What in the Hell Happened with My Pinterest Traffic?
Pocket Business’s Pinterest Traffic Study
How This Thing Started
Because we help over 2,000 bloggers grow their blogs you tend to know when something crazy happens.
At the end of July something crazy happened with Pinterest and the bloggers we help started to let us know about.
But not in July.
Most bloggers didn’t notice it because they understand that Pinterest can be kind of crazy. So when a traffic blip happens one day on Pinterest you kind of let it slide.
When it happens over a 90-day period then you start to pay attention.
Pinterest is just as important as Google for many bloggers that are looking to drive traffic to their blogs so when things start to look dire, that means the bottom line is affected.
And nobody wants that to happen.
So in October, I started to investigate things hoping that I could better understand what was happening with Pinterest.
Before I dive into what I found I want to share with you my philosophy on Pinterest because it’s important to understand how I approached this investigation.
My Pinterest Philosophy
I believe that Pinterest, like most other platforms, tries its best to showcase the best and most relevant content to its users.
The principles of Pinterest are fairly easy to understand:
- Create pins that effectively communicate what your content is about
- Include keywords in your titles and descriptions
- Pin those pins to relevant boards
That all makes sense, right?
From there I’m not really into trends, hacks, or quick tricks that seem like they work for one pin but not really the other. I want a strategy that I can apply repeatedly to all of my pins to give me the best chance of success.
Which brings up another point that a lot of bloggers tend to forget.
Pinterest Is About Humans
Most of the power with Pinterest comes from the people that use it. As you’ll see in this investigation, if people aren’t saving your pins then it won’t matter how effectively you execute the principles that I outlined above.
That’s what people forget.
They think that by doing things right with Pinterest it will all work out, but there are only so many things that you can control.
What people do with your pins when they see them is not one of them.
It’s why your ugly pin can outshine your beautiful pin.
It’s why a pin can rise from the grave when you thought it was dead.
The only thing that you can do is help Pinterest the best you can understand what your pin is about.
Keeping these things in mind was important as I went through the investigation because it’s very easy to draw basic and untrue conclusions that can lead you down crazy paths.
Why We’re Sharing This
As I mentioned before we have over 1,600 Blog Simple Framework students that we help.
Add that to the 1000s that I’ve helped over email and Facebook Groups over the years and that means I’ve been through many ups and downs of a blogger’s life.
It would be very easy to pile all of this up into our Pinterest course and make you pay for access, but we didn’t want to do that.
Because Pinterest helps pay the bills for a lot of bloggers for better or worse. It’s also a platform that a lot of new bloggers lean on to help get their feet wet.
Our goal has been and always will be to help people attain the lifestyle that they want and one of those ways is through blogging.
Pinterest can be a great help into achieving that goal.
However, if you feel like Pinterest just isn’t something you can use to help you get to where you want to be, I want to make sure you have all of the information in front of you before jumping off of the cliff.
With that being said, let’s dive into the investigation.
What can you learn from looking at the analytics of 42 different blogs? Apparently a lot if you’re looking for the right things.
Because I run enough of my own blogs I started to dive into the Pinterest numbers. I wrote down some numbers, tried to compare them, and realized that this wasn’t going to work.
Because Pinterest hasn’t been a focal point of mine with these particular sites for a couple of months.
The ones where it is a focal point are still too new to gauge what was happening.
What I needed were some blogs that had put a heavy focus on Pinterest and were getting a healthy (60,000+ pageviews a month) amount of traffic either prior to or during July.
The reason why I only looked at blogs with 60,000 pageviews or more was because when you get to the lower ranges (20,000 a month or less) things are just too volatile to understand any trends.
So what did I do?
I hit up my blog network buddies to see if they would be willing to share their Google Analytics with me so that I could dissect things.
Thankfully, 40 of them were dum…smart enough to let me have access because they knew that if I could figure this thing out then it would benefit everybody.
Now, here I am, Mr. Not a Data Scientist armed with 42 Google Analytics accounts from blogs that do a good amount of traffic from Pinterest.
What was I supposed to do exactly?
I started off pretty simple and just looked at traffic trends to see if everyone followed the same trend.
For this I made sure to only look at traffic that came directly from Pinterest.com and went to landing pages.
I only did landing page traffic because that is the traffic that Pinterest sends your way. Depending on how you design your blog you might have people visiting posts AFTER they arrive on a certain post from your site.
This can muddle the study up.
So what did I find?
40 out of 42 sites were on a downward trend with regards to traffic from Pinterest.
This falls in line with what many people have been saying on the blogging grapevine.
You might be curious about the two sites that didn’t appear on a downward slide. Don’t worry we will get to them.
While I felt bad that everybody had declining traffic from Pinterest I also felt relieved that it affected almost everybody because that should make it a bit easier to figure out what was going on.
Some had more dramatic falls in traffic than others so this was the next thing I wanted to look into and I already had a theory for that.
“He may not have all his eggs in one basket, but I think he has enough to fry an omelet.”
Since the dawn of Pinterest, bloggers have been asking the same question:
My traffic has been doing so well and then suddenly it dropped in half, why?!
When most of your traffic comes from Pinterest this can happen.
The problem is that your Content-Traffic Distribution is off.
What is that?
If you log into Google Analytics, go to Behavior, and then look at the top 10 chart you should see your 10 most popular pieces of content with the # of pageviews and the % of pageviews that content makes up.
This is your Content-Traffic Distribution.
In a perfect world you would have a Content-Traffic Distribution where the top 10 posts would have percentages like this:
Not exactly these numbers but a small decrease in percentage from one piece of content to the next. Now, before you jump on over to your Google Analytics to check yours out it’s important to keep in mind this is extremely hard to achieve unless you have a lot of content on your site.
I’m talking 50+ posts, maybe even 100+. The more content, the more the traffic can be distributed assuming all of the content is good and meant for your audience.
There was actually one person that had a very similar chart.
It’s hard to achieve a distribution cleaner than that.
This obviously doesn’t apply to most bloggers.
Naturally, some pieces of content are going to be more popular than others but if one to three pieces of content are much more popular than others then they control the majority of the traffic to your site.
For example, if your blog has a content distribution like this:
Then you’re going to be in big trouble once that top post falls off. It’s holding up your entire blog!
Even if your Content-Traffic Distribution is a bit more subtle like this one:
You’re still gonna feel some pain when one of those posts begins to decline.
When that happens you need other pieces of content to pick up the slack.
So looking at the Content-Traffic Distribution numbers for all of the blogs, I found that it really didn’t matter if it was an even distribution or an uneven one, odds are you were going to fall.
However, what I did notice is that some fell much harder than others.
Looking at all of the sites that lost traffic between July and October ranged from 4% (minimal) to 84% (whoa).
This is when I decided to look at the popular content on each of these blogs to see how it was trending.
I figured it would all follow the same pattern as the site overall, but sometimes it didn’t.
Some of the popular content fell, but it wasn’t as dramatic as others.
What was going on?
To understand this you need to understand the two types of Pinterest traffic.
Pinterest is actually two sites: 1. the casual browser 2. the searcher
The Two Types of Pinterest Traffic
With Pinterest, people are going to mostly find your pins one of two ways:
1. In their homefeed
2. In a search query
There are other smaller ways such as exploring a topics page or browsing profiles, but the two ways listed above will always make up the majority of your Pinterest traffic.
Why is this important to know?
Because this is where I believe Pinterest made the big change.
The New Pinterest
Over the past couple of months, Pinterest has been throwing out a lot of hints of how they want the user experience of their site to be.
The biggest thing is that they want to keep fresh content in front of their users.
One of the biggest gripes that Pinterest users had before was that they were being shown the same content over and over and over again.
It was a couple of new things mixed with stuff they had already seen.
This of course makes for a terrible user experience so Pinterest had to fix it.
But when your site’s algorithm is based on the idea that the more a pin gets saved, the more people must like it, and therefore you should continue to share it with more people, what do you do?
You put an artificial cap on things.
However, it’s not as easy as saying “all pins can only get 90,000 impressions”.
First, that 90,000 number is arbitrary. I’m not saying that is the number that applies to all pins.
But let’s pretend that is the magical number that applies to all pins in all niches meaning that no pin can ever go above 90,000 impressions.
Second, do all pins deserve to get the full 90,000 impressions?
And that’s important.
Because I can only see the pin analytics for my own accounts (I didn’t want to risk logging into 42 different Pinterest accounts and get people banned) I can only draw a conclusion from what I see.
For all of my pins, there is a direct correlation between # of impressions and # of saves.
Which makes perfect sense.
If more people are saving a pin then to Pinterest that should mean more people should see it.
This also follows along with what Pinterest has said publicly that the most important metric to them is saves.
For instance, Pinterest’s algorithm treats “saves” of a given pin as a much stronger positive signal than clicks. “People don’t really save an inflammatory article about the president, but they do save an outfit they want to buy in the future. So we’re biasing toward those types of interactions, and biasing away from interactions with your friends.”
Unfortunately, to bloggers, the most important metric is clicks because clicks equal pageviews.
So if you have a pin that receives a ton of clicks to start, it can still die off quickly if people aren’t saving it.
If you can’t get the early set of users that see your pin to save it, then your pin might not get anywhere at all.
Note: When comparing pin analytics it’s important to keep in mind that they show you the last 30 days. So a Pin might have just entered the top 10 chart in the last 10 days versus a pin that has been there for 27.
Each time my theory of more saves = more impressions seemed to fall apart I would adjust the date range and find that it still held true. This wasn’t me manipulating data, but making sure that I understood why a pin was topping the charts.
Also, Pinterest analytics fluctuate wildly for a single pin. One day they will be up and the next day they will be cut in half. In theory, analytics should never go down for a pin so be careful of how you track these numbers.
So holding to this theory that more saves equals more impressions should mean that a pin can stay on user’s homefeed forever.
Remember, Pinterest wants to show people fresh content and that means it can’t keep re-circulating the same content over and over again. Even if people are saving it.
So I think no matter how a pin is performing it has an impressions cap where Pinterest will simply stop showing it on user’s homefeeds or at the very least reduce the impressions to such a small amount it feels like the pin is dead.
The next question you should ask is does this mean you need to constantly create new content to make Pinterest happy?
Fresh as in new or fresh as in retro?
What Is Fresh Content?
Something interesting was also happening to Pinterest traffic during this time period of downward trends.
Old pins were getting a new life.
This might not make sense if you think of “fresh content” as brand new content, but what if fresh content was also content that hadn’t been shown to someone for X months or years?
It’s like a song being overplayed on the radio, disappearing, and then you hear it again a year later and love it.
Also, if Pinterest is doing well then that also means that new people are joining daily or new people are showing interests in other topics. Shouldn’t Pinterest show these old pins to those people as well if they are interested in the topic?
So I think fresh content in Pinterest’s eyes means two things:
- Brand new content
- Old content that hasn’t been shown in a while
#1 is easy to understand.
#2 is a bit more difficult because I can’t tell you how long a piece of content has to sit on the sidelines before it can enter the game again. That’s going to take a lot more research and a lot more people to be involved.
It’s also important to understand that when I say “fresh content” I don’t necessarily mean fresh pins.
One of the Pinterest strategies that worked before was that if you had a popular piece of content, you could simply continue to create new pins for it to keep momentum going.
I think now Pinterest is looking at the actual URL and how many overall impressions are shown for that URL to dictate whether all of its pins get put on the shelf for a bit.
So you could continue to create new pins for that URL hoping something catches and probably find that nothing is working.
That URL needs time to sit.
It’s like tag team wrestling where one partner needs to tag out and rest for a bit.
That means if you don’t have content that hasn’t been shown on Pinterest in X months then you need to continue to create fresh content and pin it until you have a cycle where the old content can be shown again.
Again, I have to apologize, but in the small time that I had to do this study, it wouldn’t have been possible for me to find out how long a piece of content has to sit before coming back to things. I know I keep saying this but I also know this is going to be the biggest question for people.
However, once a piece of content is allowed back into the game, then it will repeat the same pattern.
This applies to homefeed traffic which would explain the downward trend for most people. If most people were experiencing a downward trend to all of their content, what about those people that were experiencing a flat line or rise in traffic?
That one was easy to answer.
In all of these cases, what happened was that while one piece of content was going down, another was going up.
As you can see in the comparison above as posts #1, #2, and #4 were falling in July, posts #3 and #5 were rising.
That’s the scary thing about Pinterest traffic now.
If you don’t have content constantly entering the game and rising, then overall your Pinterest traffic is going to decline.
Remember, this could mean OLD content as much as it means NEW content
However, another interesting thing I noticed is that some content didn’t follow this trend at all. It stayed consistent with its traffic every single day for weeks or months.
It looked very similar to SEO traffic.
If you’re fortunate to have the #1 ranking on Google for a non-seasonal keyword then you know that the traffic is pretty consistent because close to the same amount of people are searching for that keyword daily.
You’ll know immediately if you’ve dropped in rankings because the traffic will reflect that.
Pinterest search is no different.
Every piece of content that either remained steady with traffic or dropped for a bit before reaching a traffic floor all had the same thing in common.
They ranked well in Pinterest search.
Remember those two sites from before that were doing well?
They were dominating the Pinterest search results for their niches.
The post represented in the chart above finally levels off as the homefeed traffic dies down and the search traffic remains.
Pinterest search is a completely different beast than the Pinterest homefeed. With Pinterest search the results stay pretty consistent until Pinterest does an “update”.
That means you could have a pin ranking in the top spot or close to it for MONTHS and if it’s not ranking for seasonal keywords then that means consistent traffic headed your way.
How you rank for keywords is a completely different topic and one I talk about more extensively in my Pinterest course.
Back to the Humans
This all comes back to the humans.
Those pesky humans.
Unfortunately, not every single piece of content that you create is going to work well on Pinterest. So it might not matter if you wait months to bring it back because if it doesn’t perform, it doesn’t perform.
However, you stand a good chance of seeing repeat success if you bring an old piece of content back from the grave.
The key is always going to be getting people to save it.
Hell, I could be completely wrong about all of this
So to recap:
- Pinterest puts an artificial cap on the impressions of a pin AND the overall URL no matter how popular the URL or pin are.
- An old URL can go through another viral cycle if it hasn’t been shown in a certain amount of time (unfortunately, I don’t know the timeframe for this)
- Pinterest search is the only way to yield consistent traffic to a post for a longer period of time (that is until you drop in the rankings)
Now here is the caveat.
As bloggers, it’s very easy for us to draw conclusions from the little data that we see. So there is a chance that I’m wildly off on all of this.
However, this theory has held true to every person I’ve talked to about their analytics and it also matches the things that Pinterest has told us over the past couple of months and because of that it’s the theory that we are running with here and the one we base our new Pinterest strategy on.
Because this is the theory we are running with I’ve been running a number of my own experiments based on some ideas.
All of this stuff I share in our Pinterest course, Blog Simple Pinterest, but here is the result of one that I recently completed.
Less pins and a hell of a lot more repins.
Things are looking bright.
Time to kill some myths
There were a couple of things that we also need to check out and since we had 42 bloggers listening, we figured we’d do a tiny bit more investigating.
Manual vs Scheduled Pinning
First thing I wanted to know was how they were pinning: manual or scheduled.
Scheduled usually meant Tailwind but Pinterest also has a scheduler now so it could mean that as well.
You’ll be happy to know that there was a solid mix of manual and scheduled pinners.
The actual method of pinning didn’t play a role in the performance of their pins.
I know this won’t change some people’s minds but that’s what the numbers showed. At the end of the day Pinterest just wants fresh content.
To them it wouldn’t matter how it arrives.
3rd Party Pins
I was also curious if people pinning 3rd party pins (pins from other sites) were seeing more success and the answer was: not really.
Again, it was the same type of performance whether you were pinning 3rd party pins or not.
Take these findings as you will.
Questions, Comments, or Care Packages?
If you have any questions that you’d like to ask about this study, then please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I try my best to get back to everyone within a reasonable amount of time.
I’d be happy to hear about your own experience with Pinterest over the past couple of months and what things you’ve found out.
I’d also be really appreciative if you shared this with any blogging friends that you think might find this useful. It’s the reason why I’m making this public.
Live by the Traffic, Die by the Traffic
Whether we want to admit to it or not, our blogs live and die by the traffic that they receive.
This is why you want to diversify your traffic as much as possible.
It’s also why we completely revamped the Blog Simple Framework.
It’s too easy to fall into a Pinterest cycle for months hoping that something finally breaks up.
Instead, it’s best to use Pinterest as one of your traffic strategies, but continue to expand the audience that is actually paying attention to you.