Facebook’s traffic to top publishers fell 32 percent since January

Referral traffic (desktop + mobile) to the top 30 Facebook publishers (as defined by their reliance on Facebook) plunged 32 per cent from January to October, according to SimpleReach, a distribution analytics company. The more reliant the publisher on Facebook, the bigger the hit: Among the top 10, the drop was a steeper 42.7 per cent.

Those results line up with those from social traffic tracker SimilarWeb, which looked at the 50 biggest publishers in Facebook from January to September. It found that The Huffington Post’s Facebook traffic fell 60.1 per cent, to 16m. Fox News’ dropped 48.2 per cent to 4.3m. BuzzFeed’s Facebook visits fell 40.8 per cent to 23.7m. Across all 50, the biggest drop in traffic in the period took place from January to February, when publishers’ Facebook traffic fell an average of 75 per cent. There was a smaller but also significant drop from March to April. 

(The SimilarWeb figures are desktop only, which doesn’t tell the full story as many publishers are getting upwards of 50 per cent of their traffic on mobile devices. However, desktop is significant because it’s still where most publishers make the lion’s share of their revenue.)

There were a few exceptions: Refinery29’s visits from Facebook rose 27.3 per cent to 4.2 from January to September. Vice’s rose 8.3 per cent to 6.5m in the same period.

It’s hard to pinpoint why publishers’ Facebook traffic has declined, much less get publishers to talk on the record about the subject. They say Facebook doesn’t communicate directly with them about their traffic fluctuations, and it’s hard to isolate publishers’ own actions from things Facebook does that might affect traffic performance. What worked six months ago to drive shares doesn’t necessarily work today. A publisher might dial up or down the number of articles it publishes in its feed, which could affect results. One publisher, speaking anonymously, said users are doing more of their Facebook article sharing via text or email, which would cut into its Facebook referral traffic.

But the most common theory is that as Facebook has been trying to keep users in its ecosystem, it’s encouraged publishers to upload their articles and videos directly to the social network, whether it’s video or its Instant Articles feature that began rolling out in May. That means fewer traditional links in news feeds that take people back to publisher sites. Facebook said recently that those Instant Articles are getting shared more than publishers’ regular links.

The data seems to serve as a cautionary tale for publishers that have hitched their wagon to Facebook, only to get hit when the social giant’s traffic firehose slows to a trickle. While Facebook is letting publishers keep all the revenue from ads they sell on their Instant Articles, Facebook can change the rules at any time; and there’s no clear path for publishers to monetize native video.

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Source: Digiday

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