Where do BitB readers come from (and why I like Facebook better than Twitter and Google+)?

I’m not obsessed with blog stats, but every now and then it’s interesting to take a look and see what information I can glean from them. One of the stats provided by WordPress is “Referrers”—which sites readers came from. This is good information to know, as it can help guide decisions on which sites to put effort into as a referral site. It was precisely this stat that caused me to leave Google+ some months ago. I tried G+ for a time as an alternative to Facebook, cross-posting links to new posts and occasionally posting separate photos to maintain a consistent level of activity. But after several months I decided the interactions I was having on G+ weren’t very satisfying—no conversations about the subjects like what happens on Facebook, just brief comments of the “Nice shot” variety. Moreover, my WordPress Referrer stats showed virtually no traffic coming from G+. This was puzzling, as I found myself continually being added to G+ circles (thousands eventually, which in itself seemed very “spammish” to me), but since there was no automatic mechanism for linking new posts on G+ (like there is for Facebook and Twitter), I decided the tiny amount of traffic it drove was not worth the effort. I stopped posting to G+ (yet continued to be added to circles, which made me even more suspicious and eventually led me to deleting my G+ account altogether).

As my involvement with G+ waned, I became more involved with Twitter. I get Twitter—really, I do, although I had trouble getting it at first. It’s quick, it’s fun… it’s a great way to keep tabs on a lot of people who like to post links to things I am interested in. Nevertheless, I still find myself having trouble staying consistently involved with Twitter. My problem is the 140-character limit—again, I’m more interested in conversation than quips, and in this regard Facebook is a much less limiting—and thus more enjoyable—venue for interacting with like-minded individuals. I also find Twitter to be rather clumsy when it comes to sharing photos compared to Facebook’s more elegant (Google+ inspired?) model. If I can’t converse on Twitter the way I’d like to, then all I really have left to use Twitter for is to provide links to new posts on BitB. A few hundred followers may be modest, but one would still think it enough to drive a fairly good amount of traffic to the blog. Curiously, recent review of Referrer stats show this not to be the case. Over the past 30 days, only 43 visitors have come to BitB from Twitter—less than 1.5 per day! WordPress enables automatic linking of new posts on Twitter, so it doesn’t really take any effort on my part to maintain the account, but I still have to wonder if such little return warrants even this amount of effort.

Of course, search engines—primarily Google—reign supreme in driving traffic to BitB, with the past 30 days yielding 6,180 visits. But among non-search engine sites, where do most of my readers come from? Facebook! In the past 30 days, 232 visitors have clicked on a link to BitB through Facebook—either on my own page or that of somebody else who liked a post on BitB and provided a link to it. Considering how much fun I have on Facebook aside from providing links to posts on BitB—whether it be quick photos of experiences as they happen, enjoying photographs of other expert insect macrophotographers, or involvement in multi-party conversations about the finer points of insect taxonomy—the fact that it also drives a large amount of traffic to BitB almost seems like a bonus. People like to make fun of Facebook, and the recent exodus of many bug bloggers to Twitter and G+ cannot be ignored, but for me Facebook continues to be the supreme medium for online interaction.

I realize this a one-case study and don’t intend to generalize my experience to others. It does, however, raise some interesting questions. Why are Facebook users so much more likely to click on my links that Twitter or G+ users? What prompted thousands of G+ users to add me to their circles but almost none of them to actually click through to my content? Is my experience typical? Any insight on these questions would be appreciated.

I should also mention another significant referrer for BitB—Alex Wild. Combined stats from his Myrmecos and Compound Eye blogs over the past 30 days resulted in a cool 99 BitB referrals. While this is not quite at the same level as Facebook, it is remarkable for an individual blogger to be the source of so much traffic for my blog. I doubt Alex himself is responsible for all of these visits (although I’m sure he checks in from time to time), rather it is likely that a portion of the enormous reader base he has uses his sites as jumping off points for other bug blogs they like. No other bug blogger, and not even WordPress Reader or Blogger themselves, comes close to sending as much traffic to BitB as does Alex Wild. So, Alex… thank you!

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013

About Ted C. MacRae

Ted C. MacRae is a research entomologist by vocation and beetle taxonomist by avocation. Areas of expertise in the latter include worldwide jewel beetles (Buprestidae) and North American longhorned beetles (Cerambycidae). More recent work has focused on North American tiger beetles (Cicindelidae) and their distribution, ecology, and conservation.
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12 Responses to Where do BitB readers come from (and why I like Facebook better than Twitter and Google+)?

  1. Snail says:

    Here’s an anecdote to go with your one-case study! I have BitB on my aggregator, so that’s how I get here. Generally, I tend to favour links on FB over Twitter because they sit on the front page longer and you can see where the link is going. The thumbnails are also helpful. Twitter’s 140-character limit means that some links get shortened and I’m not always sure whether they’re worth following. (Mind you, I wasted quite a bit of today on Twitter, so my opinions are not always consistent!)

  2. You make some interesting points.

  3. It is interesting to see how this social media thing progresses and continues to shake out. I appreciate Twitter. It’s great for sharing various links and quick thoughts. As a teacher, Twitter allows me to follow things occurring in a wide range of sciences and share them with my students. Twitter is quick, efficient, and anonymous. The 140-character limit ensures Twitter a niche that will likely persist well beyond the more socially-focused niche currently occupied by Facebook

    Facebook is more complex. That’s intentional. For example, I know that you’re more than a scientist. You’re a person with passions including writing, biking and macrophotography, a great family, a dog, and a passion for travel and quality beef. I know that because of the structure of Facebook.

    The beauty of Facebook is that anyone can follow what’s happening in the world of friends, co-workers, others with similar interests, and those they’d like to meet some day. There’s no need for continual interaction. A simple ‘Like’ every once in a while tells a poster that others enjoy the poster’s sharing of some aspect of their life. Facebook is about building, maintaining, and expanding community. You’re a social guy with a lot of interests. I suspect you would find that the majority of your Facebook friends also fit that profile. That’s why they connect to you via Facebook.

    Keep writing and posting, Ted!

    • Some good insight, although I can think of a few VERY social entomologists that live on Twitter and hardly ever FB. Nevertheless, I think you’re right – FB works well with the particular way I want to be social. To me Twitter is awkward – it seems like a room full of voices, with everyone wanting to be heard and not too many wanting to listen. If that makes any sense.

  4. Sloan Carson says:

    I got here through Google. But I found Myremecos.net first, so you’re probably right about Alex Wild’s influence.
    I really like the way Google+ works… but if no one uses it, it doesn’t matter.
    I just saw a study (on Moz.com’s blog) about correlation between social signals and search engine rankings. They’re closely tied together.

  5. I get the same sort of boost you do from Alex, so apparently what’s good for Alex Wild is good for us all! But I also get the most non-search engine referrals from Facebook, like you. The people on FB are a lot more likely to comment on FB than in the blog posts themselves, but whatever. They’re still reading my posts! Plus, if you have a Facebook page for your blog, the stats… Oh, they’re wonderful! They’ll give you all this demographic data of the people that follow you on Facebook, where they’re from, which languages they speak, what the age and sex distribution of your readers are. It’s pretty awesome. I’ve always suspected I have a high percentage of women following my blog, and Facebook strongly supports that suspicion. It also reminds me of why it’s a very good idea to translate some of my Dragonfly Swarm Project pages into Spanish – I get very few non-English speakers visiting, and some of the things I’m interested in learning are happening in Central and South America. So, that’s moving up the list of priorities!

    Of course, I use Twitter and Facebook in very different ways too (when I have time to get on Twitter and actually interact with people in the first place). Twitter is a source of news and a place to share news for me. I actually interact with people on Facebook, get to know them more. I’m much more personally invested in my Facebook followers (with the exceptions of people I know in person) than I am with my Twitter followers, and I think that results in an audience that’s more inclined to read my posts. I might have less than half the FB followers as I do on Twitter, but somehow those interactions feel more genuine. I think it’s because, like you, I value the conversations I’m able to have there. I share fun things I see and people ask me questions and post photos for me to look at. You CAN have conversations on Twitter, but it’s a lot more difficult, more like being in a chatroom with a thousand strangers and trying to talk to the one person you know rather than interacting with a room full of people you know. I know other people use Twitter as a more social sort of thing, but that’s never been what it’s about to me – and I suspect the same is true for a lot of other people there as well.

    In any case, regardless of where your visitors and like and commenters come from, I read all of your posts! I don’t have as much time to respond to blogs as I have in the past, but I still read yours and enjoy your posts thoroughly. I know you’re not posting as often anymore, but I appreciate that you still do – and I hope you will continue to do so in the future!

    • Sounds like you and I both use FB and Twitter in the same ways, so I’d be interested to know how your FB and Twitter referrals compare.

      Glad you still read BitB. My posting frequency is down some but not a lot – averaging 9 posts/month this year compared to 14/month last year. I’ll keep going – it’s still fun enough to make it worth it even with people not commenting so much now like in the “old days.”

  6. My Google+ experience is similar to yours – quite the dud. However, my meagre visit count (disregarding search engines) is driven more by Twitter than Facebook!

  7. greginva says:

    I dropped Facebook over a year ago – various things about Facebook bothered me (including two hacks of my Yahoo email by Facebook international creeps). I don’t recall any anonymous person on Facebook “friending(??)” me. I guess if they did, I would have not accepted their invite. I’ve had a lot of anonymous people “circle me” on Google+, but hardly any of those people have ever commented on anything I’ve posted. That doesn’t really bother me, but it does make me wonder why they do it. I do like Google+. I find it a good way to follow a few people or magazines that interest me. I’m sorry that you dropped off Google+ but I regularly visit your blog anyway, so I don’t miss much. I still do Flickr also – a slightly different cast of characters there and a different purpose, I suppose.

    • I didn’t mention Flickr, but I was unsatisfied with that experience—lots of “nice shot” comments, but conversation was minimal and more about the photos themselves rather than the natural history they portrayed. Worse was the deluge of “awards” and “invitations” that struck me as nothing but spammish. I haven’t experienced any of the problems you mention with Facebook, so I guess everybody’s mileage will vary.

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