Facebook Dominates Referral Traffic: A Coverage Overview

In July, Facebook pulled ahead of Google as the top source of referral traffic to Parse.ly’s network of nearly 400 digital publishers. Facebook’s share of referral traffic is now 38.3 percent, to Google’s 35.8 percent.

What do the referral numbers mean for digital publishers?

Ernesto Assante, of La Repubblica, wrote a response to the data (in Italian) in which he talks about the inevitability of Facebook, over time, developing as the primary source of traffic for news. This is because Facebook serves as a sort of home base for many users — who depart from the social network, and not from Google — for all of their daily activities.

In a recent AdWeek interview, Andrew Montalenti, CTO at Parse.ly, takes the idea a step further. He predicts that Facebook will take advantage of the “zeitgeist of current discussions” in its community and then reflect these in its News Feed algorithm.

“Montalenti refers to a trend . . . of news finding you, rather than you searching for news,” writes Mike O’Brien, at SearchEngineWatch.com. “He thinks publishers have been focused on social content more than SEO, and Facebook was there to capitalize on that and work with publishers, rather than just treat it like any other website.”

Should publishers change the way they distribute content?

As Fortune’s Mathew Ingram puts it, there’s no doubt that “social referrals . . . have become a crucial source of incoming traffic, and have been vying with search as a source of new readers for some time.”

But, although Facebook is acquiring new traffic faster than Google, Parse.ly’s data shows that Google referral traffic is not necessarily decreasing. As a matter of fact, Google’s share remains relatively stable.

According to Jillian D’Onfro, of Business Insider, Facebook is making its “ambition to get more of [publishers’] content on its site” clear with new products such as Instant Articles and Notes, its blogging tool.

Mashable’s JP Mangalindan elaborates: “Facebook has not disclosed how Instant Articles are performing so far with users, or whether any money is changing hands yet. But third-party data like that from Parse.ly is further ammunition in Facebook’s campaign suggesting that, like it or not, online publishers need the social network if they want to reach the greatest possible number of eyeballs.”

In short, publishers need to focus on building and maintaining a loyal on-site audience — but not forget about various channels, like Facebook, where they might be found.

What’s next?

MarketingLand.com quoted Parse.ly Algorithms Lead, Martin Laprise, in saying: “There’s no denying that Facebook has come up the ranks of referrers — and editors and marketers alike can’t ignore it. However, network-wide trends do not apply to every site, nor to every post. The biggest recommendation that Parse.ly can give to any marketer is to not make assumptions about your audience, but to make sure you have the actual data on where your audience comes from.”

Social media strategies certainly command attention from anyone trying to reach an audience. When done well, social engagement builds a positive relationship between digital publishers and their audience.

Social media also provides another source of insight into your audience. Understanding how your audience finds and shares content through social sites will help you put your readers first, an initiative we call “reader-first publishing.” The more you listen to your readers and let their needs inform your decisions, the more readers you’ll attract and the more interactions with readers you will find yourself having.

Interested in learning more about Facebook surpassing Google as a traffic referral source for digital publishers? Check out additional coverage on Parse.ly’s press page.