FaceBook vs Google traffic (again!)

Keyboard with brackets

A continual theme in my unsolicited advice is trying to figure out how best to get eyeballs on your content, and how Google and Facebook contribute traffic. It’s an ongoing back and forth between two giants.

There are a few new bits of data to add to the ongoing discussion. Recode has 2017 traffic data, and it looks like Facebook’s new  policies of prioritizing families and friends in their feed led to a drop in referral traffic for news (and a corresponding increase by Google referrals). graph of referrals from Facebook and Google in 2017

An interesting, though not direct, confirmation of those changes in Facebook algorithm can be seen in this article from Neiman Labs; over 70% of articles in feeds are now from friends and families. News content: less than 10%.

There also has been an increase in traffic coming through the Google AMP service, or Accelerated Mobile Pages.  AMP is a competitor for Facebook Instant Articles, and they both try to do the same thing: serve up content from all over the web as fast as possible. With the caveat, of course, that you remain within the Facebook or Google Ecosystem when you consume those articles.

There is also an interesting new feature in Google’s Chrome browser. When you open Chrome, it will suggest news items for you (if you are an android user). This obviously leads to increased traffic for suggested web pages, but it’s too early to say much about how those pages are chosen or how much traffic it generates.

The ultimate take-home message for content creators is still the same: don’t ignore Facebook or Google. You have to optimize for both.

Google “Promoted” search results are…..terrible.

WSJ has a new long, wonky article about web traffic that is just the sort of thing I love.  And, like a lot of news about our online ecosystem, it’s a bit depressing.

When you search in Google, it often puts “featured snippets” or “knowledge cards” at the top of the search results. You may also see a list of similar questions under “People also ask.” The problem is that the answers are sometimes bogus, and sourced poorly.

graph showing increase of google answers
From WSJ

“A study this year by Stone Temple, a prominent analyst of the industry, showed Google’s search engine answered 74.3% of 5,000 questions, and on those answers it had a 97.4% accuracy rate. Both percentages are higher than services from AmazonInc., AppleInc. and Microsoft Corp.

Yet since Google handles trillions of queries a year, even a 2.6% error rate suggests Google serves billions of answers a year that are incomplete, irrelevant or wrong.”       [emphasis mine]

I’ve certainly seen this in action in queries about insect identification or pest control.

How NOT to control Fire Ants, via Google

screenshot from google
The suggestions from Google about controlling Fire ants are TERRIBLE

Here’s an example: Suggestions for controlling fire ants.  Gasoline and grits! That will end well.

Note that there is a tiny “report inappropriate predictions” box in the lower right corner — so this is an opportunity to tell Google that Kill It With Fire Is A Terrible Idea.

Let’s say you search for fire ants and grits; a common home remedy. The featured snippet tells you that instant grits will kill fire ants. NOPE.

(Here’s an authoritative article about what does and doesn’t work in home remedies. FYI: none of these are effective. )

screenshot of incorrect recommendation
Very incorrect featured snippet from Google Search

Note that again, there’s a tiny little feedback link at the bottom right of the Knowledge Card. Give feedback on both good and bad results for entomological results! Help Google do better.

screenshot of feedback form
Google Knowledge card feedback form

Google gives priority to responses that have detailed comments about why the suggested information is wrong, and links to better, more authoritative resources.

So the next time you search for something and get terrible results, take action!

Facebook Page Traffic: Still a Problem

I wrote earlier here about how traffic on non-profit Facebook pages is radically reduced because of algorithm changes. Some new data has been added from the Chicago Tribune:

Facebook’s algorithm isn’t surfacing one-third of our posts. And it’s getting worse

To give you a sense of scale, the Trib has over 500,000 followers on Facebook, much larger than most non-profits or small businesses. And yet, here’s some of the traffic stats they shared:

From Chicago Trib

If you want a really thorough and wonky discussion of what this means, what Facebook recommends, and what to do next, check out this article. It’s not encouraging for those of us who manage pages with a much smaller audience.


Should you be on Facebook?

Shape 12This is a question I get a lot from scientists — there is a pretty widespread perception that Facebook isn’t serious, or that it’s a lot of work for little payoff.  The best way I know to answer is to point people at an amazing resource: The Pew Internet Study.

The Pew project releases 10-15 research reports each year. One of main reports is a yearly examination of how American adults and teens use social media.

Pew graph of social media use

As you can see from this graph, Facebook dominates the online world, and continues to grow. The overall trend is upward for all social networking platforms, so more people are adopting these platforms overall.

Other interesting bits of information you can glean from the Pew studies are demographics of different platforms. Here’s an example:

“While Facebook is popular across a diverse mix of demographic groups, other sites have developed their own unique demographic user profiles. For example, Pinterest holds particular appeal to female users (women are four times as likely as men to be Pinterest users), and LinkedIn is especially popular among college graduates and internet users in higher income households. Twitter and Instagram have particular appeal to younger adults, urban dwellers, and non-whites.”

Pew also collects information about where people get news, and how linked that is to social media platforms.  Again, depending on what group you want to target, this can be extremely useful in deciding which online media to adopt.

One of the main themes in my social media consulting is to make sure that the online effort you expend is aligned to your organizational goals and key audiences. “The entire Internet” is not a useful or achievable target audience for engagement!  You have a limited amount of time and energy to put into social media, so make sure that the channels you choose have a high ROI (return on investment).

social media pathways to newsFacebook has a large user base, and those users do tend to get news via that particular social channel. There are additional factors you might consider in deciding where you choose to engage online.

Google Plus doesn’t have a large reach at the moment, but having a Google Plus page can help your page ranking and authorship status with Google Search.  You can also use a Google Plus page as part of a campaign to verify your local business or nature center as a destination on Google Maps.

There’s an additional complication: Facebook has made a lot of changes to it’s display algorithms since its IPO.  Right now  non-profit and small business pages are clearly at a major disadvantage… unless they pay for advertising or promotion. (By the way, a work-around for this is to attach an image to anything you post on Facebook. But they will probably figure out how to correct for that soon.)

If you’re evaluating where to invest time and energy online, or re-evaluating the effort you are expending now, I strongly recommend looking at the Pew Internet studies about where Americans get their news.

Be warned, though: it’s fascinating stuff, and you may discover that several hours have drifted by while you look at all the data!