Last week, as we analyzed the impact of social referrals on viral publishers, we discovered that text reigns supreme over video. Video is widely thought to be the future of content marketing, but our data indicated the contrary, motivating us to investigate another form of viral content: GIFs.

GIFs are an annoyingly addicting and hilarious sequence of images, compiled together to create a short, looped animation. Located in no man’s land between video and images, they’re silent, short, and often have a snarky, relevant quote to go along with them. GIFs have proliferated across every social media platform including Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and Instagram, in part because they work on any web protocol and site.

As GIFs overtake the internet, we wanted to see how they’ve impacted consumer behavior on two of the leading viral GIF hubs: Giphy, the GIF database, and Imgur, the image sharing website. As consumers of mostly non-GIF materials, we were interested to see what content attracts people the most, and what exactly makes content go viral. Interestingly, we found that while Imgur has twice as many unique visitors as Giphy, Giphy visitors are over 14 times more likely to engage. Now read on!

Giphy for search, Imgur for ads

We analyzed three months of global traffic and the on-site activity of Imgur and Giphy to detect trends, and identify the leading content on each site. At first glance, it became obvious that visitors use the sites differently, as Giphy users are 14.5 times more likely to search for GIFs than Imgur users. We also found that the top ten content for each site differed in nature, as Giphy visitors are more interested in pop culture and recent events, and Imgur visitors mostly view entertaining content.

However, these viral content websites have three fundamental differences affecting visitor behavior:

  1. Imgur was created as a gift to the Reddit community in 2009, to tackle the frustration the community felt with the image sharing options available at that time. Since then, Imgur has transformed into Redditors’ image sharing tool of choice and research found that nearly two thirds of the popular posts on the social platform link to an image on Imgur. This explains why Imgur has nearly double the amount of unique visitors, as the vast Reddit community is exposed to images on the site. This can also explain why Imgur visitors are much less likely to search on the site than Giphy visitors, as the Reddit referrals click-through to a specific image.  
  2. Giphy was initially launched as a search engine and retains its search-focus in everything from its tag line to the prominent search bar in the user interface. This may also explain the hyperactive search activity Giphy visitors exhibit in comparison to Imgur visitors.
  3. Imgur monetizes its inbound traffic via sponsored posts, while Giphy has yet to monetize its traffic. And our data indicates that more than a third of the visitors to the top ten pages on Imgur view sponsored posts.  

Top ten GIFs on Giphy and Imgur

Giphy’s visitors are interested in fluffy news, as nearly half of the visitors to the site’s leading content view pop culture and recent event GIFs. Imgur’s visitors on the other hand are more interested in the comic value, as nearly a third of the visitors view an entertaining GIF. However, this is not the most popular type of content on Imgur; first place goes to the service’s sponsored ads that capture 36 percent of the visitors.

Here are the top ten GIFs on Giphy and Imgur:

Giphy Imgur
GIF Category % of top 10 GIF Category % of top 10
Leo Dicaprio oscar Pop Culture 15.7% The Imgur app: An update Sponsored 28.9%
Spiderman – Avengers Pop Culture 12.1% Mark Hamill just posted this on Twitter Recent Events 9.8%
Throwing foul ball back Sports 11% Portraits after 1, 2 & 3 glasses of wine Entertainment 9%
Ducks scaring cat Entertainment 10.9% Sent mom a cutout of myself while abroad Entertainment 8.2%
Corn on the cob hair mishap Recent Events 10.8% Husband finally painted us both in painting Entertainment 8.1%
Pregnant women covered in powder Entertainment 9.3% Anime vs. reality Design 7.8%
Bald head and milk duds Entertainment 8.1% Wat Entertainment 7.6%
Girls fighting on Beach Entertainment 7.6% The price of missing a beer Sports 7.2%
Trump/Sanders Recent Events 7.4% How about a slice of Raspberry Pi? Sponsored 6.7%
Ghost Entertainment 7% You’ve entered the wrong swamp Games 6.7%

Bottom line: Our viral publisher analyses reveals two unpredicted insights: people still read and traffic doesn’t mean everything, even in the realm of viral content. While Imgur attracts more than double the amount of people as Giphy, Giphy’s audience is more engaged. And an engaged audience spreads your content, allowing it to become viral. This data-driven conclusion pinpoints the risk of relying on vanity metrics, like visits and pageviews, instead of behavioral data.