Why Facebook surpassed Google in Media Referral Traffic

1 Google


image source: Parse.ly Quarterly Authority Report

Facebook shoots up

In August, the news that Facebook overtook Google in referral traffic, for the second time in less than a year, exploded among SEO sites. This is according to a report by content analytics service, Parse.ly

Headlines blared:

For Major Publishers, Facebook Referral Traffic Passes Google Again” —Marketing Land

Facebook has taken over from Google as a traffic source for news” —Fortune

Facebook, Not Google, Is Now the Top Referral Source for Digital Publishers” —Adweek

Facebook Passes Google In Referral Traffic” —MediaPost

Facebook is now more important than Google for online publishers” —Business Insider

Suddenly, the reality that more people are getting their news and media fix from Facebook, rather than from Google search, hits everybody.

2 Google

image source: Parse.ly Quarterly Authority Report

 How did Facebook do it?

Andrew Montalenti, CTO of Parse.ly says Facebook did it by courting media outlets to allow videos and whole news articles to be hosted at Facebook itself (aka Instant Articles). “I believe the reason Facebook did this is because they realized that a lot of the interesting conversations happening around the web were happening around major news, media, and information,” says Montalenti.

Montalenti also thinks Google’s slip in news/media referrals is a kind of backlash from publishers because Google has been so secretive with the keywords used by visitors when searching Google to find news and media articles – so they got less interested in SEO and more interested in Facebook and Twitter. Although, on Facebook, knowing why one post does well and another doesn’t is difficult, this is somewhat made up for by including hashtags, or tracking parameters/special file names in the URL.

Analytics is also made more trackable through Instant Articles (at least at first for the nine initial IA companies, including The New York Times, BuzzFeed, NBC News, The Atlantic, and National Geographic).  Apparently, Instant Articles is such a good idea that Google and Twitter have teamed up to create an open-source copycat – a move which might not be enough to slow down Facebook’s momentum.

Why did Google’s media referral slip down?

We bet the reason is mobile. Hosting videos and news articles in Facebook itself (through Instant Articles) means mobile users no longer have to click links to slow-loading publisher sites, noticeably speeding up the mobile media viewing experience. However, there’s a deeper reason than that.

With the rise of the smartphone, people now spend more time on mobile than on desktop computers. And, in mobile, where information comes to users through apps, Facebook is king. Facebook and Facebook Messenger apps are number one and number two in the Top 15 Smartphone Apps in the United States as of July 2015 (YouTube was number three, Google Search was number four). Facebook and Facebook Messenger also top App Annie’s global list of top downloaded apps between July 2010 and July 2015.

Ultimately it could just be due to people being people. Why do people go to news and media sites? To be updated and to be entertained. Before mass media, people got wind of news and entertainment by word of mouth – which involved a lot of trust. People believe, and tend to spend time with, those they know – those who talk and think like they do – and these are often friends. Before the age of social media, most people had no choice but to get news and entertainment from search engines. Now that there’s Facebook, people tend to spend more time in it than in Google Search (Google+ and Youtube not included). Montalenti says “Search is this very powerful thing, but I think [Google is] realizing that social is also a really powerful thing that has something search doesn’t.” While you have friends on Facebook, “circles” on Google+, and followers on Twitter, you don’t have “friends” in Google search.