An analysis of 50 B2B and B2C websites over a 3-month period by Conductor has shown that the majority of referral traffic to those websites is generated by just a fraction of the referring sites, leading the researchers to conclude that “the referrer fat head is alive and well.” The study also finds that (when excluding organic search) the domains analyzed did not share common top referrers, indicating that referral traffic is specific to domains and verticals.
The study, which analyzed more than 31 million referral visits, looked at referral traffic distribution both excluding and including organic search. In the first case, direct referrals accounted for 80% of the referral visits, with other search properties (defined as non-search trafic from search sites, such as maps and hotels) accounting for 16%, and social sites the remaining 4%. In the second case, organic search took 70% share of referrals, with direct referrals (25%), other search properties (4%), and social sites (1%) accounting for the remainder. (While the figures and analyzed sites are different, this study of e-commerce referral traffic from Monetate similarly shows search as driving far more traffic than social.)
The Conductor analysis then dug into the top domains referring traffic to the websites, grouping them into percentage clusters, and breaking them out by business type. When excluding organic search, the top 1% of referring domains drove 70% of traffic to the sites (66% B2B; 72% B2C). That jumped to 86% of traffic referred by the top 5% of domains (83% B2B; 88% B2C) and 91% from the top 10% of domains (89% B2B; 93% B2C). Notably, the analysis did not see any “super referral sites” that acted as top referrers across domains. So while the sites did obtain most of their referral traffic from just a small percentage of referrers, those referral sites were specific to the domains.
When including organic search into the analysis, the top 1% of domains referred a hefty 91% of traffic to the combined sites, rising to 97% from the top 5% and 98% from the top 10% of referral domains. (There was virtually no difference in the B2B and B2C figures in this case.) That uplift is not too surprising, given that 70% of referral traffic was driven by organic search, which in itself is dominated by a small number of sites.
Still, as the study shows, whether including or excluding organic search, the sites analyzed rely on a small selection of sites to deliver the majority share of their referral traffic.