Facebook vs Google: The War of the Tech Giants Continues

10 January, 2018

Once upon a time, Facebook became a surprising competitor in the referral traffic war for big publishers and in 2015 eventually seized Google’s crown as 'King of Referrals'. This social eclipsing of search was very significant for news sites. Social brought in 43% of all their site traffic compared to just 20% the previous year. (Source: Parse.ly). This eclipse fortunately wasn’t such a problem for smaller businesses, who primarily use paid search and SEO to drive visitors.

According to Parse.ly’s new data, Facebook’s reign hasn’t continued though and Google has reclaimed its title – search is now bringing in more referrals than social media.

The below also undoubtedly shows it is only a two-horse race, with 80%+ of referrals coming from either of the tech giants.

Source: Parse.ly.

(Parse.ly are a data insights company with one of the biggest content data sets of 2500+ sites).

According to the data, Facebook referral traffic has been steadily declining during 2017, ending with an overall drop of 25%. Google in this time has increased by 17% and AMP specific traffic has increased by a mammoth 87%.

Why Could This Shift Have Happened?

It’s no secret that Facebook has been weightily investing in video, introducing ‘Live’ and the ‘Watch’ tab.  According to The Wall Street Journal, in the near future they are planning to spend up to $1 billion developing original shows. It’s therefore likely that some Facebook algorithms are prioritising videos over text content. More simply than that, publishers could just be producing more video content and less articles and blogs for this very reason.

During 2017, Facebook focused on changes that aim to remove spam and clickbait from its feed. For example, if an account had a high post frequency, Facebook decreased their newsfeed exposure. Less articles appeared in news feeds which might be good news for removing fake news stories but may have in turn hurt reputable publishers too.

Facebook Instant Articles have also dipped in usage. DigiDay said many publishers are really unhappy since starting to use it. They aren’t making as much money from Instant Articles as they are from content hosted on their own website.

Meanwhile, Google’s equivalent - AMP - has become more important. Google say AMP is a ‘a collaborative effort’ with publishers and websites and they are also launching features to help websites turn readers into revenue.

AMP content is prioritised at the top of the search result page in the carousel. This stands out more, driving more clicks, potentially leading to this Google traffic referral surge.

What Does This Mean For All Content Publishers?

Publishers and websites want to build and maintain a loyal client-base to their content, products and services. With Facebook referral traffic reducing significantly in a fairly short space of time, this highlights the importance of not relying on a single platform for your audience to find and share your content. If you are a publisher with a social content focus, you would want to consider developing a search strategy to run alongside this and spread the risk/increase your reach. Social media and search strategies do not have to be mutually exclusive. Facebook could be used as a brand tool with search as a link tool.

The Parse.ly data shows the average overall decline so it’s worth noting that not all publishers saw this decrease in traffic from social. In fact, some saw an increase in Facebook traffic. It is therefore important to understand your own unique audience and how they find your content. Tools such as Google Analytics and Bit.ly (or similar) are perfect for this and for tailoring strategies based on insights.

If media companies work closely with publishers and websites, this is fundamental to their referral success. Currently, Google are making the right moves with this, being the most effective driver of users to our content. Publishers should therefore ensure they have an effective search content strategy in place.

Written by Jo

Jo arrived at Evoluted towards the end of 2017, bringing several years’ digital experience with her. She cites the continuous innovation of new tools and how they can be utilised for targeting as being a key inspiration behind her interest in the industry.

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