If anybody said to you 18 months ago that Facebook would take a backseat to search you might have laughed. Guess what, that’s now become the reality according to Parse.ly data.
Parse.ly finds that Google sent more traffic to publisher pages than its duopoly foil Facebook in 2017. In fact, Facebook sent 25 percent less than it had in 2016. I don’t think I need to tell you that’s significant, but I feel I should reinforce that it is. Google, on the other hand, sent 17 percent more traffic to publishers in 2017. Again, this is also significant because it flips the narrative in terms of where publishers should be focusing their amplification strategies.
Make no mistake, Facebook still matters. It matters a lot. And this cultural shift isn’t necessarily because of changes in the way people consume content. Facebook is somewhat responsible for this by tweaking its algorithms and lunching its own video platform. Still, search matters, too. And it always has. That’s a principle some publishers may have lost sight of while social traffic referrals were ballooning between 2013 to 2016. That’s not to say SEO best practices were abandoned altogether, but from my perspective as a trade journalist covering this space, most of what I’ve heard was social, social and more social. I have a feeling that’s about to change.
Search is a logical way for your content to be discovered, or pushed to audiences when it’s well optimized. Collectively, publishers have infinite troves of content on virtually every topic under the sun. So why would they want to solely depend on a somewhat ephemeral feed to amplify that content? Sure, social is great when content is fresh or extremely timely, but there’s only so many times you can keep posting the same piece of evergreen content to your followers before they get tired of it, or worse, you. Search, on the other hand, catalogues your content and is ready to serve it up to a user who’s looking for something specific.
Think about how you consume content yourself. I imagine you have about a handful of publications you read almost daily, then you consume articles or videos that are pushed to you in your social feed, either by a publisher or your network of friends, and occasionally you hit up Google when you want or need something specific.
This premise, in my opinion, is how publishers should think about their distribution and amplification strategy. That is, they should be hyper focused on supporting and building loyal audiences first and foremost. Social channels should be used to recruit regular readers and amplify timely content. And every single piece of content should be fully optimized for SEO so it can be easily discovered. And, of course, don’t forget about other distribution tools like email and syndication.
What I’ve described is all pretty basic. And I fully recognize that every brand is different, so there is no one-size-fits-all strategy when it comes to how this mix is balanced. For some, social might be everything. While others may pull in most of their traffic through search or even direct. What the latest Parse.ly data illustrates is that trends can change quickly, and that sometimes they can revert back to how things once were. So publishers should be ready to adjust to changes just as quickly, but maintain humility in knowing that they cannot accurately predict the future. And whatever they do, they should never put all their eggs in one basket. What’s happened to print is proof of that.