When Facebook went down, direct traffic to news sites went up

September 24, 2018
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Source: Chartbeat. Social traffic is represented by the yellow line at the bottom; direct by the bright blue line at the top; search by the purple line second from the top.

An interesting thing happened on August 3. Facebook was down for nearly an hour in Europe and North America. During that time, many users who were shut out of their Facebook News Feeds went directly to news sites or searched for news.

Direct traffic spikes during a Facebook outage. According to data presented by Chartbeat at the recent Online News Association conference, direct traffic to news publisher sites increased 11 percent (in large part from app-driven traffic), and search traffic (to news sites) increased 8 percent during the outage that occurred a little after 4:00 p.m., as shown in the chart above.

According to late 2017 data from the Pew Research Center:

Just under half (45 percent) of U.S. adults use Facebook for news. Half of Facebook’s news users get news from that social media site alone, with just one-in-five relying on three or more sites for news.

Algorithm change sent people back to search. From that perspective, it makes sense that when Facebook is unavailable, people will turn to direct sources to get news. Earlier this year, however, Facebook began to “fix” the News Feed by minimizing third-party “commercial content.” This impacted multiple entities, but most news publishers saw their referral traffic from Facebook decline, a pattern that predated the algorithm change.

Starting in 2017, there’s evidence that as Facebook referrals have declined, more people have turned to Google to obtain their news fix. Users no longer able to get news as easily from Facebook are going to Google or directly to news sources to get it.

Why it matters to marketers. The trends shown in this chart underscore opportunities for content creators to capitalize on well-optimized pages (and possibly ads) to reach news-seeking audiences in search. It also highlights programmatic and direct-buying ad opportunities for marketers to reach these audiences on publisher sites.


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