May 14, 2024

Facebook and Google Are Both Sending Less Traffic to Publishers

This week’s newsletter is dense because we’ve covered four different public company financials, a feature of the AMO Pro membership.

Also, next Tuesday at 1PM ET, we are hosting a webinar with Jeremy Feldman, Director of Digital Audience at Anchorage Daily News. We’ll discuss the specific tactics the team has used to grow revenue using data and targeted activations on the site. Register here so you don’t miss it.

I’m on my way to Omeda’s OX7 this week in Chicago, and I look forward to meeting many of you there. (Hit reply and let me know if you’ll be in town.) For those of you who won’t be there, here’s what you can expect from Omeda and me:

  1. I’m recording interviews on-site with various media executives like Craig Fuller, Adam Ryan, and Nikki Smith
  2. I’ll be sharing those with the entire AMO audience after the event across social media
  3. They’ll also be shared on Omeda’s site for posterity

So, head over to the OX7 site to see what’s going on this week, and then be sure to follow Omeda and me on LinkedIn so you don’t miss the content.

Traffic is getting harder to come by

Press Gazette has two stories that explore the drastic changes in traffic to publisher websites. First, it explores Google’s recent algorithmic updates. According to the story:

Data from SEO tool Sistrix shows that of 70 leading news publishers tracked by Press Gazette, based mostly on those that regularly appear in our UK top 50 ranking, all but 15 saw falls in their visibility score. Of those, almost half (33) saw declines in the double-digits.

Sistrix’s Visibility Index measures how successful a website is in Google search results, assigning higher scores to sites that rank better in search results.

If we look at sites in the United States, Lily Ray, VP of SEO Strategy & Research at Amsive, found that the search engine result pages for the keyword “Discount codes for PS4” had fundamentally changed in one day. In the morning, pages like CNN, Fortune, Wired, and others ranked very competitively, but by the end of the day, they were nowhere to be found.

As Chris Long, VP of Marketing at Go Fish Digital, tweeted:

Google’s Site Reputation Abuse goal is to target first-party sites that are hosting third-party content without much editorial oversight. This is especially true for sites that are hosting content that’s outside of their core business.

These are manual actions by Google where a human reviewer decides versus a pure algorithm. Is a coupon for a PS4 controller Fortune’s core business? Obviously not.

I visited the coupon sites for The Washington Post and Wired. While subtle differences exist, they’re powered by the same company: Savings United. This tool allows publishers to spin up coupon sites with absolute ease.

In essence, these news sites that have built their brands and domain authority on good journalism then “share” that domain authority with these coupon sites. And so, despite having very little brand recognition for coupons, these sites can rank competitively in the SERPs. At least, that was the case until Google went after these sites.

So, despite being a dependable traffic source for decades, publishers are beginning to realize that overdependence here may not have been an intelligent strategy.

If we then turn to Meta, Press Gazette reports:

Aggregate Facebook traffic to a group of 792 news and media sites that have been tracked by the Chartbeat since 2018 shows that referrals to the sites have plunged by 58% in the last six years from 1.3 billion in March 2018 to 561 million last month. Traffic from Facebook fell by 50% in the last 12 months alone as the decline shows little sign of slowing.

As a share of total page views coming from external, search and social, Facebook referrals are now less than a quarter of their 2018 level, down from 30% in March 2018 to 7% in March 2024.

We’ve known for some time that Facebook traffic was unreliable. The very first AMO piece discussed how Slate saw its Facebook traffic crater. But even if the narrative hasn’t changed over the past nearly five years, a 50% drop in the last 12 months is still sizeable.

I return to this great, in-depth research study by SparkToro and Datos:

It’s already happening. In the 13 months of this study, the Long Tail lost ~3.2% to the top 170, equivalent to tens of millions of visitors and billions of clicks. And while the number of monthly unique visitors (among Datos’ fixed-size, stable US panel) to the top 170 grew by 0.299%, referral traffic only grew at 0.103%, suggesting that, on the whole, the most powerful, popular sites on the web are sending out a shrinking share of the traffic they receive.

Emphasis is mine, but it’s a fundamental point. We are seeing less traffic leave platforms. We’ve been talking about this on AMO for quite some time now, and the trend is not about to slow down.

So, what can publishers do?

When I was a kid, my grandparents had an antique store. And I’d work there with them. Their task for me was simple. “When someone comes in, welcome them to the store and ask if they need anything.” I had business cards with the shop name in front of me. Most people didn’t buy anything, but you couldn’t know who would buy something when they first walked in. And so, you had to treat them all equally.

We need to do the same thing to people visiting our sites. Visit many websites today, and it’s obvious that publishers do not respect readers. The sites are full of ads, the pages bounce around as the ad refresh loads different-sized ads, and we try to maximize our revenue—fractions of a penny—on the first visit.

This model “worked” for a while because platforms sent publishers large amounts of free traffic. Who cares if we turned someone off from our brand? We’ll get millions more next month.

But if we’re going to get less traffic from platforms, we need to start treating each user who comes to our site with a bit more care. Our tactics need to evolve. We must prioritize acquiring information about those people to ensure we give them the right content. I’ll use my favorite phrase, but it’s all about the first-party data.

Each person who visits our site is a prospective long-term reader. We need to take advantage of the traffic we will still get—no one believes it’ll go to zero—and ensure we turn that traffic into our audience. We can complain all we want about the platforms, but building a lasting relationship with our customers—our readers—is essential.

Q1 Financials Are Reported

Last week, four companies we track for AMO Pro subscribers reported their financials. We broke down their earnings and analyzed some of the key trends.

Become an AMO Pro member, so you never miss these again.

  1. Dotdash Meredith Reports Small Revenue Growth; Shrinks Its Operating Losses
  2. News Corp’s Dow Jones Sees Small Growth in Earnings Release; News Media Stagnates
  3. TechTarget Revenue Drops Year Over Year, But Exceeds Target
  4. The New York Times Doubles Down on Bundle Growth in Q1 Earnings Release

We’ve got more coming this week. Let me know if there are companies you think we’re missing and want to see us analyze.

Every Announces Plans to Incubate Software & Services Products as Core Part of Business

Every, the media company that prides itself on having the “best business writing on the internet,” has hired its first entrepreneur in residence to help incubate software & services products. The goal is to offer these to paying subscribers as part of the $20/m subscription. Longer-term, these products could be spun out into their own companies, much like Lex did. Every is a low seven-figure media company that currently generates most of its revenue from subscriptions. 

Read the full report here.

AMO Podcast: Richard Lander Talks About 25 Years of Citywire

My guest this week is Richard Lander, a co-founder and director at Citywire, a media company that serves financial advisors, wirehouses, RIAs, and more. In this conversation, we discuss Citywire’s evolution away from print, the exclusive sponsor-driven events they host, their data product, Goldmine, and so much more.

Click here to listen to the podcast, or find it wherever you listen.

Thanks for reading today’s AMO. If you have thoughts, hit reply or become an AMO Pro member to join the exclusive AMO Slack.

Don’t forget to register for next week’s webinar. And if you’ll be in Chicago for OX7, let me know!