Lehigh University Explores the Link Between Social Media Posts and Website Traffic

In Fall 2015, Lehigh University’s student newspaper, The Brown and White, participated in Parse.ly’s University Partnerships program in an effort to better understand its audience. Part One of the research was featured in a previous blog post; now, we’re pleased to bring you the second installment.

Guest blog post from Danielle DiStefano, editor-in-chief, The Brown and White

How are social media posts connected to website traffic? The Brown and White set out to identify peak traffic times using several Parse.ly reporting dashboards to analyze its efforts, with the ultimate goal of understanding how editors can best drive traffic to our website through social platforms.

We hypothesized that Facebook and Twitter drove the most site views and that our social posting schedule was not necessarily driving views to the site, but rather that our audience was reacting to the time at which we pushed the bulk of our content to the Web.

To test the theory, we first looked at our Fall 2015 social media (Twitter and Facebook) posting schedule. At the time, the schedule was completely arbitrary. Find the schedule posted below for reference.

11:00 a.m. — Image of front page, link to homepage

12:00 p.m. — News

12:30 p.m. — News

1:00 p.m.— News

1:30 p.m.— Sports

2:00 p.m. — Sports

2:30 p.m.— Sports

3:00 p.m.  — Lifestyle

3:30 p.m.  — Lifestyle

4:00 p.m. — Edit Desk or Column

4:30 p.m.— Editorial

For the purpose of this exploration, we continued to post content at the above-scheduled times, while also posting on Twitter and Facebook at other intervals throughout the week to see how our current schedule drives traffic against other factors.

What We Learned About Desktop Traffic

Fifty-seven percent of our readers look at our site from the desktop; we receive the highest engagement from these readers at 9:00 a.m., even though social media posts are never scheduled that early. It seems as though desktop users are checking the site as a part of their morning routine.

Further, Monday, Wednesday and Sunday are our top traffic days from desktop readers. Thursday, Friday and Saturday have the lowest desktop engagement throughout the week. Most desktop engagement comes from evergreen news stories.

What We Learned About Mobile Traffic

Thirty-seven percent of readers access our content via mobile devices. Spikes in mobile engagement range broadly across a 24-hour period, though most take place in the afternoon — the highest being at 3:00 p.m. Wednesday, Tuesday and Friday (respectively) are our most engaged days by page views. This indicates that our readers are engaging with content on the site on the days we are posting to social.

What We Learned About Top Referrers

Our most significant finding — drawn from Parse.ly dashboard data and our own, anecdotal observations  —  is that Facebook provides the most referrals to the website, with 35 percent of social referrals and approximately 38,000 views. Facebook referrals even outnumber internal referrals and direct clicks.

Google refers 25 percent of our traffic, followed by internal referrals from The Brown and White homepage (20 percent of traffic), and then Twitter with 20 percent of referrals.

The Final Analysis

The journalism industry is changing, and we can’t be an online-first publication without understanding what it takes to be successful in the digital space.

Analytics has transformed how our editorial staff functions. Our processes, which were once purely rooted in tradition and habit, are now refocused on data and science. In just a semester, The Brown and White has gained significant insight into our audience. We know more about what they read, how they read and when they read, and have adjusted our daily operations to drive engagement and ensure we continue to bring “all the Lehigh news first since 1894.”

There’s no question that social media is driving views to our website:

  • Facebook is incredibly important to The Brown and White’s website engagement strategy, so we will continue to adapt our posting structure to appeal to our Facebook audience and drive more views to the site. This includes producing longer-form content.
  • Twitter, on the other hand, is best for breaking news.
  • Google is still driving much of our engagement with the site, meaning we must continue to focus on the search engine optimization of our content.

Based on the results of the study, we can now adapt our social media posting schedule to the observed habits of our readers. Instead of using an arbitrary schedule based on sections of The Brown and White, we can share content on social media based on the times our readers are most likely to see it and click.