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How to use Twitter hashtags to boost referral traffic

New research provides insight into how Twitter drives traffic to publisher sites and outlines best practices for using Twitter hashtags

Publishers should include two or three Twitter hashtags in their tweets to maximise referral traffic. That’s the best practice advice coming out of the first study to offer hard evidence on how hashtags drive click-throughs. The year-long research project looked at 6.6 million tweets across eight languages.

The study

This new research, conducted by publishing-automation firm Echobox, provides insight into how Twitter drives traffic to publisher sites and outlines best practices for using Twitter hashtags. Echobox looked at 6.5 million tweets between September 2020 and September 2021. The study considered tweets in English and seven other languages, including French, Spanish, German, Dutch, Italian, Greek and Arabic.

Researchers found that across all publishers the inclusion of precisely three hashtags lifted pageviews by an average of 16% compared to tweets that contained no hashtags. The optimum number of hashtags differed depending on content vertical and publisher type.

CEO of Echobox, Antoine Amann said, previously publishers have not had data-backed guidelines for using hashtags on Twitter. He explained:

Many have missed out on traffic opportunities or spent time curating unnecessarily long lists of hashtags for each tweet.This new research offers publishers unique insight and precise best practices around how to use Twitter hashtags to their full potential.

Why it matters

Better social media ROI always matters, even although Twitter has never been publishers’ top traffic referral source. Google dominates overall and Facebook leads the pack on social media, but as Facebook outages reminded everyone this year, diversifying traffic sources is crucial.

This year has also seen something of a resurgence in Twitter’s fortunes. As Digiday explains, following years of criticism for being indecisive and slow to react to market changes, “Twitter has finally started to spread its wings, shipping a torrent of product changes this year.”

The integration of newsletter product Revue and the potential for revenue generated from the roll-out of Twitter Blue’s subscription offer, have placed Twitter back in the publisher spotlight. Changes at the top have also brought fresh targets for the social network to grow its ranking in the social media space – it is looking to add 100 million active users by the end of 2023.

How to use Twitter hashtags

Echobox says that, contrary to Twitter’s recommendation that publishers should use “no more than 2 hashtags per tweet,” three hashtags is the sweet spot. Zero hashtags drive better results than a single hashtag so publishers are advised to avoid using just one.

The scale of traffic gains to be made from hashtag usage can vary widely according to content vertical and publisher type, increasing more than 220% in certain instances. For publishers in the categories of Business and Economics, International News/Foreign Affairs, Sports and Technology, three hashtags are the optimal number. For Entertainment titles, two hashtags work best.

For most publishers, positioning hashtags at the end of a tweet is optimal although positioning does not have as great an impact on referrals as the hashtag count. Best results can vary depending on content type; In the Entertainment category hashtags placed at the end had a 77% uplift, while in Sports hashtags in the middle or at the end of a tweet caused a significant drop off in referral traffic.

Hashtags are not a silver bullet for generating referral traffic. If your tweets regularly generate little or no traffic, adding hashtags will have little impact on click-throughs.

This piece was originally published in Spiny Trends and is re-published with permission. Spiny Trends delivers updates and analysis on the industry news you need to stay on top of if you’re running a media and publishing business. Subscribe to a weekly email roundup here.