Search is Back as the Top Referral Source

Well, this is interesting. According to data from Shareaholic, last year marked a turning point in the search vs. social traffic debate.

“After a year fraught with terms like ‘fake news,’ and headlines centering around brand safety issues and extreme content, it appears the actions taken by social sites to curb the influx of malicious content is turning out to be a real boon for search referral traffic,” writes Amy Gezenhues in Search Engine Land.

“For the first time since 2014, Shareaholic says search outpaced social in the percentage of overall traffic it delivered in 2017,” she continues. “According to the analytic platform’s data, search drove 34.8 percent of site visits in 2017 compared to social networks which accounted for 25.6 percent of referral traffic.”

Is this yet more evidence that Facebook is losing its appeal to brands? Last fall we saw Google surpass Facebook in referral traffic, and we’ve seen plenty of stories of publishers ditching Facebook Live.

“At a high level, it’s clear that social media’s tenuous grip on being the top referral category is over,” notes the Shareaholic report. “After beating out search for the last three years, it’s given back the title, driven by changes to the algorithms behind Facebook’s News Feed.”

Image source: Shareaholic

So what’s behind the shift? There are a lot of factors at play, as Gezenhues explains.

“Facebook’s news feed algorithm tweaks to curb fake news and spam content are definitely impacting its overall referral traffic numbers, but Chartbeat reports the most significant factor driving traffic to its clients’ sites is AMP content,” she explains. They confirmed that data shows mobile search Google search referrals were up, and they found a big difference in traffic for publishers that were using Google’s Accelerated Mobil Pages (AMP) versus those who were not.

This is encouraging news for the publishers that are fed up with Facebook. As search traffic regains the top spot in referral traffic, publishers have even more justification to walk away from the broken third-party distribution system.

It’s about time.