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Google beats Facebook, becomes top source of referrals

Google has beaten Facebook to reclaim the title of the main source of external page views for publishers in 2017. Facebook had displaced Google as the top source of referral a few years ago but a report by Parse.ly, a digital analytics company says that referrals from Google went up by 17% while the same dropped for Facebook by 25% in this calendar year.

The current state mirrors the situation from the beginning of the year. In January Facebook provided nearly 40% of all external traffic to publishers, now that’s down to 26%. And Google which started the year at 34% has climbed up 44%.

Parse.ly’s data comes from over 2500 publishers that use its analytics platform including Time, Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post and Mashable.

What turned the tide for Google?

Parse.ly states that trends vary from site to site or even topic to topic but speculates there may be multiple factors at play.

  • Last year Facebook tweaked its algorithm to prioritize posts from friends and family over that of publishers. This had a major effect on traffic coming in from users interacting directly with a publisher’s posts.
  • Facebook’s “Instant Articles” platform, which hosted some publishers’ content directly but promised to push traffic to the original site as well, has declined in importance, a report by Recode speculates.
  • Over the past year, Facebook has increased its focus on video, including Facebook Live and Facebook Watch. The social media giant may be prioritizing natively hosted videos over external links to the publisher.
  • Google’s AMP — accelerated mobile pages — feature, which also hosts publishers’ content directly on Google’s servers, has become more important. AMP stories — typically from news publishers — are surfaced at the top of mobile search results as “Top Stories,” which drives traffic.

Is Google’s AMP eating into Instant Article’s pie?

In May, at Google I/O the company announced that AMP powers more than 2 billion pages and 900,000 domains.

Google’s official word is that they do not favour AMP results over non-AMP, but perhaps the adoption by more publishers has led to an improved experience for users that increase their usage of the platform.

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Also in the month of May, Facebook announced that it’s making its Instant Articles platform compatible with competing web publishing standards like Google AMP and Apple News.

A report on The Verge called the announcement, “a tacit admission from Facebook that its Instant Articles format is not as popular as other forms of platform publishing, as well as a move to undermine the success of Google AMP and Apple News by incentivizing publishers to create one version of a thing and push it out everywhere.”

Written By

Writes about consumer technology, social media, digital services and tech policy. Is a gadget freak, gamer and Star Wars nerd.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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