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Pinterest may not have as many users as Google Plus, but does it drive more traffic? (photo: pinterest)

There once was a time when one brand ruled the social network industry, but those days are over. In recent years, social networks have popped up for very specific purposes and demographics.

While Twitter and Facebook have remained the most dominant social networks in terms of registered accounts and usage, there are still several other social networks that drive a significant amount of traffic to sites across the Internet -- namely, Pinterest and Google Plus.

Of these second-tier social networking sites, which is the best in terms of driving traffic to your site? What can be used as the most effective marketing and social media tool? How can you leverage your social media strategy to effectively draw people to your website?

We've taken a close look at Pinterest and Google Plus to determine which site offers a better promise to your company, regardless of its size and assuming that you already have Facebook and Twitter strategies implemented.

There are a few important statistics that separate a great social network from something that's just really good. The first is a large number of active users, or rather, the amount people that are using the social network. In essence, the larger the pool of users on any given social network, the better. But a large number of active users isn't enough to make a great social network.

The social network also needs to provide lots of referral traffic. The network also needs to drive traffic to websites outside of its own reach. It should be great at introducing people to media around the web -- hopefully some of which is your media.

So how do Pinterest and Google Plus stack up in these categories?

Active users

In a letter written by CEO of Google Larry Page to investors, it was revealed that Google Plus has 90 million users globally. Page added that the number was well over double what [he] announced just three months ago.

Page said that Google Plus has a 60 percent daily engagement rate, meaning that every day 54 million people are participating in the exchange of information and ideas on Google's social network.

The huge number shocked many, especially the tech community outside of Google, which thought that Google Plus was largely a ghost town.

Another important consideration is the resources with which Google can dedicate to Google Plus in the coming years. Full year revenue was up 29%, and our quarterly revenue blew past the $10 billion mark for the first time, said Page in his letter to investors. Google remains one of the most successful technology companies from the U.S. and have dabbled in several different projects. Despite having its hand many different affairs, social media is one of the most important concerns of Google.

Page has made social media one of the company's primary targets over the next year. Facebook awoke Google to its shortcomings in the social aspect of the Internet. It wasn't something that could be ignored, said Steven Levy, author of In The Plex, which provided an inside look at Google's evolution since it began 14 years ago.

Pinterest, on the other hand, is still a budding company. Because they're still privately owned, consumers don't get the same level of transparency about the company's earnings, user base or general success rate. Despite Pinterests' closed-off operations, market researcher have been able to estimate its user base.

Pinterest has more than 11 million registered users, 9 million monthly Facebook-connected users and 1 million daily Facebook users according to Inside Network's AppData, which is an independent application traffic-tracking service.

In a TechCrunch report from February 2012, it was estimated that 97.9 percent of Pinterest's Facebook fans are women. Although that may be indicative of the Pinterest user base, it's not an accurate portrayal of the monthly active users on the site. It can be inferred, however, that a majority of Pinterest's users are probably women.

Despite the discrepancy revealed in Larry Page's letter to investors, a recent Experian study said that Pinterest is the third most-popular U.S. social networking site behind Facebook and Twitter. Pinterest's traffic is up nearly 50 percent in February 2012 compared to January 2012 according to the report.

Six-month trend numbers speak volumes, says the report. The invitation-only site received nearly 21.5 million total visits during the week ending Jan. 28, 2012, almost 30 times the number of total visits versus just six months prior (week ending July 30, 2011).

Traffic Referrals

A recent Referral Traffic Report from Shareaholic, based on aggregated data from more than 200,000 publishers reaching a collective 260 million unique monthly visitors, claimed that Pinterest drives more referral traffic than Google Plus, LinkedIn and YouTube combined.

Although the study doesn't show all referral sources, it does show a significant increase in referral traffic provided by Pinterest, which grew from 2.5 percent in December to 3.6 percent in January. Pinterest formerly provides just .17 percent of traffic in July.

In the same study, Google Plus dropped slightly from .24 percent of referral traffic in December 2011 to .22 percent of referral traffic in January 2012.

The most recent study from Shareaholic shows that Pinterest is actually driving more traffic than Twitter, one of the aforementioned kings of social media. What should also be noted from the most recent study is that Google Search (described as Google Organic) made up for 48.81 percent of traffic referrals.

If Google is able to leverage its search engine into driving more Google Plus activity -- a highly controversial idea -- it could easily surpass Pinterest's traffic referral ability. For now, however, Pinterest is one of the best second-tier social media sites on the planet. While you can't ignore either social network -- because both are at a point of critical mass -- we'd suggest that the user-to-referral ration appears to be in favor of Pinterest based on the limited data available.