions of visits to more than 1,000 websites to identify where, on average, the most engaged traffic comes from.

This is the first in a quarterly series where we will be investigating what really works when it comes to attracting quality traffic to a website.

An image of a person holding a phone with OCT 2014 overlaid


When making decisions about where to invest time and money to promote their websites, marketers try to answer questions like:

  • Which social networks send the most engaged traffic?
  • What are the most effective acquisition channels (e.g., organic search, email, etc)?
  • Which mobile devices drive engagement with website content?

We thought it would be enlightening to answer these questions, in general, by averaging over a collection of different websites. We measured the median engagement levels for website traffic along three dimensions: Social Networks, Acquisition Channels and Mobile Devices.

Based on these three metrics, we gave each social network, acquisition channel and device a composite score we call Mscore.

Data Highlights

Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Google+ ranked highest among social networks.

Organic Search and Email topped the list of acquisition channels.

Apple iPhone and iPad deliver better engagement than many devices with larger screens.

1Social Networks

We analyzed 12 of the leading social networks to determine which ones delivered the most engaged traffic to the sample websites.

Interestingly, Yelp came out as the Engagement Champion with an Mscore of 2.88; beating Google+, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and others.

Overall Engagement Mscore

A chart showing the Mscore of popular social networks

Bounce Rate

A chart showing the bounce rate of popular social networks

Pages per Session

A chart showing the pages per session of popular social networks

Ave. Session Duration

A chart showing the average session duration of popular social networks

Rank Social Network Mscore Bounce Rate Pageviews/ Session Session Duration
1 Yelp 2.88 27.0% 3.64 2:36
2 TripAdvisor 2.64 34.5% 3.27 2:29
3 Google+ 2.48 49.1% 2.86 2:58
4 Blogger 2.24 50.4% 2.81 2:21
5 2.23 52.0% 2.75 2:26
6 YouTube 2.13 51.6% 2.57 2:15
7 Facebook 1.84 59.0% 2.25 1:57
8 Tumblr 1.81 59.6% 2.18 1:57
9 LinkedIn 1.75 55.8% 2.13 1:39
10 Pinterest 1.68 61.3% 2.27 1:34
11 Twitter 1.61 64.2% 2.05 1:39
12 Reddit 1.02 74.6% 1.59 0:42

Download XLS

Social networks vary widely in how well they deliver website engagement.

Points to Note

Perhaps Yelp and TripAdvisor did so well because these networks send traffic that is actively researching websites (e.g., restaurants, hotels). Reddit visitors, by contrast, are possibly just scanning for interesting content.

We also find it interesting that Google+ outscores Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. A few Megalytic customers have been telling us, informally, that they feel they get their best social traffic from Google+. This data supports their hypothesis that Google+ is an effective referrer of engaged website traffic.

2Acquisition Channels

Next, we looked at the acquisition channels, as defined in Google Analytics. As with social networks, we compared engagement across a sample of websites that received significant traffic from all 7 channels.

Organic Search led the pack, followed closely by Email. Despite how much we all hate spam, the data show that email marketing effectively drives engaged traffic to websites.

Overall Engagement Mscore

A chart showing the Mscore of popular social networks

Bounce Rate

A chart showing the bounce rate of popular acquisition channels

Pages per Session

A chart showing the pages per session of popular acquisition channels

Ave. Session Duration

A chart showing the average session duration of popular acquisition channels

Rank Referral Mscore Bounce Rate Pageviews/ Session Session Duration
1 Organic Search 2.95 43,1% 3.32 2:50
2 Email 2.89 46.0% 3.13 3:00
3 Paid Search 2.70 46.7% 3.21 2:23
4 Referral 2.68 49.3% 3.01 2:38
5 Direct 2.59 53.3% 2.86 2:39
6 Social 2.18 57.3% 2.46 2:03
7 Display 1.58 69.0% 2.04 1:16

Download XLS

Email and Organic Search are the stickiest Acquisition Channels.

Points to Note

Social and Display perform noticeably worse than the top 4 channels. Perhaps this is because those channels contain a higher percentage of "impulse clicks" than the other channels. Maybe search traffic, for example, is more engaged because these visitors are looking for something specific after they land on a website.

You might be surprised by the performance of so-called "Direct" traffic. People tend to think of Direct traffic as being those visitors who typed in or bookmarked the URL of their website. If this were true, presumably these visitors would be highly engaged as they are intentionally headed directly to your site with some purpose. However, the truth is Direct traffic is rarely direct. Mostly, it has become a bucket for traffic Google Analytics can't identify. For a variety of reasons, traffic from apps, mobile browsers, and redirects from social networks often end up in the Direct bucket. The fact that it has become a "catch all" for unidentified traffic is consistent with its placement in the middle of the Mscore ranking.

3Mobile Devices

Analyzing engagement by mobile device presents a few data quality challenges. First, the metric Average Session Duration does not provide a great measure of engagement across devices, because older, slower, devices with less network bandwidth take longer to load pages than newer devices, and this skews the results. For this reason, we computed the Mscore for Devices using only 2 metrics: Bounce Rate and Pages per Session.

Another challenge involves accurately identifying and separating out all the various devices based on the tags provided in the Google Analytics data. Some Apple devices (e.g., the iPad and iPad mini, the iPhone 3 and iPhone 4) cannot be distinguished from each other and we are forced to lump them together (see: A Pixel Identity Crisis).

Despite these challenges, we were able to pull together some interesting data.

Overall Engagement Mscore

A chart showing the Mscore of popular social networks

Bounce Rate

A chart showing the Mscore of popular social networks

Pages per Session

A chart showing the Mscore of popular social networks

Ave. Session Duration

A chart showing the Mscore of popular social networks

Rank Device Mscore Screen Size (inches) Bounce Rate Pageviews/ Session Session Duration
1 iPad (all models) 1.96 9.7/ 7.9 45.2% 3.06 2:56
2 Galaxy Note (10.1) 1.96 10.1 47.6% 3.18 3:09
3 Galaxy Tab 3 (10.1) 1.93 10.1 48.5% 3.15 3:35
4 Galaxy Tab 2 (10.1) 1.83 10.1 49.8% 2.89 3:19
5 Galaxy Note (8.0) 1.78 8.0 50.3% 2.79 2:35
6 Galaxy Tab 3 (7.0) 1.68 7.0 54.4% 2.68 2:29
7 Galaxy Note 3 1.64 5.7 54.3% 2.57 1:56
8 Moto G (XT1032/33) 1.61 4.5 54.2% 2.46 2:09
9 Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0) 1.61 7.0 55.9% 2.54 2:57
10 LG Nexus 5 1.59 4.95 55.2% 2.47 1:41
11 Galaxy S5 1.58 5.25 55.9% 2.45 1:57
12 Galaxy Note II 1.58 5.5 54.5% 2.37 1:59
13 iPhone 5 Series 1.57 4.0 55.3% 2.41 1:38
14 HTC M7 One 1.56 4.7 56.2% 2.41 1:39
15 Galaxy S IV 1.55 5.0 56.6% 2.42 1:47
16 Galaxy S4 Mini 1.55 4.3 55.2% 2.34 1:55
17 iPhone 3/4 Series 1.53 3.5 56.8% 2.36 1:46
18 Galaxy S III 1.45 4.8 59.0% 2.22 1:51
19 Galaxy S III Mini 1.38 4.0 61.0% 2.13 2:01

Download XLS

Some devices (like the iPhone 5) "punch above their weight" - delivering better engagement than peers with larger screens.

Points to Note

There is a strong correlation between screen size & how well a device delivers engagement with website content. However, it is not the only factor as you can see in the table above, several devices “punch above their weight” with respect to screen size. The iPhone 5, for example, has a 4.0 inch screen, but edges out the HTC M7 One (4.7 inch screen) and Galaxy S IV (5.0 inch screen).


Since mobile device screen sizes are growing, our data show that the opportunity for engaging mobile visitors is improving. Optimizing a website for mobile may be the best investment you can make for increasing engagement.

A few other points to take away from this data are:

  • Your website's engagement numbers may differ from these. A lot may depend on the type of content - a variable beyond our scope here. We hope to look at content type in the near future.
  • Our data show wide variations in engagement based on traffic source. Know the engagement numbers for your website. Focus marketing efforts on the social networks, channels, and devices where your website gets the most engagement.
  • Lastly, there have been a few other studies of this type, although focussed exclusively on social networks. Here are a couple that stood out for us:


About Our Analysis

To perform this analysis, we started with an anonymous random sample of approximately 1,000 websites using the Megalytic reporting tool. We pulled the Google Analytics engagement metrics (Bounce Rate, Pages per Session, and Average Visit Duration) across three sets of dimensions: Social Network Traffic Source, Acquisition Channel Traffic Source, and Device Type.

We wanted to look at sites that receive a balanced variety of traffic. So, for each set of dimensions, we whittled down the sites in the sample, to ensure that most of the dimension values in that set occurred in the data for all the sites. For example, from the 1,000+ starter websites, we selected about 200 that received traffic from all the social networks in our study (e.g., Yelp, Google+, YouTube, etc). This whittling down process helped to prevent sites receiving a preponderance of traffic from only a few of the sources from skewing the results.

From the whittled down subset of sites, we calculated the median Bounce Rate, Average Session Duration and Average Pages per Session. The Mscore was then calculated as the weighted sum of these engagement metrics. This is not precision data science, for a variety of reasons. But, we believe it provides a reasonable guide to understanding where engaged traffic comes from.

What Do You Think?

Know something we don't? Think our numbers are wrong? We love feedback. Let us know below.

Let's Stay in Touch

This is the first study in a series. Stay in touch to learn more about what drives website success. Bookmark the blog, grab our RSS, join us on Twitter or Facebook. Also, signup for our Megalytic service to learn more about your data.

About the Author

Mark Hansen is the Founder and President of Megalytic, the leading tool for building web analytics marketing reports.

Photo of Mark Hansen

Megalytic is used by digital agencies, marketers and business owners for faster, more insightful and better looking analytics reports.

Mark loves math, programming, and marketing – a combination of interests which eventually led to web analytics. He holds a PhD in Computer Science from MIT.


When the client first came to you, you talked up the value of Google Analytics. You emphasized the importance of seeing where your traffic was coming from. You went on and on about how Google Analytics can show traffic sources to pinpoint whether people came from search, social media or a specific site referral, and how valuable this data was. You sold them on it, so much so that your client looked forward to receiving that first report, the magical day when they would finally understand where visitors were coming from.
But then the report came, and it looked like this:



It showed that 10% of your client’s traffic came from “(direct)/(none)”. What does this label mean? How do you explain Direct traffic to your client? Better yet, how do you explain “none”?
Let’s take a closer look at understanding Direct traffic in Google Analytics and how we can address it with clients.
Digital marketers spend a lot of time focused on PPC and SEO campaigns in order to drive desirable traffic to a website. The phrases we’re ranking for and bidding on get meticulous attention, so much so that we often forget about some of the other ways that visitors find us.

We put a tremendous amount of the effort we put into reviewing organic search data and PPC campaign performance in analytics. But how closely do we monitor referral reports?

If that’s not a channel you review regularly, you may be missing out on seeing traffic that is coming directly from links you’ve obtained around the web, local business listings, news mentions, and more. Many times, links are only considered as a means to an end, a metric that Google uses in determining how to rank sites in the SERPs (search engine results pages). But the fact is, many of a site’s links may be directly contributing to its traffic.

In this article, we’ll review how to look at referral reports in Google Analytics, and some of the many ways to use that data to better inform your web marketing decisions.


Remember how your mom told you not to stand too close to the television because it might hurt your eyes?

The same rules can apply to data. If you’re too close, you may miss the patterns and trends that are crucial to understanding your website’s performance. You can’t judge a site’s performance looking at data in the bubble of a single day, you must consider any day’s traffic compared to the days before and after.

Google Analytics makes it fairly easy to analyze trends over long periods of time. But it also allows you to stand right in front of that TV, to look at more granular levels of time, right down to the hour.
There’s a better way to get that close to the data, without burning your retinas. We’ll cover how to analyze traffic effectively in today’s post.