The Press Gazette, a publication in the UK, just published a detailed article about Twitter’s and Facebook’s declining roles as traffic drivers for news publishers based on data from several sources.
According to Chartbeat, Twitter referral traffic decreased from 1.9% of all traffic to 1.2%. Small publishers in particular have been severely impacted. Of 486 small publishers, there were only 186,930 page view referrals this April—a massive 98% drop from 10.1 million page views five years ago. Traffic for medium-sized publishers fell by 40%.
Similarweb data, available at the domain level for desktop only, shows that some of the most popular news sites have been similarly impacted. The average two-year decline between April 2021 and April 2023 was 30% for 25 English-language publishers, including significant publications like buzzfeed.com (down 60% since April 2021), huffpost.com (down 57%), and telegraph.co.uk (down 50%). Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover last fall might contribute to a similar decline—referrals fell by an average of 29% between September 2022 and April 2023.
Facebook, on the other hand, generated more than eight times as many page views for publishers than Twitter over the past year, according to Chartbeat data. Still, its influence is also declining, with page views from external, search, and social media from Facebook down from 27% in January 2018 to 11% in April 2023. Notable publishers who’ve seen their referral traffic from the platform drop include buzzfeed.com, vice.com, and dailystar.co.uk, among many others.
How publishers can shift their referral strategies
Social media is just one way to drive referral traffic to your site.
As a publisher, commenting on other blogs and websites can help get eyeballs to your site. But we don’t mean you should spam comment sections with links to your site. Instead, you can add a link to your comment name, which WordPress lets you do by default, or just comment as your blog name. Or, you can include both.
Another way you can drive referral traffic is to guest-post on other sites willing to link back to your own. As we shared in a recent blog post, the glory days of blogging just might be coming back into vogue, and publishers are once more prioritizing reader relationships over content going viral. Search for guest posting opportunities by checking the blogs you follow to see if they accept submissions. You can also simply search via Google.
Don’t give up on social media (entirely)
Even if social media drives less referral traffic, it doesn’t mean you should stop using it altogether.
You can still use sites like Twitter and Facebook to share and link to your content. Because sharing is caring, and even a tiny bit of traffic is traffic. There's still a sizable audience on Twitter. Even if you share less often, it’s worthwhile to share away anyway.
Keep your side of the street clean
An important reminder is to ensure that the content and conversations referral traffic lands in is high-quality, safe, and engaging. Because it doesn’t matter how much traffic you drive if the end destination is poorly written, toxic, or otherwise harmful. So, in addition to having a robust content strategy in place, ensure your moderation settings align with your brand’s voice and values. Put a set of community guidelines in place and use our moderation tools to vet users and comments. Don’t be afraid to ban or put in timeout users who violate your standards or terms.
The Internet is evolving, which means so, too, must publishers to stay ahead of the game. Sometimes the simple, straightforward path is the best.