Alexis Madrigal published a piece to day on how people find content on the web. While I agree with much of his piece including the contention that the web was social long before social media media (think IM, forums, email, etc), and that a large portion of visitors to sites cannot be tracked to the source, I believe he was led the wrong way by his “expert” Josh Schwartz of Chartbeat.
While Alexis acknowledges in this piece that mobile apps could account for part of this unatributed traffic, he provides a footnote with comments from Schwartz:
Chartbeat datawiz Josh Schwartz said it was unlikely that the mobile referral data was throwing off our numbers here. “Only about four percent of total traffic is on mobile at all, so, at least as a percentage of total referrals, app referrals must be a tiny percentage,” Schwartz wrote to me in an email. “To put some more context there, only 0.3 percent of total traffic has the Facebook mobile site as a referrer and less than 0.1 percent has the Facebook mobile app.”
How is mobile defined here? If they are just looking at screen size I guess is it possible only 4% of The Atlantic’s viewers are on phones, although that seems very low (web in general 16%, news sites 7% reported nine months ago). There is no mention of tablets, iPad specifically. Which leads me too…
What is missing from the analysis is Mozilla Web Kit.
What type of apps could be sending content to The Atlantic? It isn’t much of a stretch to think that the referrer might be one of dozens of popular news reader/personalization apps (think Zite, Flipboard, etc). Those apps generally use their own browser to display pages, and those browsers are almost 100% using a web kit.
As I detailed in my article on underreporting of Pinterest traffic, the majority of apps use Mozilla Web Kit to provide a more integrated experience, and none of these app browser provide referring data. Once you include iPad in your numbers, I have to believe a significant portion of this untracked traffic is coming from apps, and it doesn’t just have to be news apps.
Social traffic is underreported, but much of it comes from the big social networks.
To quote my previous piece:
Jim Gianoglio, Manager of Insight: Social & Mobile at LunaMetrics, told me that many app visits will show up this way. He indicated that Facebook has figured out a way to resolve this issue with their app, but that Twitter, while better tracking referrals with the t.co link shortener, still sends traffic from their own apps (as well as many third party apps) without clear referral attribution.
My own vist to Alexis’ piece would have fallen under this “Dark Social” traffic. I was using Hootsuite on my mobile phone when I saw a tweet with a link to the article. I clicked on it and read it using Hootsuite’s browser that use web kit. So this “Dark Social” traffic includes, at least in my case, traffic from mainstream social media.
The purpose of this piece was to clarify that there isn’t an unknown majority of people who forgo social networks to share links. Certainly some people email links or share them in chat, but to attribute around 50% of The Atlantic traffic to this group of people isn’t even close to the most likely scenario.