Social Beat Search In Referrals For The Year’s Top News Stories
Social media analytics firm Parse.ly is out with a new report about the balance of power in social vs. search referrals. And for the top news stories of 2015, social usually came out on top.
Parse.ly identified seven major news events, based on the most read-stories in its network of more than 400 publishers, including Fox News, Telegraph Media Group, Mashable, Business Insider, The Atlantic and Reuters.
The company picked stories centered around a single event. “We only considered stories that had one ‘event’ at their core (Sorry, Donald Trump and the Kardashian clan!), then we normalized the data based on site size, because we didn’t want our biggest sites to dictate the trends,” Parse.ly wrote in a blog post.
Parse.ly found that search referrals beat social for only two of the big stories — the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight and the Ashley Madison hack.
The boxing match was especially popular on search in the days leading up to the fight, according to Parse.ly data, with 66.4 percent of readers coming from search referrals. Social gained ground after the Mayweather victory, but in the end, search traffic nearly doubled social, 31 percent to 16 percent. For the Ashley Madison story, the search advantage was 28 percent to 15 percent, with Parse.ly postulating that because of the salacious subject matter, people were more inclined to search for information than share news about it with their friends and family.
Here’s a graphic showing the results:
Of course, comparing social versus search on the top stories of the year only tells part of the story, but Parse.ly’s findings jibe with its overall results, and results that it has previously released. In August, the company reported that Facebook referral traffic had surpassed Google, 38.2 percent to 35.2 percent. Its latest data, from October, shows a widening gap, with Facebook at 39.2 percent and Google at 34 percent.
Counterpoint: Define Media Data Shows Search Referrals Leading Social
It should also be noted that Parse.ly’s data isn’t the only game in town. We asked Define Media Group, another analytics provider with major publishing clients, what its data show on this topic. And Define said that although social has been gaining ground, search still drives more referral traffic to its clients, including the New York Times, Hearst, Bloomberg, NBCUniversal and Time magazine.
For the August through October time period, search had a 26.7 percent share of referral traffic in the Define network, compared to 22.7 percent for social.
As for the big stories, said Define Media vice president of digital strategy Brian Provost, social often has the advantage early, but search has staying power.
“Having worked with a few of the publishers that broke or ‘won’ those seven stories, I think I’d agree with Parse.ly that Social usually wins the first 24–48hrs,” Provost wrote in an email. “In fact, it’s usually not close unless it’s a story line that may require users to be further educated. For example, you can get the gist of Cecil the Lion or Lamar Odom from a social headline or the underlying article that you saw shared socially.
“But for things like the Ashley Madison hack, legislation (gay marriage), or health issues (like Ebola), that usually triggers readers to do more digging in after the initial emotion. Then Search will crush Social for those stories. We have a number of the biggest business/financial publishers and it’s a totally different dynamic than we see in something like Entertainment.”
You can download the full Parse.ly report here.