What Can We Uncover in the Edward Snowden Story When Looking at Search Referral Data?

Internet Freedom

Image from: Internet Security / Shutterstock

If you have been following current events at all in the past two months, chances are that the name Edward Snowden has come up at least a dozen times. Solidifying himself as one of the most significant whistle blowers in recent history, his name has become synonymous with privacy and Internet freedom, helping to bring the debate of the two under the global spotlight.

Although I will not be going into a debate as to whether or not Snowden was justified in leaking the information that he did, I will be using the incredible amount of media coverage that the leak has garnered in order to evaluate who were the big winners on the web. This will be the first of many blog posts used to showcase some of the more coveted features of Compete PRO and how you can also use the tool to uncover macro and micro trends on the web.

As buzz for the name Edward Snowden spread quicker than the context with which it was surrounded, many people were left with their favorite search engines to reveal who he was, what he did, and why everyone was talking about him. So his name caught fire on search engines, trended on Twitter, and became an essential component of news outlet link bait. Knowing this, we can start to investigate who saw the most traffic from the search term “Edward Snowden”.

Keyword Profile Edward Snowden

As you can see from the screenshot above, The Guardian is the clear winner. With almost 8% of the total search volume for the entire population, they earned more than the remaining top ten combined.

If you have been following the Snowden case, these results should be of no surprise to you as Glenn Greenwald, a reporter for The Guardian, was the one who broke the story and is rumored to be the only person that has the entire collection of the leaked documents. So how much did breaking the Snowden story help The Guardian in the month of June? By looking at the graph below, it would seem to be quite a lot.

Unique Visitors The Guardian

Taking a look at The Guardian’s unique visitors (UVs) shows that over the course of one month, they saw a 31% increase. Not only is this unheard of in their industry category which saw an overall decrease of 2.51% in unique visitors in the same time period, but it is also the highest jump that they have seen in the past two years. Additionally, the metric Attention, which is the measure of the share of the total time spent on Internet by the entire population, saw an unprecedented jump of 75.9% to 0.013%.

But how did “Edward Snowden” do compared to the rest of the site’s search referral data?

In short, quite well. The exact match keyword [edward snowden] accounted for 1.63% of The Guardian’s total search referrals. Not only was this more than double their top branded keyword, but it amounted to more than the next two keywords combined. When looking at (snowden) as a broad match, we see that it accounted for 3.00% of The Guardian’s total search referrals.

Search Referral Data The Guardian

Taking a further look at the search referral data, we also see that the Total Time Index for the keyword was a perfect 100. What this means is that the keyword resulted in the most time spent on the site for all visits. For anyone who has had the opportunity to monitor a site’s analytics, this is a surprising discovery. In most cases, when a certain keyword brings in massive amounts of traffic, the engagement of said traffic is often lower than the site’s usual audience. But in this case, things are different. Not only did it bring in the most traffic, it was also the most engaging. It’s no wonder major news outlets will do almost anything to break a story.

Another interesting revelation uncovered when looking at The Guardian’s search referral data is that they spend very little, if not any, on non-branded paid search traffic. Showing that they are engaging in some paid search, but are choosing to rely on organic traffic instead.

Top Referrals The Guardian

By using the search referral data provided by Compete PRO, we can also form other hypotheses about their traffic. For example, when looking at their top referring sites, we see that Reddit, Twitter, and Salon all had very significant increases. Now that we know that “Edward Snowden” was a large provider of the increase in month over month traffic, we can assume that Reddit referrals increased significantly due to their heavy involvement in issues involving Internet freedom, Twitter referrals increased due to the fact that #Snowden was trending, and Salon (the location of Greenwald’s previous residency) traffic increased dramatically because of their heavy coverage of the Snowden story.

All in all, there is a lot that can be discovered about sites when looking at anomalies in the data provided by Compete PRO. If you have access to PRO, I encourage you to check out the data surrounding Snowden and please let me know if there is anything you notice that I missed. And if you don’t have access, you can get a free trial here!

About Zach Eberhart:
As a senior at Northeastern University, Zach Eberhart is thrilled to join the Compete team as the new Social Media / Marketing Co-op. Majoring in marketing and management information systems, Zach loves everything marketing and technology and has experience in both the agency and startup world. If you like what you read, you can connect with him on Google+ or LinkedIn.