Changes to Facebook's News Feed algorithm made January 11 caught the attention of many marketers that were scrambling to revisit their traffic referral strategies, but the decision to refocus its news feed away from media agencies and back to friends and family has not been a major problem for publishers that rely on organic and search referral traffic.
For some, the worrisome decline began years ago, according to data released Wednesday.
SimilarWeb says that while direct and organic traffic from search results have remained largely stable, social dropped by a collective 89 million visits annually for Huffington Post, Mashable, and BuzzFeed, according to data.
Long before Facebook Head of News Feed Adam Mosseri wrote in a post that Facebook would tweak the algorithm to "prioritize posts that spark conversations and meaningful interactions between people," these sites were experiencing a decline.
Traffic to BuzzFeed fell to 254,538,000 in February 2017 and then rebounded to 281,913,000 before experiencing another steady decline to 215,196,000 in December 2017, for example.
The New York Times, CNN, and The Washington Post have managed to make it through the storm. Today each averages about 10% of their total traffic from social sites. In aggregate, the total traffic to the sites rose 22% during the same time frame.
Ethan Chernofsky, market intelligence leader at SimilarWeb, wrote in a blog post that the popular move to social created a few years ago now shows signs of weakness for publishers. He is not advising that publishers not rely on social -- but rather, to avoid placing the company's entire reliance on traffic, or "eggs," in one basket.
Chernofsky suggests that to avoid social dependency, it is advisable to align with sites investing in growth drivers like organic traffic from search engines, and to know the audience in order to learn how to provide the content they want.