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PROJECT SUMMARY: I authored this article for my Twitter-focused Examiner.com column which shares original insight, resources and topics related to all things Twitter.

Does Pinterest’s Rise to “Traffic Referral Glory” Come at Twitter’s Expense?

Lately there’s been a lot of chatter about how Pinterest — now the 3rd largest social network next to Twitter and Facebook —is pumping out tons of traffic to blogs and web sites, even more than Twitter is the latest kicker. In fact, according to a January 31st, 2012 Shareaholic report, Pinterest referred more traffic this past January 2012 than Google Plus, LinkedIn and YouTube combined!

Seems to me much of the media hype focused on Pinterest as of late also appears to be, in my view, pitting Pinterest in direct competition specifically with Twitter. And headlines like the ones below continue to fuel the fire:

  • Pinterest Sent More Referral Traffic Than Twitter in February
  • Pinterest Now Generates More Referral Traffic Than Twitter: Study
  • Pinterest Tops Twitter for Referral Traffic
  • Pinterest Outpaces Twitter For Publishers’ Referral Traffic
  • Pinterest Drives More Traffic to Blogs Than Twitter

Ruiz McPherson CommunicationsSuch headlines, which were inspired by a second Shareaholic report posted on March 7th, 2012, really spark some concerns for Twitter die-hards like the very person authoring this article right now (hint: me!). No, I don’t dislike Pinterest. In fact, I’m growing to enjoy the virtual pinning board very much. But my concern is that Pinterest’s recent media glories are seemingly coming at the expense of Twitter.

If you shelf Pinterest’s “media darling” status for a moment and focus exclusively on the quality of traffic being driven to sites and blogs by the virtual board’s “pins,” it may help to put some objective perspective in the minds of those who may start to question or doubt Twitter’s traffic referral power in light of the Pinterest-favorable headlines shared above.

Clearly, Pinterest is — as Shareaholic reporting indicates — referring massive amounts of referral traffic. But, as Jordan Kasteler from Search Engine Land asks, “Is that traffic helping or hurting your site?” Kasterler goes on to reference Tony Clark’s “Is Pinterest Traffic Worthless?” blog post on Coypblogger where Clark indicates that despite Pinterest’s traffic referral power, the quality of the traffic being sent is worth questioning. In his post, Clark shares that the average Pinterest-specific referred user has a “visit duration of 32 seconds with a bounce rate of a whopping 91.7%.”

I’m sure that’s not the case for all of Pinterest-referred traffic but it surely should make you pause and question the quality of the traffic being sent to your site or blog from the now 104 million-strong virtual pinning board. Are those visitors referred to you by Pinterest of value? Are they targeted, prospective customers? Yes, not all will be but do you at least have some metric in place to determine or judge the value or conversion potential of the Pinterest traffic your site is receiving?

Now, back to Twitter … I have to wonder where does this Pinterest-traffic-power talk leave the popular microblog often touted as the second-largest social network next to Facebook? Hmmm, hard to say. I’ve tried to dig for updated Twitter-specific traffic referral statistics, metrics or insights to compare with recent Pinterest reports but honestly, I couldn’t find much out there worth noting here.

What I can and will say is that Twitter was apparently well aware, before this whole Pinterest frenzy, that it needed to somehow address its own referral traffic potential.

The microblogging service, in fact, rolled out its whole t.co URL link shortening initiative not only to protect against spam but also in an effort to better define the traffic referred from its tweets as traffic coming from exclusively from its platform.

Before t.co URL was deployed, the source of most Twitter traffic was too diffused (site owners, for example, reportedly saw referral traffic coming from a number of separate, Twitter-related sources such as ‘Tweetdeck or Twitterific). Once t.co was put into effect, organizations and corporations were supposed to be better able to see the consolidated influence the entire Twitter ecosystem (and specific tweets) has had on their site’s or blog’s referral traffic reports.

Ultimately, as many in the industry openly shared, t.co URLs were to give Twitter a huge visibility boost and make the site itself easier to track on the analytics reporting of sites and blogs.

And now, many months after t.co was put into effect, Twitter finds itself in a traffic referral pow wow—at least in the media’s eyes—with Pinterest.

If I were on the Twitter PR or marketing team and I was constantly coming across these “Pinterest refers more traffic than Twitter” headlines, I wouldn’t be sitting back quietly and just taking it. I have to wonder and hope that the good folks of the Twitter flock will have something up their feathers to counter-punch soon.

Only time will tell.

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