How To Understand Your Traffic from Pinterest

How To Understand Your Traffic from Pinterest

Do You Really Know What Drives Your Referral Traffic from Pinterest?

There’s a good deal of confusion about what drives traffic from Pinterest to blogs and websites. An individual site will often see ebbs and flows in Pinterest traffic month to month or week to week. When this happens, it’s easy to jump to conclusions as to why traffic from Pinterest increased or declined. If you do that, though, you’ll generally be wrong.

The thing is: Pins can take weeks or months to go viral. This makes interpreting changes in traffic from Pinterest more difficult than it is for real-time social networks such as Twitter or Facebook. Often, a growth or decline in traffic from Pinterest is NOT due to something you did recently, but the impact of actions taken months prior.

This blog post provides an in-depth analysis of what drove one successful blogger’s traffic from Pinterest to change over time.

I’ve gone into great detail using screenshots from her Google Analytics account (with her permission, of course!), so that you’ll be able to repeat the steps below with your own data. The first time you do it may take 20-30 minutes if you’re newer to Google Analytics. I’d strongly recommend you spend that time, though. The insights may change your Pinterest strategy forever.

To make understanding your Pinterest traffic easier, we’ve created a FREE printable step-by-step guide. Download it to follow along with your own traffic data.

Download Your Google Analytics Guide Now

Download this free printable guide to better understand your traffic from Pinterest: http://blog.tailwindapp.com/traffic-from-pinterest/Click To Tweet

Hands-on case study: Louisem.com

Recently, Tailwind member Louise Myers of louisem.com wrote in with a question that caught my attention:

Louise Myers Tailwind

Can you imagine why this caught my eye?

In aggregate, our members see a substantial improvement in traffic from Pinterest after they start using Tailwind. I take great pride in that fact. But it’s equally important that we understand what’s going on in cases when our members aren’t seeing the results they’re hoping for. By doing so, we not only learn how to help them, but also generate ideas for new features that will benefit all Tailwind members.

What was different for Louise in particular? Why was her traffic from Pinterest declining? Was it somehow our fault? Did we guide her down the wrong path? I needed to know.

So, I spent a good part of the weekend investigating the issue and outlining the process- for her to repeat in the future. However, when we talked her through the results they were so interesting that she immediately said: “A lot of bloggers could benefit if they knew this.” And this blog post was born.

Step 1: Let’s see how Louise’s traffic from Pinterest trended over time to get a sense of the problem we’re trying to solve. We looked at a full year to see if any abnormal seasonal trends pop out.

LouiseM.com Pinterest Referral Traffic Jan 2015-Jan 2016

LouiseM.com Weekly Pinterest Referral Traffic Jan 2015-Jan 2016

Looking at this chart the issue in question is clear. There is a nice bump in Sessions referred from Pinterest starting in May, peaking in late July and declining back to prior levels by November. This size of the bump is pretty substantial: 2,847 weekly sessions from Pinterest at the highest point, which was up 4x from ~700 per week in March-April.

See your own in Google Analytics, go to: Acquisition > Social > Network Referrals, then click “Pinterest” in the table. The navigation menu should look like this:

Google Analytics Network Referrals Report

 

Step 2: Where is traffic coming from within Pinterest? Getting a quick sense of which pages are driving the traffic can hep us figure out what caused the rise and subsequent decline. Was it from the Smart Feed? Search results? Individual pins?

 

Pinterest traffic by source page

This table breaks out referral traffic from Pinterest by the specific page it came from.

Row 1, which reads “/” refers to the homepage, where the Pinterest Smart Feed is shown. ~16% of traffic referrals came from the Smart Feed. Some quick math tells us that is too small to account for a 2-4x increase in traffic for 5-6 months of the year. However, it’s also far more referrals than any single pin drove during the year. So, it’s worth looking into to make sure we don’t miss an important clue- for instance, if the louisem.com domain might have been penalized or flagged as SPAM.

See your own in Google Analytics, go to: Acquisition > All Traffic > Referrals and click on the “pinterest.com” link.

 

Step 3: To isolate just referral traffic from the Pinterest Smart Feed, click on the “/” link in the table above.

Louise's traffic from the Pinterest Smart Feed remained steady year round

Louise’s traffic from the Pinterest Smart Feed remained steady year round

Okay, this is a good sign! Traffic from the Smart Feed is pretty consistent year round. There’s no sign of any penalties or major changes for the domain. The one noticeable dip is around Christmas time, and was likely driven by Pinterest pushing more holiday/seasonal pins in the Smart Feed, or perhaps simply lower user activity while people were offline for the holidays.

 

Step 4: Now, we can conclude the bump and decline in traffic is related to traffic coming from individual pins, not the Smart Feed. Since there aren’t any really big outlier pins (e.g. 5+% of traffic), the issue must be wider than say if a single hyper-viral pin surged and declined. Let’s investigate further by looking at how many pins drove traffic in each month…

Pins driving traffic to louisem.com by Month, in Thousands

Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Jan
1,000s of Pins 1.3 1.2 1.3 1.3 1.6 2.7 4.5 4.6 3.2 3.6 2.1 1.3 1.6

WOW – louisem.com hit a hot streak from June to October 2015! The number of pins driving traffic to the site more than tripled from prior levels!

See your own in Google Analytics: Go back to the chart in Step 2 above and change the date range to cover a specific month. Then look at the total number of rows at the bottom to get a ballpark estimate of how many unique pins drove traffic to your site in that month. Here’s what that looked liked for Louise when we looked at just January 2015:

Number of Pins driving traffic to domain

 

Step 5: This is really interesting. Seeing so many more unique pins driving traffic to Louise’s blog mid-year suggests that something went viral around that time. At the same time, we know from Step 2 above that no single Pin drove more than 1.92% of the Pinterest referral traffic for the year. So, instead of analyzing the lifespan of each pin one by one, let’s look at if any particular blog post on louisem.com went viral.

top pinterest traffic blog posts

Top blog posts receiving traffic from Pinterest on louisem.com in 2015

EUREKA! The top article drove almost half of Louise’s traffic from Pinterest in the past year! The next two account for over 25% more. So, just three articles drove about three quarters of her traffic from Pinterest!

See your own in Google Analytics, go to: This view is the table under the line graph if you followed Step 1 above.

 

Step 6: Let’s see if Pinterest referral traffic to these three big articles corresponds with the mid year bump.

See your own in Google Analytics: Click on the Shared URL in the table from Step 5 for each URL you want to investigate.

URL 1: Best Inspirational Quotes

Pinterest Traffic for a URL

WHOA- This bump looks familiar, eh?

URL 2: Color Psychology Brand Colors

 

Pinterest Traffic for a URL 2

This post peaked early in the year, and then produced slowly declining steady traffic. Doesn’t appear to impact the bump.

URL 3: The Psychology of Color

Pinterest Traffic for a URL 3

This post was pretty steady after getting traction early in the year – doesn’t appear to contribute to the bump.

EUREKA! URL 1 has a rise and fall almost identical to the mid year bump. From June to October, that one URL drove nearly two-thirds of all traffic from Pinterest! Looking at the magnitude of this URL’s referral traffic from Pinterest, the peak in late July is ~2,100 weekly sessions. That’s IDENTICAL to the growth from ~700 weekly sessions to 2,800 weekly sessions observed for all Pinterest traffic to louisem.com.  

So, the entire bump in traffic (and subsequent decline) can be explained by one viral post! 

In fact, when we remove that one post from the overall Pinterest referral report, the trend looks very different. The bump has disappeared!

Pinterest referral traffic without top viral post

The bump is gone! Without the top viral post, traffic is steady year round, except for a seasonal dip during the holiday season. This makes sense, since Louise’s content is not topically relevant for the holidays.

 

Step 7: Just to be safe- let’s confirm if that first “Best Inspirational Quotes” post did indeed go viral.

Blog post share data

Wow! 60.2k Pins! I’d say that’s viral…

/ AN IMPORTANT ASIDE

Notice that this post was published on April 8th, 2015. Yet, it didn’t start going viral until late May and peaked at the end of July. It took a month and a half for this post to go viral and nearly 4 months for it to hit its peak! Then, it continued generating substantial traffic for many months after.  Think about how that compares to most blog posts, facebook status updates or tweets, which will tend to peak within 24-72 hours of publication.

I raise this point because there’s an ongoing debate about whether or not you should delete pins- and it’s being debated without data to back up the various opinions. In an Online Blog Con webinar just this week, our Marketing Manager Melissa and host Karyn were asked by an attendee if she agreed with some bad advice previously given from the creator of a certain black/grey hat scheduling bot to delete any pin that had not gone viral within four days. Louise’s example in this blog post and many other viral pins like it give plenty of reason NOT to hastily or automatically delete Pins. I personally had a pin go viral on my account about six months ago; it had ZERO repins two weeks after it was pinned, but has since grown to more than 6,000 repins! So, in short, don’t believe everything you read. Look for hard data to support opinions. If someone can’t offer it, they are likely just repeating something they heard elsewhere. And be skeptical of advice that suggests fully automating any aspect of social media. I’ve yet to see anyone reach true long-term success via automation on any social platform.

END ASIDE /

 

Step 8: Okay- we know this one post was behind both the rise and fall of Louise’s Pinterest referral traffic as it went viral and then died down. But how did it go viral in the first place? Who pinned the pins that sent it viral? Let’s analyze the most viral pins linking back to the Inspirational Quotes post.

Pin URL Visits Repins How Long Ago? (wks) Pinned by You
pinterest.com/pin/410531322260774019/ 1,380 2,637 26 No
pinterest.com/pin/327566572874209412/ 666 1,128 37 No
pinterest.com/pin/148548487685603992/ 648 1,746 38 Yes!
pinterest.com/pin/316448311294417281/ 423 681 37 No
pinterest.com/pin/308707749435557736/ 362 597 24 No
pinterest.com/pin/555279829033637547/ 344 589 24 No
pinterest.com/pin/447474912955290196/ 300 889 9 No
pinterest.com/pin/277041814554189295/ 198 192 30 No
pinterest.com/pin/474848354438976775/ 185 228 25 No
pinterest.com/pin/302867143668919305/ 168 275 25 No

All but one of the most viral pins linking to the post were pinned by someone other than Louise. This is common; it is much more likely that other people pinning your content will send your posts viral than you pinning your own content. This is one reason we started inviting Tailwind members to submit their content to our Suggested Content library circulated to other members. By surfacing our members’ content to other members in contextually relevant ways, the number of unique Pinners organically pinning from each members’ content grows, signaling high content quality to Pinterest.

Also noteworthy: Almost all of these pins were pinned 24 to 38 weeks ago, or between May 3 and August 15, 2015.

Note: This data is not from Google Analytics. It can be obtained through the “Most Clicked Pins” report in Tailwind (see Monitor Your Domain section), or recreated manually by visiting each pin one by one and recording the relevant data.

Commentary – Why do Viral Pins fade?

This is a good question with a very complex answer. The simplest analogy is perhaps to think of Pins in the context of other popular media. Eventually, the best movies get removed from theaters, top TV series come to an end and hit songs fall out of the Top 40. They may be replayed forever on-demand, in syndication and on “oldies” stations, but not with the same frequency or audience size they once enjoyed.

Even the most viral pin must eventually trail off. Once a user has seen a given Pin a certain number of times, it becomes less and less likely they will engage with it. As that engagement rate declines, it’s only correct for Pinterest to show other Pins in its place. Think of how boring Pinterest would be if you saw the same fifty viral Pins everytime you logged on. That certainly wouldn’t align with Pinterest’s mission to help you discover and save creative ideas.

The implication for all of us is clear: To succeed over the long-term, you must continually create new, high quality content that your audience will love.

 

Conclusions

So, what does all this mean for Louise?

Louise now knows exactly why her traffic grew so quickly from May to July- and why it came back down to earth from August to October. One highly viral post exploded and eventually faded off, after many many people had seen it. To get back to those heights, she needs to focus first and foremost on creating more excellent content that people will love and share.

Did Tailwind cause the growth and/or decline in traffic- or was the timing merely coincidence?

We can say for certain that neither the rapid growth in traffic from Pinterest, nor the subsequent decline was caused by Tailwind. The pins that drove the growth in traffic were actually pinned before Louise started using Tailwind. And, remember, all but one of the viral pins was pinned by other Pinners, rather than by Louise herself. 

What does all this mean for you, who has valiantly persevered to the end of this post?

Realize that this is the nature of Pinterest. Pins live forever and it often takes months for Pins to really go viral. So, you can’t judge tomorrow’s results based on what you did today.

Rather, you should think about Pinterest like planting a garden. Planting seeds today by creating and pinning great content will drive the value of your harvest months later. The exception to this is Promoted Pins, which are designed to enable more immediate and obvious results by letting you buy promotion right now for specific content.

In this analogy, Tailwind is one of your gardening tools. It can save you a lot of time, help improve your results and allow you to plant more seeds with less effort. If you save even one hour of time per week by Pinning more efficiently, it pays for itself in no time- and you should see a more robust harvest as the seasons go by.

If you’ve been thinking about upgrading to Tailwind Plus, I’d like to offer you a special reward to thank you for reading this long, detailed post. 🙂

Use this link to create your Tailwind account  and you’ll start with a $15 credit. That will either cover your first month of Plus or take a nice chunk out of the Annual Plus plan, so you end up getting 5 months free instead of 4. Once you’re a member, you’ll also get your own referral link to earn an additional $15 for every paid member you refer. It doesn’t take many referrals to rack up a free year of Plus service!

Enjoy and happy Pinning!

How To Understand Your Traffic from Pinterest

Enjoyed this blog post? Please share with this pinnable image!

A blogger's traffic from Pinterest was growing rapidly, then suddenly dropped. But why? This in-depth case study and free downloadable step-by-step guide from @tailwind teaches how to analyze and understand your traffic from Pinterest.

About Danny Maloney

Daniel Maloney is the CEO and Co-founder of Tailwind (http://tailwindapp.com), the leading Visual Marketing platform loved by over 50,000 brands big and small. Tailwind helps make your marketing on Pinterest and Instagram easier, faster and more effective. A veteran of the internet industry, Danny lead New Initiatives at Google Maps / Local and YouTube, served as General Manager of AOL Video and founded other companies in the fields of e-commerce and visual discovery prior to Tailwind.

32 thoughts on “How To Understand Your Traffic from Pinterest

  1. Ashley & Kimber
    February 16, 2016 at 11:54 am

    This was SUCH a great article Danny! I have been a huge proponent of using GA to understand your Pinterest traffic and learned some great new tricks from this. Thank you so much for taking the time, energy, and mental effort to help us understand Pinterest better and grow our blogs more.

    1. Danny Maloney
      February 16, 2016 at 4:39 pm

      Thank you @ashleykimber:disqus! Really glad that you enjoyed it. I’m thankful to Louise, who was awesome to dig into this with us and to let us publish a real case study with live data! I hope the methodology will help many of our members (and others!) better understand what’s driving their results from Pinterest, so they can grow their blogs and businesses faster.

  2. Tammy DeShaw
    February 16, 2016 at 5:50 pm

    I was not able to download the file after entering my name and email on the “promotion” landing page. Can you please assist. deshawtammyatgmaildotcom.

    1. tailwindapp
      February 16, 2016 at 5:59 pm

      Hi Tammy! Sorry about that – I just sent you an email with the doc. Please let me know if you don’t get it!

  3. Andrea Robinson
    February 16, 2016 at 6:46 pm

    What a magnificent post! I NEVER would have taken the time to analyze all that data and satisfy the question. But by reading the post all the way to the end, even a person (like myself) whose policy is to avoid numbers whenever possible could understand exactly why the bump appeared and trailed off. And the evidence was clearly and thoroughly spread out for us. I’m very grateful to you AND Louise.

    Most likely I won’t be turning into a numbers person overnight, but when selecting helpers, I’ll definitely know what skills to assess in the interviewing process. 🙂

    1. February 17, 2016 at 12:00 pm

      I was so impressed that Danny took the time to do this research! I’m glad you found it helpful too, Andrea.

  4. February 17, 2016 at 12:01 pm

    Thanks again, Danny, for taking the time to do a deep dive into my Pinterest analytics! I really appreciate your efforts and your customer service. Great blog post!

    1. Danny Maloney
      February 17, 2016 at 12:05 pm

      Our pleasure, Louise. Thank you for being willing to share the lessons learned with others. This will help a lot of people!

  5. blackdiamondgemstone
    February 17, 2016 at 12:04 pm

    I have been waiting for a post like this. Great info! Please clarify this question. Pins originating from the smart feed are indicated as follows: ( / ) Why does this not indicate the pin from which it originated or is this information duplicated.

    I would like to know how to tell whether a pin is from a related pin, a search or someone actually scrolling through my listed pins from my profile or having opened a particular board and scrolling through the pins.

    Please also explain the smart feed origin to a particular page in more detail.

    Thank you

    1. Danny Maloney
      February 17, 2016 at 12:12 pm

      Google Analytics is capturing the specific URL of the page that a user was on before they clicked to visit your site. The Smart Feed is captured as “/” because the last URL before the user visited your site was “https://www.pinterest.com/.” The “/” refers to the final “/” in the url; the lack of anything after the “/” indicates that the user wasn’t on a deeper section of the site. Conversely, if a user were to visit a specific pin before clicking through, the traffic would be recorded as coming from something like “/pin/516014069785513065/” corresponding with an equivalent Pin’s URL, e.g. “https://www.pinterest.com/pin/516014069785513065/.”

      1. Sarah
        June 26, 2016 at 2:45 pm

        Either way the pin has to be clicked on first, right, so does that mean that only the specific pin is recorded if it was pinned first?

        1. Daniel Maloney
          June 26, 2016 at 10:14 pm

          Hi Sarah- Not necessarily. On desktop, you can click straight from the Smart Feed to the underlying URL if you click on “Learn more at [domain]” or by clicking on links in pin descriptions. In either case, the traffic would show as straight from the Smart Feed (or “/”).

          1. Greg Radcliffe
            October 3, 2016 at 6:30 pm

            Hi Daniel, thanks for the great read. I understand how to tell whether traffic comes from a specific pin or the smart feed…but for specific pin traffic is there any way to differentiate between whether the pin was viewed on a particular board vs. coming from search results. Obviously understanding which of your pins are doing well in search is a pretty big deal. When I see a spike in repins I’ll sometimes do my own pinterest search and see where the pin appears in results…but it would be awesome if there was an easier way to do this. But, not sure this is. Any insights? Keep up the great work, appreciated.

          2. Danny Maloney
            October 3, 2016 at 7:38 pm

            @gregradcliffe:disqus Great question – and yes, there is a way to find out what you’re looking for! Within your Google Analytics, if you look at the referral path of the traffic (Step 2 above) you’ll be able to tell what’s coming from search or specific boards. If the clicks came from search the referral path will start with “/search”, while if coming from a board page the referral path will start with “/[username]/[board-slug]”. If you want to view all search or all of your boards at once, just typing “/search” or “/[username]/” in the search box above the data table should get you that view in a jiffy.

          3. Greg Radcliffe
            October 3, 2016 at 8:51 pm

            @disqus_l4lqL4eipM:disqus thanks for the quick reply. So, I used the “/search” and it shows only 2 referrals coming from pinterest search out of like 25,000. That’s kind of depressing if that’s the case and doesn’t seem right as I know I’ve had a few recipe keyword phrases where my recipe shows up early in the search results. Am I missing something here? I have the same issue with searching by [username]…no results as no results…all referral paths start with “pin”. I think this is because everyone IS coming from the pin itself. Haven’t seen the “learn more at [domain]” that you refer too. Only a “make it” button on the rich pin itself. So I still can’t quite seem to pull in depth pinterest metrics. Could be I’m missing something, but it doesn’t feel like it….fairly in tune with google analytics…I’m pulling the Full Referral path. Any thoughts?

  6. February 18, 2016 at 9:24 am

    This is so helpful. Thank you so much! Is there more information somewhere about the Tailwind suggested content library? I’d love to submit content to it.

  7. Kendall O
    February 18, 2016 at 11:33 pm

    The most valuable part of this amazing post for me personally is how you reference to Google Analytics. How it was broken down to get at the core information was amazingly helpful—most posts I see just cover the top level stuff, this is so much better. I am always looking for better ways to utilize the large amounts of information on Google Analytics, and this really hits the nail on the head with this extensive research. Your aside is also quite interesting that viral posts can happen later in the lifespan of a Pin, which is pretty unique to the Pinterest platform, I think. Evergreen content ftw 🙂

  8. Grace J.
    February 19, 2016 at 1:50 pm

    I had absolutely no idea! I’m glad I came across this pos. I get very frustrated with Pinterest but now I know that I have to give it time to work. I’m think I’m going to start up again. 🙂

  9. June 21, 2016 at 5:28 am

    Hi, great article. I’m just wondering if my domain might have been penalized or flagged as SPAM as you initially suspect may have been the case with louisem.com. This is because when I isolate the referral traffic from the Pinterest smartfeed to my own blog using the google analytics’ tool as you show in step 3., I find my traffic has significantly dropped off. It was increasing steadily until Mar 2016, yet after this is has been declining with greater rapidity. Now my June 2016 referral traffic from the Pinterest smartfeed is looking to set to register at pre-dec 2015 level. Any ideas what I might be able to do in this situation to improve things again?

  10. Nicole Burkholder
    June 25, 2016 at 12:17 am

    I just worked my way through the entire worksheet and delved deeper into analytics than I ever had. My traffic has been in a bad slump since February and it’s beginning to wear me down. I am looking for answers. Well, I discovered a few! My #1 pin DIED on February 2nd or 3rd. It went from hundreds of sessions per day to nothing! #2 pin is seasonal, so it bursts onto the scene every October and then disappears again in November. No surprise there. My #3 pin is GONE! The URL is no good anymore. I have no idea what it used to be, either. Is there some way to find that information? And why would it be gone?

    1. Daniel Maloney
      June 26, 2016 at 11:25 am

      Hi Nicole! Sorry to hear you’re in a bit of a slump, but I’m glad this worksheet helped you out. Re Pins #1 and #3, my gut suggests a couple possibilities.

      For Pin #1: When you see a long-term strong Pin suddenly die, it likely means it was pushed out of circulation / ranked lower on a key search result, as search has the potential to drive sustained long-term traffic. Unfortunately, there’s not much to do about that except possibly recreate a few more versions of the same pin with tweaked images and descriptions to see if you can rank again,

      For Pin #3: Do you know id this Pin was in fact yours? One possibility is the Pin was someone else’s and they deleted the Pin or Board it was on. This could also happen if a group board owner removes the Pin. I’ve also heard of people accidentally deleting one or more of their top pins (or having an intern/VA/bot accidentally do it for them). Hopefully that didn’t happen here!

      Re: identifying the #3 pin, if you’ve been using Tailwind, shoot us the pin URL at help@tailwindapp:disqus .com and we’ll see if we have that data for you. If you weren’t using Tailwind but created an account today, it’s possible we can still get that data though I honestly don’t know for sure off hand.

  11. Deborah von Donop
    July 6, 2016 at 6:54 am

    Love the in depth analysis offered here. The answer can usually be found in knowing the data. Thank you for taking the time to share. I’m sharing tallwind and tribes with everyone I know.

  12. November 4, 2016 at 1:06 am

    This post just blew my mind. But I do have a question about this: “There’s no sign of any penalties or major changes for the domain.” Can you tell me what you mean by this? Would a Google penalty affect the Pinterest smart feed? Because when I did what’s mentioned above to click on the / to see smart feed, I do have a crazy noticeable dip in traffic starting in April. I’ve been trying to figure it out for months and I know I wasn’t penalized by Google and this post had me digging around for answers again.

    1. November 4, 2016 at 1:27 am

      ETA: I isolated just Pinterest and compared last year to this year and it’s a 63% drop. What are some reasons that could be? I heard this happened to a lot of publishers with the introduction of the smart feed.