Study: US publishers see dramatic drop in Facebook referral traffic
- SimilarWeb conducted research comparing desktop Facebook traffic to U.S. media websites from Q1 to Q2 and found that traffic to some sites dropped as much as 50%.
- Some of the findings include: TheStreet.com saw a 54% drop in traffic, IBT Media (parent company of Newsweek) dropped 47%, and the Gannett newspaper chain’s Facebook traffic decreased 26%.
- The drop in Facebook traffic has been attributed to changes in the platform's newsfeed algorithm that de-emphasize publisher content in favor of posts by friends and family.
It's not a good time to be a publisher reliant on Facebook traffic. After Facebook recently tweaked its news feed algorithm, publishers have reported further drops in Facebook traffic to their sites — and that comes after SocialFlow research from May found stories posted to the social media platform are reaching 42% fewer people since just January.
But while Facebook's algorithm changes (and it just changed its algorithm again last week) may be having an impact on referral traffic from Facebook, there may be another explanation for the drop: The decline in Facebook traffic only applies to desktop. Facebook users are increasingly moving to mobile, a point made by BuzzFeed publisher Dao Nguyen:
Even if growing mobile traffic is the culprit, it still doesn’t completely explain the dramatic difference from one quarter to the next.
The latest algorithm change may be the more likely culprit for large decreases in publisher traffic. The latest version of Facebook’s algorithm places a priority on posts from users' friends and family, including photos, videos, status updates and links. The move inherently de-emphasized posts from publishers and brands.
Any drop in Facebook referral traffic for publishers is damaging to the bottom line. Media company websites and publishers are already under scrutiny due to the growth in ad blocking software adoption. The established business model for those companies has been providing content to visitors for free in exchange for serving ads to those visitors. But when ads are blocked on the websites, the publishers lose that revenue. Of course, those visitors have to get to the website in the first place — and SimilarWeb’s research shows that fewer visitors are reaching websites via Facebook, at least with this version of the newsfeed algorithm.