The matter of reliable traffic is becoming increasingly alarming for publishers. With endless developments in Facebook algorithms a lot of media companies tend to orientate on Google search. What this well-known competition can lead to and what obstacles publishers have to confront?


Facebook algorithms lose ground

As the media landscape constantly evolves, Facebook increasingly introduces new algorithms with regard to search optimization and media content, trying to increase the engagement of publishers and content creators. In April 2016, social network developed an algorithm which predicts which time users spend reading the article and launched some news which users are not able to like and comment. While in August, Facebook kept challenging so-called “clickbait” articles. Such news stories  flashed before users’ eyes progressively smaller and encouraged media companies to work on their content.

According to statistics, the results of SocialFlow research showed that constantly changing algorithms negatively influence information companies. Their audience exposure decreased by 42% in the first half of 2016. “Back in the fourth quarter and through January, media companies were doing phenomenally well. Then Facebook made a change to the algorithm.” – said Jim Anderson, the chief executive of SocialFlow.

It was not the first time media agencies had to worry. For the last few years, publishers were trying to keep pace with algorithms adjustments, however the reliability and the stability leave much to be desired.  Thus, in 2015, there was a 74 % variation  in publishers’ monthly measurements concerning Facebook referral traffic. That is why, media companies are actively searching for another sources of traffic generation to decrease the dependence on Facebook, which in some periods surpasses Google in terms of referral traffic.

Google Vs Facebook Referral Traffic

“We need to make sure we have a diversified amount of data coming in and have all areas of referral traffic growing, so when Facebook changes its algorithm, while it hurts, it doesn’t cripple us because we still have a healthy amount of search traffic coming in,” said Beth Buehler, COO at the health and fitness publisher.

The Times’ experience

The New York Times had been hard at work on search optimization and traffic issue. To illustrate, last summer publishers released HTML versions of all articles (previously published in PDF) for the last 45 years, which significantly facilitated the Google search process. The success was not long in coming: the editorial group “saw an immediate lift in search traffic” – claimed Justin Bank, deputy editor for audience development at the Times.

The example of Times sends a clear message how media companies tend to orientate on search system and move away from the traffic generated solely on Facebook.  “We’re very happy with our traffic from search,” – commented J. Bank, calling search and social “complementary to a very loyal, dedicated and direct audience that is our primary source of traffic.”

Only Google is not the answer

This experience demonstrates that diversification can work well for a media company, however making emphasis only on Google is not a good solution. The matter is that its search results depend on numerous variables, which makes it considerably difficult for consumer analysis. What is more, Google “also hides certain keywords to protect user privacy, which makes it harder for publishers to pinpoint what lead people to their articles”, said Sachin Kamdar, CEO of Parsely.

It seems, however, that a lot of media companies are too connected with their Facebook content and keep relying on the users of social network. According to the statement of Financial Times, while the number of loyal to their Facebook page users decline, brands continue monitoring new adjustments which the developers of social network introduce. However, there are a lot of alternative searches, which audience also uses on account of geographical reasons, numerous interests and demands. Focusing on diversification is a good opportunity to combine benefits and to reduce negative effects.

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