How Long Until Social Is A Bigger Traffic Source Than Search?

In yesterday’s Media Industry Social Leaderboard, I noted that leading web publishers on the web saw a staggering 17% increase in their social traffic from November to December.  These top 50 websites are now averaging about 8 million referrals per month from Facebook.

At this rate, the question asked by Fred Wilson and others is:  how long until social drives more traffic than search?  Based on data from Compete.com, it won’t be long at all.  Let’s look at the specifics.

Facebook Drives Almost As Much Traffic As Google

When it comes to driving traffic, the gap between social and search is already smaller than most realize.  In fact, for every 100 visits that Google sent to the top 50 web publishers in November, Facebook sent 62.  By December, it was already up to 73 visits from Facebook for every 100 from Google.

At the same time, search traffic to these publishers is stable to declining, with Google referrals falling 0.5% over the same period.

So how long until Facebook outranks Google?  If these monthly rates of change were to continue apace, Facebook traffic would outrank Google traffic for the top 50 publishers in aggregate by March of this year!

Seven Publishers Already Get More Traffic From Social Than Search

Shockingly, Compete.com data shows that already seven of the top 50 publishers get more traffic from Facebook than from Google:  MSN, ThePostGame, Yahoo, Aol, People, Fox Sports, and US Magazine.  These seven publishers received in aggregate 12% more visits from Facebook than they did from Google last month.

And that set of publishers has already grown by five from just a month earlier, in November of 2011, when only MSN and ThePostGame showed more traffic from social than from search.

But seven is just a snapshot in time.  Based on recent trends, by the middle of this year, I’d expect it to grow to a dozen publishers or more.

 

Facebook is Over-Taking Google as a Traffic Source to Top 50 Web Publishers

Social Leaderboard: 17% Growth in Traffic from Social; and Wetpaint Is the New #1

Regular readers know that  it’s only a matter of months before social becomes the most valuable source of traffic for most publishers.

And this month’s Media Industry Social Leaderboard is sure to make you even more convinced.  So let me get straight to it:  From November to December, the amount of traffic the top 50* publishers received from social grew by a whopping 17%.

And, when it comes to who is best benefiting from social, let’s just say I’m personally very proud to announce the new leader, which, for the sake of modesty, I’ll do lower down the page.


Social Traffic Surging

As noted previously, the major changes Facebook announced at September’s f8 event caused a significant blunt in traffic to publishers last fall.  Well, the hangover has ended.  With 385 million aggregate visits to the top 50 publishers in December, volumes have recovered to pre-f8 levels.

The average top 50 publisher is now receiving almost 8 million visits per month from Facebook and Twitter.  And in December, 48 of the top 50 publishers saw increased social traffic levels over November, with these publishers averaging a 2.1 percentage point increase in their composition.

At the same time, Twitter has grown in its contribution to the traffic pie, increasing over the course of the fall months from 2.2% of total in September to 3.4% in December.

A New Leader: Wetpaint Ranks #1

As you know from my prior columns, one of the reasons I’ve published this leaderboard is because we set a goal for Wetpaint to reach #1.  What I didn’t tell you previously is the timing: our goal was to do so by the end of 2011.  And there is nothing we get more proud of here at Wetpaint than meeting our goals.

In December, Wetpaint Entertainment social traffic benchmarked at 20.8% of visits, even as our total traffic was at near-record levels.  (Our internal numbers show an even higher contribution.)  This outranks all of the top 50 web publishers, besting the number-two by nearly five points.

Allow me a moment to kvell:  I could not be more proud of the entire Wetpaint team who have achieved this goal.  Beyond the amazing results, they have built an amazing social distribution system and playbook that leads the industry.  With the virtuous cycle the team has built, we are getting significantly better every month.


Other Movers and Shakers

How did the other leaders from prior months do?  People, the previous leader, improved with 16.1% of traffic from social, increasing by 3.9 percentage points even as it fell to the #2 position.

In third place now, US Magazine vaulted all the way up from position 19, improving from an average 3.9% to achieve 14.3% of their traffic from social.  If you have any idea what drove their results, let me know.

As for places #4 and #5, CBS and NBC traded their two slots, with NBC gaining by 4.2 percentage points while CBS gained by only 3.5 points.   And all of that activity pushed MTV down to #6, gaining far slower than the others.  All the details are, as usual, in the table below.


Facebook Is Sending More Traffic Out

Publishers are clearly benefiting as Facebook delivers on its potential to be not just a network but a social operating system for the internet.  In December, we saw the best increases go to the most social publishers (top 10 on this leaderboard), who saw a 4.5 percentage point increase in social traffic composition month to month.

Innovation is attracting large audiences on Facebook.  In particular, the four publishers driving traffic via social readers have increased their share of Facebook traffic to the Top 50 web publishers by 70%.  Yahoo (not included in the 4 just described) has also begun experimenting with social reader tools across select sites and is seeing strong early results as well.  In just two months, Yahoo! News US has reportedly seen a 300% increase in Facebook traffic, driven by 1 million “reads” shared daily.


The Traffic Land Grab Is On Now

We are clearly in the land grab phase on the social web.  Those who are investing early in social as a top objective stand to gain the most – while others may be left behind.

But as my discussions with other media companies show, social is not a simple check-box initiative.   It requires complete buy-in from the CEO to transform the organization with social distribution technology and expertise.

It can be done, as our own experience at Wetpaint as shown:  In less than two years, we have launched a new property and already outranked all of the top 50 publishers on the web.  Now we want more.  And I hope you do too.

 

Details for all 50 top publishers:

MONTHLY RANKINGS

PUBLISHER

 

 

Dec

Nov

Oct

Name of Publisher (Owner)

URL

Monthly Uniques

% from Social

Change

1

2

3

Wetpaint Entertainment

WETPAINT.COM

                3,076,202

20.8%

10.1%

2

1

1

People

PEOPLE.COM

              13,203,882

16.1%

3.9%

3

21

19

US Weekly

USMAGAZINE.COM

                9,339,801

14.3%

10.4%

4

5

5

NBC Universal

NBC.COM

                6,972,501

12.3%

4.2%

5

4

4

CBS

CBS.COM

                7,367,642

11.7%

3.5%

6

3

2

MTV

MTV.COM

                9,920,294

10.7%

2.1%

7

6

7

TMZ

TMZ.COM

13,208,667

9.6%

2.2%

8

13

16

Break Media

BREAK.COM

                8,603,649

9.4%

4.2%

9

8

6

Major League Baseball

MLB.COM

                6,653,288

9.3%

2.3%

10

9

11

Patch (Aol)

PATCH.COM

9,917,563

8.7%

2.2%

11

14

12

Discovery Channel

DISCOVERY.COM

             12,769,340

8.5%

3.4%

12

7

9

Yahoo!

YAHOO.COM

            167,257,797

7.6%

0.5%

13

10

10

Aol

AOL.COM

              50,093,953

7.4%

1.1%

14

15

15

CNN

CNN.COM

              45,650,334

7.1%

2.1%

15

12

13

IGN (News Corp)

IGN.COM

              10,263,828

6.7%

1.4%

16

23

25

MailOnline

DAILYMAIL.CO.UK

              16,656,093

6.4%

2.8%

17

25

22

TIME

TIME.COM

                9,256,468

6.3%

2.7%

18

16

14

TV Guide

TVGUIDE.COM

                7,546,763

6.0%

1.3%

19

11

8

The Guardian

GUARDIAN.CO.UK

                8,495,543

6.0%

0.0%

20

19

18

FOX News (News Corp)

FOXNEWS.COM

              24,444,163

5.9%

1.3%

21

29

23

CBS News

CBSNEWS.COM

              12,064,240

5.7%

2.6%

22

24

26

CBS Local

CBSLOCAL.COM

9,574,168

5.7%

2.1%

23

20

27

The Washington Post

WASHINGTONPOST.COM

              18,671,039

5.5%

1.4%

24

18

17

MSN

MSN.COM

           111,990,691

5.3%

0.7%

25

30

32

New York Daily News

NYDAILYNEWS.COM

                9,585,617

5.1%

2.1%

26

17

20

BBC News

BBC.CO.UK

              14,480,236

5.1%

0.4%

27

41

36

FORBES

FORBES.COM

              12,232,929

5.0%

3.0%

28

26

31

The Huffington Post (Aol)

HUFFINGTONPOST.COM

              36,196,784

5.0%

1.6%

29

31

28

New York Post

NYPOST.COM

                8,085,270

4.8%

1.8%

30

37

41

Bleacher Report

BLEACHERREPORT.COM

                9,178,003

4.7%

2.4%

31

22

21

New York Times

NYTIMES.COM

              30,575,839

4.6%

0.8%

32

34

29

Cartoon Network (Turner)

CARTOONNETWORK.COM

              10,600,092

4.5%

1.7%

33

33

30

Nickelodeon (MTV Networks)

NICK.COM

                9,752,977

4.5%

1.5%

34

27

24

IMDB (Amazon.com)

IMDB.COM

              38,220,405

4.3%

0.9%

35

32

35

Los Angeles Times (Tribune)

LATIMES.COM

              17,080,642

4.2%

1.2%

36

40

39

FOX Sports (News Corp)

FOXSPORTS.COM

              22,401,409

4.2%

2.0%

37

36

34

Food Network (Scripps)

FOODNETWORK.COM

              19,614,352

3.8%

1.2%

38

39

37

Wall Street Journal (News Corp)

WSJ.COM

              12,521,560

3.6%

1.4%

39

35

33

Allrecipes (Readers Digest)

ALLRECIPES.COM

              25,288,480

3.5%

0.8%

40

45

42

CNET (CBS Interactive)

CNET.COM

            28,948,963

3.1%

1.5%

41

38

38

Reuters

REUTERS.COM

              11,692,493

3.0%

0.7%

42

44

45

CNBC

CNBC.COM

                5,674,719

3.0%

1.3%

43

43

44

Bloomberg

BLOOMBERG.COM

                7,515,601

2.8%

1.1%

44

46

47

Businessweek (Bloomberg)

BUSINESSWEEK.COM

           7,964,543

2.6%

1.0%

45

28

43

USA Today (Gannet)

USATODAY.COM

              17,222,775

2.6%

-0.6%

46

42

40

WebMD

WEBMD.COM

              11,901,016

2.5%

0.5%

47

47

46

LIVESTRONG (Demand Media)

LIVESTRONG.COM

                9,464,669

1.8%

0.5%

48

48

48

About.com (NY Times)

ABOUT.COM

              58,684,194

1.6%

0.6%

49

50

50

eHow (Demand Media)

EHOW.COM

              45,015,977

1.5%

0.8%

50

51

51

ThePostGame (Yahoo)

THEPOSTGAME.COM

              18,321,581

1.4%

0.8%

51

49

49

Mayo Clinic

MAYOCLINIC.COM

                9,198,317

1.4%

0.5%

* The publishers included in the Media Industry Social Leaderboard are the top 50, as ranked by comScore-reported uniques, whose primary business is web publishing.  Once they are selected, data from Compete.com is used to estimate the amount of traffic referred to each by Facebook and Twitter. 

Google Search Plus Your World: An Offer You Can’t Refuse

This article was published as a guest post at XConomy, and is republished here for Digital Quarters readers.

I’ve been taking in Google’s recent release of “Search, plus your world” (or SPYW as the cool kids say) over the last several days, reflecting on what it means for Wetpaint and other media companies; but perhaps even more importantly, deeply understanding what it indicates about Facebook and Google themselves. As we all know by now, these most recent changes are meant to make its search more personal by up-weighting social activity in its algorithm, and using each person’s own position within their circles to determine relevance.

You might think that I would be one of the first to jump in the game with Google. After all, my company Wetpaint has been making a massive investment in distributing our content via other social channels, particularly Facebook. We’ve been seeing massive returns. And, I’ve even gone on a limb to predict that Facebook should be implementing its own Web-wide search this year.

Still, when it comes to playing Google’s social games, so far I’ve advocated staying on the sidelines of all their social venues—even their recent business pages. That’s been because even though the stadium lights are on, no one is on the field. More specifically, even though Google has 90 million registered users of the service, we see very little activity of significance among our target audience. But with its new SPYW changes, the question is: Has Google indeed forced companies’ hands?

Unfortunately, they have. And, in doing so, it marks a milestone in the changing mentality of Google. The search company’s great innovation—using the signals of the Web to best determine what the audience really wanted—has now been subverted. The company’s originally unshakable-seeming ethos of mechanistic neutrality has slowly, slowly, slowly, and now all of a sudden given way, and the new precedent is to favor its own business interests over those of the audience.

The result, like it or not, is that companies that rely on search for traffic must hear and obey loud and clear Google’s message that Google will favor those that favor it. It’s a dirty truth, and one far more chilling than the other more technical biases of its algorithm before.

Google has already started infusing search with the content that’s been blessed via Google+. Do a search for “New York Times” and you’ll probably find the New York Times plus.google.com page as the second search result. Search for “Mark Zuc” and you’ll likely see Zuckerberg’s Google+ page (despite the irony) populate as an option in the Google Instant choices.

I haven’t seen this bleed over to news stories yet, but I believe that it’s coming. Soon you’ll do a search for the latest headlines and your search results will be chock full with musings from your friends and non-friends inside Google+.

Google+ may not take off as a real social network, but Google has indicated that it’s throwing its full weight behind it anyway to make the best of what it’s got. Even if consumers don’t adopt it en masse, whatever activity is present will pepper the famous algorithm’s search results.

The irony here is that Google’s pivot toward a social search belies how important that social data is. The company is putting its lock on search at risk to gain a chance at a foothold on social. But what really comes through to me is that a great social search can be a winning product—if it’s populated with the right social data. So far, Google’s is not.

The question is—if that’s what I’m after—won’t I still just go to Facebook, where all my friends actually are (and which Google has adamantly cut out of SPYW)?

While SPYW does force publishers to support Google’s social network, fortunately it will be a temporary sacrifice from publishers during this period of transition from these days of search to a socially wired world. And that forthcoming world looks increasingly like it will be wired not by Google, but by its arch-enemy Facebook. Indeed, by corrupting the quality of their search product, Google may have just opened up a clear product entry into search for their rival as well.

Is BuzzFeed Multiplying Its Value?

Jonah Peretti’s Buzzfeed has been especially buzz-worthy of late, first with a $15.5M capital raise, and more recently via some fascinating brow-raising editorial hires.  First, Ben Smith from Politico and then last week, Doree Shafrir from Rolling Stone… and surely more are on the way. It’s a surprise direction to build original content for a site that had been more of a virality aggregator.   Why the sudden change, especially considering BuzzFeed has been so successful at acquiring audience?

Here’s my two cents:  Virality is a multiplier.  But like any other “x-factor”, it can only make things valuable relative to how much they’re worth to begin with.  A 10X booster can add 9 cents to a penny; or it can be worth $90 by turning a Hamilton into a Franklin.

BuzzFeed is among the best on the planet when it comes to this kind of multiplication.  And when you’re that good, it only makes sense to start working on the base rate.  That means beyond building buzz, the company needs to build a premium brand to attract premium advertisers to its core product and audience.  In media, the best way to make a strong brand that attracts high dollars to begin with is with outstanding content.

I’ve been fascinated to see that at Wetpaint. We now see more than 12 million uniques monthly:  nearly 6 million on our user-generated wiki platform; and 6+ million more on our premium Wetpaint Entertainment property.  They both have great virality that helps them draw audience.  But the original editorial in Wetpaint Entertainment makes the advertising worth even more – and it’s an even more valuable business model.

Premium content plus social distribution means a high base, and a high multiplier on the business model.  And it’s the perfect combination for a successful business model.  Congratulations to Jonah and team for all the success they’re having!

You Can’t Spell Media Without “Me”

This article was published as a guest post at TechCrunch, and is republished here for Digital Quarters readers.

Without question, one of the greatest gifts of the human species is our ability to communicate.  We can create, transmit, and absorb ideas with immense freedom in pictures, speech, writing, music, and more.  And yet, from the earliest days of man until very recently, the state of the art of media has been about as sophisticated as cave paintings.

Taking this a step further:

Truly great communicators don’t start out by focusing on their message.  They start with their audience.  They research, observe, and monitor every knowable detail – from background facts beforehand to micro-reactions during the conversation – and adjust their content and delivery precisely, so it will make an impact.  But it’s not like this is a secret formula.  Even toddlers do it, carefully measuring parents’ reactions and perpetually tuning in to the behavior patterns that get them the attention they want.  That tuning is carefully optimized to achieve maximum effect from each individualized recipient.

Meanwhile, media has virtually ignored its audiences.

But it’s finally beginning to open its eyes and ears to them through personalization. I believe that personalization has the greatest potential to transform the media business.

But before we get to that, let’s start with what’s gone wrong in media that has made us blind to our audiences’ cues.

In the world of print and broadcast, there was fundamentally no data about audience interests or reactions.  It was impossible to “read the room,” because the room was pitch black.  If media leaders’ eyes were closed, I’d be hard pressed to blame them; there was nothing to see.

As a result, there were two operating principles that made sense at the time, but which have since become outdated anachronisms.

First, that an editor should serve as oracle for what the audience desires (I call this the “Editor Fallacy”); and second, that content created in that vacuum of data should then be distributed as broadly as possible (let’s call this the “Broadcast Assumption”).

These two assumptions – even though they came from the print and broadcast legacy businesses – have errantly managed to drive the entire Web media mentality.

And the resulting misguided formula – across the board – has been Prophesize, Publish and Proliferate.

The big hope with this media Ouija Board has been that the guesses will be right, and that those who broadcast widely will then draw a big audience.  When the guesses miss the mark with audiences (no surprise there), publishers turn up the volume or amp up the sensationalism. To some degree, this is why the Huffington Post succeeds with its brash and blaring headlines, and it explains why, thanks to Henry, we’ve collectively Blodgetized Web 1.0 media.

But to make room for the new media model of the next 100 years, we need to let these old assumptions fall by the wayside.  The new vision is for media to start doing the work that each member of the audience already does; and that means deliberately selecting and contextualizing the media we each consume.

Putting it simply: media’s great opportunity is to bring the right content to the right person at the right place and time.

And this is where things get very interesting.

Bring Me My Very Own World

The social transformation of the Web has already taken us half way down the road toward a personalized future.

We finally recognize that the Web is made up of people, and Facebook and others have made people and relationships the key “nodes and edges in the graph” of the Web, replacing pages and links.  The social Web is now people-centric; and, increasingly, social is becoming the operating system for the Web at large.  Most impressively, “what my friends like” is already proving to be a good starting point to predict “what I like,” and so much of the Web is beginning to get at least a clue of how to serve us.

Despite this tremendous progress, however, when you go behind the scenes, the Web is still organized by data, not by people. Server data is affiliated with accounts; cookies are associated with Web browsers; and activity logs are tethered by IP addresses.

And yet, as the social revolution has proven, the real value of the transformation has been to stop looking at me as an IP address, a browser, or an account; and to start holistically realizing that I’m a person – I am me.

So, the great opportunity is to move from a Web of sites to “my” Web of me.

Media is at a critical transition point today, because we are about to completely redefine our sense of the audience. Starting now, the audience is no longer one massive opaque agglomeration. It’s not a “them” or an “us”; it’s a lot of individual “me’s.”  (This must-watch from Monty Python paints the picture.)

In this context, the Broadcast Assumption of content creators is completely out of touch with the 21st century zeitgeist.  It revolves around the played-out maxim of “create once, distribute everywhere,” which made sense when audiences were opaque and distribution channels were just big dumb pipes.  But it totally ignores the “me’s” in the audience – when it comes to both creation and distribution.

The bottom line, then, is that media experiences, which used to be one-size-fits-all, must now be customized so they’re just for me.

In other words, the media experience of the future must take a cue from Facebook, and bring my world to me – regardless of where it originated. 

The Six Elements of Ultimate Digital Personalization

Social represents progress toward this vision of fully personalized media, but it’s only one part of the game.

In my view, there are six key elements that contribute to ultimate digital personalization – and these elements are the basis for the ultimate success model in digital media:

  • It’s social – What happens to people close to me is important, because these people are important to me.
  • It’s curated – People aren’t just content sources themselves; they’re also curators. To know me is to know my tastemakers.
  • It’s an experience, not just a stream –Newsfeeds and timelines are a meager start.  Twitter’s 140-character format is great for insiders, but it’s inscrutable for Grandpa. Personalized media should come in all formats – not just a feed.  And it will be more powerful (and more profitable) when it creates an immersive experience.
  • It’s incredibly, incredibly smart about what it recommends, and what it doesn’t – But better than today’s Facebook and Twitter, it brings me the right content, not all content. I trust it to filter the world for me, and to highlight what’s important to me out of billions of pieces of information.
  • It’s self-refining – Speaking for myself, it would know to bring me news about digital media; about my company; about my friends’ reviews of great restaurants in Seattle, LA, and New York; and, in the winter, a helpful article or two on snowboarding tips would be greatly appreciated. It would also turn down articles about Glenn Beck, and turn up the latest find from Brian Stelter. And, before you cry (or scream) “filter bubble,” let’s get it straight that this is what I do already.
  • It’s not just the content that’s personalized – It’s the advertising, too. Today’s version is very primitive: I go to a Web site once and its ads follow me around for weeks. But, instead, my demographics, interests and intent should all combine to inform what ads to show – and not show – me.

After considering these six elements as a whole, I’m most inspired (and encouraged) by Facebook, Twitter, AOL Editions, the recent Flipboard clones, NetFlix, and the potential of a new Siri-powered Apple TV.

Each of these demonstrates the central aspect of this new vision for media: bringing my world to me.

Data Is the Currency of Personalization

To be successful, we all need to be data companies – as data is the clear way to know what our audience wants.  Data is the currency of personalization, and so it is our best path to delighting our audience.

News sites should know by now what topics and stories to program for whom; and no sports site should serve a balanced home page when no sports fan likes all teams equally.

It’s an approach that, of all companies, Yahoo! ‘gets’– and for them it’s been paying huge dividends for a long time.   And so it should for the rest of us.

What this means for media is that it’s not all about the content – instead, it’s all about the audience.  And that means the nature of media has changed.

It’s all about you. It’s all about me.

That’s the digital media future. And we need to start going there today – because audiences are asking (and even demanding) that we pay attention to them, that we really know them, as true individuals.

So, if you’re a publisher, here’s the challenge as you try to create meaningful content experiences today: Each member of your audience – no matter how vast it is – has to become the most important person in the world to you. Or, looking at it in a slightly different way, you have to become deeply involved and digitally intimate on a global scale each and every day.