Digital publishers already know the benefits of traffic diversification. By setting distribution parameters wider, they can maximize advertising revenue and reduce reliance on individual sources. But getting the right mix of existing and emerging streams can be challenging.

It’s not simply about checking for large visitor numbers. While prioritizing high traffic sites might seem like the surest way to fuel greater returns, results aren’t necessarily guaranteed.

Finding the ideal blend requires deeper consideration. Publishers must adopt a performance-based approach to expanding their monetization options; analyzing each traffic source with cost per thousand impressions (CPM) and user engagement in mind, as well as traffic quantity.

To help them on their way, we took a deep dive into data about key traffic types on the MGID platform and how they are performing for top tier publishers. Here’s what we found:

Aggregator apps drive volume

At a time when consumers want to keep up with the latest local and global developments, news aggregators are flourishing. Players such as SmartNews and News Break are gaining popularity and increasingly siphoning users away from media giants. According to wider studies, some publishers are seeing traffic rises as high as 6000% from these breakthrough platforms; underscoring the golden opportunity they offer to reach new audiences and drive revenues.

But before they are lured by an impressive audience scale, publishers need to remember that not all traffic sources have the same impact. As a result, it’s important to evaluate the effectiveness of every aggregator.

For instance, our data highlight that despite generating almost 50% of app impressions for premium publishers, Google News fuels just 8% of app revenue. By contrast, Smart News reverses this trend; accounting for 2% of app impressions but 26% of revenue, in addition to powering 100 times higher visitor CPMs than Google News. And further analysis indicates this pattern isn’t unique to Smart News with Flipboard also producing 22% of publisher revenue for its 21% portion of app impressions.

Overall, the data points to one main conclusion: bigger isn’t always better for aggregator audiences. There is no definite link between high traffic and profits, and the same is also true for user engagement; with aggregator-driven visitors typically spending less time on publisher sites than those from other sources. This means any publishers hoping to tap aggregator possibilities must consider their options carefully.

Referral traffic drives revenue

Where the profitability of news aggregators can be easy to overestimate, referral traffic is too often underappreciated. Referrals remain a valuable source of both traffic and income for publishers. In fact, a closer investigation into their performance proves they can deliver even richer rewards than many other streams.

From a volume perspective, for example, our data shows referrals and aggregator apps are equal. But while the rate of incoming visitors is pretty much level across the MGID platform, referrals produce nearly three times more revenue. And that’s not all. Average CPMs for referrals aren’t just higher than news apps, but also direct, organic, and social traffic.

For publishers, it’s clear there is huge capacity to make better use of referrals and their core drivers. Our analysis found that accelerated mobile pages (AMPs) lead to a 30% increase in traffic from search; signaling that the publishers who fine-tune their sites to provide faster and smoother user experiences will achieve the biggest gains, in terms of visitor numbers and revenues. Or put another way: investing in mobile-centric engagement and site optimization is a must.

The role of social and search is limited

The strong emphasis many publishers currently place on harnessing social media platforms such as Facebook isn’t hard to understand. Last year, over 70% of Americans had a social media account, with Facebook users exceeding 190 million. Over recent months, it’s estimated use of social media has increased for up to 51% of U.S. adults. But once more, user quantity doesn’t automatically mean quality results.

MGID assessment reveals that although the potential of social traffic is vast, its contribution to the monetization mix is relatively low; accounting for 5% of impressions for top publishers, and 4% of revenue. By comparison, organic search, from AMP-enabled pages, brings more to the table — representing 16% of impressions and revenues.

Of course, there are many positives for search and social that shouldn’t be ignored. For instance, both outperform apps on CPMs, and user interaction tends to be greater too; with visitors arriving via search and social staying on sites for longer. But an accurate understanding of the role they play in broader revenue generation can help publishers leverage them more effectively, particularly when it comes to deciding where their key focus should be.

Ultimately, what publishers need is balance. To maintain consistently high revenue, they must ensure a steady flow of income from existing and emerging streams. Part of achieving that is diversifying where their traffic and incomes stem from. But the most critical step will be analyzing every source from multiple angles. By paying attention to details such as revenue and user engagement, alongside traffic levels, they can determine whether each prospective addition will add genuine value and build a stronger foundation for sustainable monetization.