Add this to the ongoing debate over whether social or search is driving more traffic to online publishers: new data from Parse.ly shows that Facebook took a big bite in January out of Google’s lead as top traffic source for some of the biggest news publishers on the web.
The numbers come from Parse.ly’s latest authority report, a regular newsletter that aggregates data and insights from the company’s content analytics platform. Parse.ly’s network of sites sees more than five billion page views per month and more than 190 million unique visitors. It includes sites like Reuters, Mashable, The Next Web, Ars Technica, The Motley Fool and others.
In January, Parse.ly says traffic from Google sites to its network was about 38 percent of all referrals, down from 44 percent in October. Over the same period, Facebook referral traffic rose from 16 to 26 percent. In other words, a gap of 28 percentage points in October dropped to just 12 in January.
There’s been an ongoing “search vs. social” debate recently in terms of driving traffic to major websites — particularly news and publisher sites. Playing into the debate is the continual and sometimes dramatic changes that Facebook made last year to its News Feed ranking algorithm. Many thought Facebook was targeting sites like Buzzfeed and Upworthy that often publish highly-shareable “like bait” articles — but Facebook denied that any specific sites were in its crosshairs.
In early December, Buzzfeed made waves with a chart showing big gains in Facebook traffic to its network. That was actually the second such report from Buzzfeed; earlier last year, it wrote about declines in Google search traffic that we suggested might actually be related to “dark Google” traffic not being accounted for correctly in analytics.
Earlier this month, Define Media Group — which also counts many of the web’s biggest publishers in its client network — said “not so fast” to claims that social traffic was outpacing search traffic. In its analysis of 48 billion pageviews during all of 2013, Define’s numbers showed search traffic beating social by about 41 percent to 16 percent.
Those numbers are almost identical to the 44-16 Google/Facebook split that Parse.ly reported for its network in October 2013.
And now Parse.ly is first out of the gate with January 2014 data — that’s what shows Facebook cutting into Google’s lead. In other words, this debate is sure to continue throughout the coming year.