Now Double Your Audience

Want more traffic?  In a business where more reach and engagement means more advertising revenues, every publisher wants more traffic.  So, what if you could double your traffic with no additional investment in content?

For a while, I’ve been writing about how digital media requires as much emphasis on distribution and audience development as on content; and how social networks offer the greatest opportunity to build audience.   But we just hit a new milestone that finally crosses into new territory:  proving that mastering social distribution can double your traffic.  And a model with twice as much engagement can be twice as valuable.

The milestone for us happened last month, less than 24 months since we launched our Wetpaint Entertainment property:

When you consider that the leading web publishers are getting less than 6% of their traffic from social on average, that’s some serious untapped audience potential.

Facebook Search Will Be Better than Google (5% of the Time)

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

In May, I predicted that Facebook would introduce a search offering by the end of 2012. Recent reports suggest that the battle for search may heat up even before the weather cools down – Facebook was already starting to link Open Graph with search results in June.

But the big question remains: Will Facebook’s search engine be better than Google’s anytime soon?

On the whole, no way.

Then is Facebook spending mega dollars to develop an algorithm that needs constant upgrading – one that will almost certainly be inferior to the search engines we already have – all for naught?

Here’s the thing: a Facebook search product doesn’t need to be better. Or, more accurately, it doesn’t need to be better all the time. If a Facebook search returns a better result once in twenty searches, it will be a success.

We tend to think of search as a winner-take-all market (in part because Google has practically taken it all with its 66% market share). And for the majority of searches, it’s true that Google can’t be beat. If I’m looking for an address, a specific article, the origin of a phrase, or that Mark Bittman recipe for pasta alla gricia, Google is my best friend. But what about when I’m searching for something less specific and more taste-based? On this front, the market leader leaves a whole lot to be desired.

“Good books.” “Restaurants in Bali.” “Car mechanic in Seattle.” The list I get from Google isn’t right – good book, interesting restaurant, reliable mechanic according to whom? Recommendations are the thin-edge-of-the-wedge: an entry point into search where Google is weak. Pinterest and Yelp have already staked out important segments of this otherwise unclaimed territory. But Pinterest isn’t going to help me with auto mechanics, and Yelp is struggling with its own “there’s no accounting for taste” problem.

The fact is, I’m already turning to Facebook for this kind of information – it’s just poorly organized. When my car window got stuck halfway open (not a tenable condition in my perpetually-drizzling city), I remembered a post from a few months back about my friend Jen’s amazing new mechanic and scrolled down through her timeline to find the name of the place. But what if I couldn’t remember which friend had posted? And how do I know that another friend didn’t rave about a mechanic just as great but in a closer neighborhood?

Searches for hotels, restaurants, books, movies, and music – just a few of the categories that would be greatly improved with access to friends’ recommendations – account for 650 million Google searches in the US every month (according to data pulled from Google’s keyword tool). That’s almost 6% of the 11.7 billion searches Google processed for US users in May. If Google brings in $36B in search ads annually, that’s a $2 billion slice of pie that Facebook could lift right out of Google’s lunchbox. And they could do it without even developing a full-web search.

In theory, Google could preemptively lock up that lunchbox by building their own recommendation search. They will almost certainly try to do just that, but they will lack the data to build a credible offering. Facebook has a 100X or better data advantage when it comes to recommendations, and that data advantage continues to snowball: Facebook logs 2.7 billion Likes every day to Google’s 20 million +1s. (Google doesn’t release the actual number of +1s, but let’s be generous and assume it’s roughly in proportion to the time spent on each network.)

Facebook is in a position to push with its greatest strength – a big and beautiful dataset of people and their relationships to brands, places, things, and other people – on Google’s most vulnerable point. And once Facebook gets a foot in the door with recommendation search, it won’t take much for them to push the door all the way open. The first time Facebook serves me five great beach reading recommendations from trusted friends is the last time I’ll even think of Googling “good books” before a vacation. And the same goes for choosing a new bank, finding a dentist, switching internet providers, buying car insurance, and on, and on, and on.

Pretty soon, 20% of my searches will be just as good or better on Facebook’s social search. And when Facebook finally does tack on whole-web results to the package (internally or through a partner like Bing), I’ll be much less inclined to leave Facebook, which is already my home base, to search for that Mark Bittman recipe on Google.

Survey data suggests that I’m not the only one who would be willing to give up the Google entirely if Facebook had a passable search offering. 17% of respondents in Greenlight’s 2012 “Search & Social Survey” would “definitely” or “probably” use a Facebook search engine as an alternative to Google. Another 27% indicated that they might be willing to make the switch.

Facebook search will win us over slowly, by degrees. They’ll start with what they know – the likes and dislikes of you, your friends, and people like you – and they’ll woo us with exceptional answers to a few key questions. We’ll keep the old, reliable search engine around for a while…but as soon as Facebook makes the move, Google’s days will be numbered.

June Social Leaderboard: Traffic from Facebook Flat to Slightly Down

Facebook has maintained its squeeze on sending traffic out to web publishers for another month.

The average publisher on the Social Leaderboard lost 0.1 percentage points in social composition from May to June.  The most social publishers fared the worst, with the top ten losing an average of 0.6 percentage points month-over-month.

The Top 3:  Wetpaint Entertainment, NFL, People

Even after losing 1.5 percentage points since May, Wetpaint Entertainment held the top spot on the Social Leaderboard with almost 30% of traffic coming from Facebook and Twitter.  The #2 spot was taken by NFL, which climbed three spots on the leaderboard and drew 12% of total traffic from social channels in June.  After holding second place for two months, People fell to 4th place, and  MTV held steady at 3rd.

Average Loss: 100,000 Social Visitors

Each month, we measure social traffic two ways:  by composition (percent of traffic from social); and by total volume (number of social visits).  In June, volumes also saw a slight decline.  Wetpaint fared better than most, adding 100,000 visitors in June and becoming the 11th  most social publisher by volume (not counting portals) with 1.4 million social visits.  The Huffington Post still holds the top spot in the volume ranking, with 6.5 million social visitors in June.

Guess Who Squeezed Traffic Even More? 

While Facebook traffic to publishers was down this month, Google traffic was down even more.  This could be a turning point – the gap between Google’s and Facebook’s traffic contributions to publishers has been widening in Google’s favor since March, but the June results show a reversal of the trend.  Will Facebook finally close the gap and officially become a more important traffic source for publishers than Google?  Check back next month to see if  the trend continues.

Details for Social Leaderboard Publishers:

MONTHLY RANKINGS

Jun

May

Apr

Name of Publisher (Owner) URL

Monthly Uniques

% from Social

Change

1

1

1

Wetpaint Entertainment WETPAINT.COM

                 4,172,874

29.3%

-1.5%

2

5

5

National Football League NFL.COM

                 4,005,954

12.0%

1.6%

3

3

4

MTV MTV.COM

               10,314,480

10.8%

-0.1%

4

2

2

People PEOPLE.COM

               12,424,002

10.5%

-1.0%

5

7

9

TMZ TMZ.COM

               11,485,750

8.7%

0.1%

6

4

3

NBC Universal NBC.COM

                 5,210,665

8.5%

-2.0%

7

8

10

Yahoo! YAHOO.COM

             155,141,946

7.3%

0.1%

8

10

11

Major League Baseball MLB.COM

               14,857,814

6.8%

0.1%

9

9

8

Patch (Aol) PATCH.COM

               11,178,542

6.7%

-0.4%

10

6

7

CBS CBS.COM

                 5,130,686

6.2%

-2.7%

11

11

12

Aol AOL.COM

               48,274,409

6.2%

0.0%

12

28

31

E! Entertainment Television EONLINE.COM

                 6,036,527

5.8%

2.1%

13

15

16

Entertainment Weekly EW.COM

                 5,648,180

5.5%

0.3%

14

14

19

TV Guide TVGUIDE.COM

                 5,701,617

5.3%

0.0%

15

16

17

IGN (News Corp) IGN.COM

                 8,385,741

5.3%

0.1%

16

19

21

CNN CNN.COM

               42,355,439

4.9%

0.1%

17

18

22

MSN MSN.COM

               93,297,562

4.9%

0.0%

18

20

20

FOX News (News Corp) FOXNEWS.COM

               25,048,343

4.8%

0.0%

19

17

18

US Weekly USMAGAZINE.COM

                 6,349,666

4.7%

-0.3%

20

23

23

BBC News BBC.CO.UK

               12,572,110

4.5%

0.3%

21

13

15

Discovery Channel DISCOVERY.COM

                 9,501,796

4.5%

-1.0%

22

21

13

TIME TIME.COM

                 6,980,029

4.3%

-0.1%

23

22

27

The Huffington Post (Aol) HUFFINGTONPOST.COM

               38,557,478

4.1%

-0.2%

24

12

14

Break Media BREAK.COM

                 8,666,861

3.9%

-2.0%

25

29

29

New York Daily News NYDAILYNEWS.COM

               10,818,073

3.7%

0.0%

26

24

26

National Geographic Society NATIONALGEOGRAPHIC.COM

                 5,410,317

3.7%

-0.3%

27

35

6

The Guardian GUARDIAN.CO.UK

                 8,035,982

3.7%

0.7%

28

25

24

The Washington Post WASHINGTONPOST.COM

               16,253,595

3.7%

-0.3%

29

26

25

New York Times NYTIMES.COM

               25,415,028

3.7%

-0.3%

30

33

33

Nickelodeon (MTV Networks) NICK.COM

               10,489,580

3.6%

0.4%

31

31

30

IMDB (Amazon.com) IMDB.COM

               34,449,740

3.5%

0.3%

32

32

36

Bleacher Report BLEACHERREPORT.COM

               10,126,821

3.4%

0.2%

33

27

28

CBS News CBSNEWS.COM

               10,775,680

3.3%

-0.5%

34

30

32

FORBES FORBES.COM

               11,733,587

3.3%

-0.1%

35

38

35

Los Angeles Times (Tribune) LATIMES.COM

               14,005,725

3.2%

0.5%

36

36

38

Cartoon Network (Turner) CARTOONNETWORK.COM

                 9,270,980

3.0%

0.1%

37

34

34

Food Network (Scripps) FOODNETWORK.COM

               13,629,536

2.6%

-0.4%

38

37

37

Wall Street Journal (News Corp) WSJ.COM

               12,259,307

2.5%

-0.2%

39

41

40

FOX Sports (News Corp) FOXSPORTS.COM

               17,869,805

2.0%

0.0%

40

40

39

Reuters REUTERS.COM

               10,285,882

2.0%

0.0%

41

39

41

USA Today (Gannet) USATODAY.COM

               16,604,354

2.0%

0.0%

42

42

43

WebMD WEBMD.COM

               14,952,061

1.8%

0.0%

43

43

42

CNET (CBS Interactive) CNET.COM

               22,956,989

1.8%

0.0%

44

44

44

Bloomberg BLOOMBERG.COM

                 6,373,252

1.7%

0.0%

45

46

45

everyday Health EVERYDAYHEALTH.COM

                 9,426,117

1.6%

0.0%

46

45

46

Businessweek (Bloomberg) BUSINESSWEEK.COM

                 6,490,385

1.6%

-0.1%

47

48

49

LIVESTRONG (Demand Media) LIVESTRONG.COM

               14,265,338

1.2%

0.1%

48

49

48

About.com (NY Times) ABOUT.COM

               51,103,478

1.1%

0.1%

49

47

47

ThePostGame (Yahoo) THEPOSTGAME.COM

                 7,594,651

1.1%

0.0%

50

50

50

Mayo Clinic MAYOCLINIC.COM

               10,112,971

0.9%

0.0%

51

51

51

eHow (Demand Media) EHOW.COM

               50,306,160

0.8%

0.1%

 

 

 

 

Social Success = Search Success

We’ve seen it at Wetpaint, but it’s not just happening for us.  Social success and search success now go hand in hand for all web publishers.

If you look at the top 50 publishers on the web, there’s a strong correlation between Facebook traffic growth and Google traffic growth:

For every 1% growth or decline in Facebook visits, the top 50 web publishers in our Media Industry Social Leaderboard saw a corresponding 0.5% change in Google traffic.

Correlation but not causation, you say?  I have it on good authority (aka Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan) that social signals will soon be the leading factor (if they’re not already) in search engine rankings.

It’s time to drop the notion that an investment in social has to come at the expense of an investment in search.  It’s now abundantly clear: social traffic and search traffic go together.

Update:  The original version of this post included an incorrect chart.  The correct chart is now shown.

Facebook’s Reach Generator, Now on Sale for 100% Off!

Regular readers know that I love Facebook, and that I think they are well on their way to building what could be the largest media business ever created.

That said, one of their recent advertising offerings – Reach Generator – has struck me with incredible irony.  Lots of other people have already noted the paradox in its most basic form:  after Facebook sells you a cost-per-fan acquisition program, they then sell you a cost-per-fan reach program to reach the very same fans you’ve already paid for.


via Business Insider

But what’s a publisher to do?  The average brand reaches only 16% of its fans, and Facebook controls the aperture of the fire hose.

So should you pay up?

Not unless you’ve tried everything to relate to your audience organically.  The most social publishers have demonstrated reach above and beyond Reach Generator’s promised 75%, simply by understanding how social distribution works and then systematizing it.  That’s right – it’s better than the paid offering, and better than that, it’s free!

That’s the great irony here:  for brands, Facebook Reach Generator doesn’t give you anything you couldn’t get yourself – if you think of yourself as a publisher, know your audience well, have meaningful content, and a strong audience development system.  These will take investment from brands and publishers, but that investment is absolutely critical anyway.  (After all, content is turning out to be the currency of connection on the social operating system).  Indeed, every brand that wants to connect to its audience on the social web MUST master the new skills of content programming and audience development.  It isn’t as simple as just hiring a great agency – it’s about knowing your audience and delivering great content that fits your relationship with them.

The alternative?  Pay Facebook to force less relevant content on your audience.  Think of Facebook Reach Generator as a tax paid by lazy brand managers – get the results without the effort.  But it sure will be expensive.

Look Out, Twitter: Pinterest on Your Tail

Most websites get the biggest slice of their traffic pie from Google; and Facebook is the most frequent #2.  But the other social networks are starting to be significant to some sites.

Now, let’s see how they stack up in terms of driving traffic.   As part of the Media Industry Social Leaderboard, we’ve been keeping tabs.

It’s worth keeping in mind that Facebook still massively outweighs its social brethren in total impact, making up 97% of social traffic to the top 50.  But in today’s world of meteoric rises and rapid falls, one of the players lurking in the other 3% (Twitter, Pinterest or Google+) could turn out to be the behemoth of tomorrow.

Twitter is definitively the #2 social referrer for publishers, but its share is declining – it grew by a lackluster 1% from February to May.  Meanwhile, Pinterest is emerging as a formidable competitor:  their last three months were just pinsane with 210% growth.  If they continue on that trajectory, they’ll be bigger than Twitter as a traffic referrer by summer’s end.

Will that happen?  Is Pinterest already edging out Twitter as we speak?  Stay tuned for next month’s Social Leaderboard results.

Facebook Giveth, and Facebook Taketh Away

Social Leaderboard Results for May:  Traffic Is Down Across the Board

Facebook threw publishers a curve ball in April:  an algorithm change combined with a pullback in social reader promotion.  And it had a big impact, causing the top 50 web publishers to lose more than 10% of their social traffic in just one month.  The May Social Leaderboard shows that they still haven’t recovered:  the average publisher’s social traffic was flat in May, matching April’s dip.

The dramatic drop in traffic set off alarms with some social publishing pioneers – the Social Reader had been the one bright spot on an otherwise dark and winding path into digital media.  Is the honeymoon over?

 

Facebook’s Relationship With Publishers:  It’s Complicated

Publishers who embraced Social Readers have every right to feel like Facebook’s scorned lovers right now.  Facebook seemed to have pulled the plug, right when the relationship was blossoming.  But through the tears, might this actually be good for the relationship?  In the long term, what’s in the best interest of publishers is also in the best interest of Facebook:  if users are being served the right content at the right time in the right way and clicking through at a high rate, everybody is happy.

Facebook, it seems, has decided it needs some space.  Before they fully commit, they’re sowing their wild oats by experimenting with user experience, testing and tuning.  This experimentation happened to take the publisher-friendly form of heavy Social Reader promotion over several previous months – but now they have turned the dial back.

Presumably, Facebook is dialing back social reader promotion to figure out how much friction is right for sharing.  Frictionless sharing may be part of our future, but accidental over-sharing could undermine the present.  Imagine the scenario:  I unwittingly broadcast “Ben is reading Home Hair Removal for Men,” and the phone rings:   It’s my mother with her assuredly well-intentioned advice.  And yet, how mortifying.  Who could blame me for deleting my account forever?

More tuning will bring about the right controls to manage private activity.  Ultimately, those controls will support more sharing.  At that point, the lead-out dial on Facebook’s dashboard will likely be turned back up, and we can all start planning our second honeymoon.

 

Strugglers and Survivors

As for the top publishers this month, nobody on the Leaderboard made great strides in social traffic, but a few publishers kept their heads above water better than others.  MTV gained 2 percentage points in social traffic composition, bringing them up to 10.9% social and making them the third most social web publisher.  People held onto the #2 spot on the board by holding steady at 11.5%.  NFL and TMZ were the only other publishers to improve their social composition this month, each gaining 1 percentage point.

Wetpaint Entertainment had a cushioned lead – we lost 7 percentage points of social composition from April to May, making us the most hard-hit publisher by the Facebook changes, even while holding on to the lead.  While my company is still the leader on percentage terms, total volume tells a different story, as the benchmark data shows we slid seven spots (to #14) in that ranking.

 

 

Details for Top 50 Publishers:

MONTHLY RANKINGS

May

Apr

Mar

Publisher URL

Monthly Uniques

% from Social

Change

1

1

1

Wetpaint Entertainment WETPAINT.COM

                 4,012,641

30.8%

-7.3%

2

2

3

People PEOPLE.COM

               12,174,195

11.5%

0.1%

3

4

8

MTV MTV.COM

                 9,674,892

10.9%

1.9%

4

3

2

NBC Universal NBC.COM

                 7,964,950

10.5%

0.4%

5

5

5

National Football League NFL.COM

                 4,821,558

10.4%

1.4%

6

7

4

CBS CBS.COM

                 7,190,888

8.9%

0.1%

7

9

9

TMZ TMZ.COM

               12,288,156

8.6%

0.9%

8

10

15

Yahoo! YAHOO.COM

             154,820,184

7.2%

-0.2%

9

8

12

Patch (Aol) PATCH.COM

               11,746,588

7.1%

-0.6%

10

11

10

Major League Baseball MLB.COM

               14,100,489

6.7%

-0.2%

11

12

17

Aol AOL.COM

               46,798,608

6.2%

-0.1%

12

14

7

Break Media BREAK.COM

                 7,987,804

5.9%

-0.1%

13

15

13

Discovery Channel DISCOVERY.COM

               11,213,913

5.5%

-0.2%

14

19

18

TV Guide TVGUIDE.COM

                 6,077,003

5.4%

0.2%

15

16

11

Entertainment Weekly EW.COM

                 7,348,060

5.2%

-0.4%

16

17

16

IGN (News Corp) IGN.COM

                 8,612,512

5.2%

0.0%

17

18

6

US Weekly USMAGAZINE.COM

                 6,873,880

5.0%

-0.2%

18

22

26

MSN MSN.COM

               95,931,716

4.9%

0.0%

19

21

21

CNN CNN.COM

               42,308,122

4.9%

-0.1%

20

20

22

FOX News (News Corp) FOXNEWS.COM

               24,392,403

4.8%

-0.2%

21

13

19

TIME TIME.COM

                 8,870,094

4.4%

-1.8%

22

27

31

The Huffington Post (Aol) HUFFINGTONPOST.COM

               39,361,623

4.3%

0.4%

23

23

23

BBC News BBC.CO.UK

               14,030,015

4.2%

-0.4%

24

26

20

National Geographic Society NATIONALGEOGRAPHIC.COM

                 8,096,974

4.0%

0.0%

25

24

24

The Washington Post WASHINGTONPOST.COM

               16,415,782

4.0%

-0.4%

26

25

27

New York Times NYTIMES.COM

               28,401,893

3.9%

-0.3%

27

28

25

CBS News CBSNEWS.COM

               11,668,152

3.9%

0.0%

28

31

35

E! Entertainment Television EONLINE.COM

                 6,905,095

3.7%

0.3%

29

29

30

New York Daily News NYDAILYNEWS.COM

               10,059,573

3.7%

0.0%

30

32

28

FORBES FORBES.COM

               12,413,284

3.4%

0.1%

31

30

33

IMDB (Amazon.com) IMDB.COM

               34,981,883

3.3%

-0.2%

32

36

32

Bleacher Report BLEACHERREPORT.COM

                 9,248,603

3.2%

0.2%

33

33

29

Nickelodeon (MTV Networks) NICK.COM

                 8,960,646

3.2%

0.0%

34

34

38

Food Network (Scripps) FOODNETWORK.COM

               13,652,316

3.0%

-0.1%

35

6

14

The Guardian GUARDIAN.CO.UK

                 8,481,112

3.0%

-5.9%

36

38

40

Cartoon Network (Turner) CARTOONNETWORK.COM

                 8,035,517

2.8%

0.0%

37

37

39

Wall Street Journal (News Corp) WSJ.COM

               12,792,880

2.7%

-0.2%

38

35

34

Los Angeles Times (Tribune) LATIMES.COM

               15,064,947

2.7%

-0.3%

39

41

42

USA Today (Gannet) USATODAY.COM

               17,570,870

2.0%

0.0%

40

39

41

Reuters REUTERS.COM

                 8,928,289

2.0%

-0.4%

41

40

36

FOX Sports (News Corp) FOXSPORTS.COM

               19,207,713

2.0%

-0.1%

42

43

46

WebMD WEBMD.COM

               14,441,556

1.8%

0.0%

43

42

37

CNET (CBS Interactive) CNET.COM

               22,672,657

1.8%

-0.2%

44

44

45

Bloomberg BLOOMBERG.COM

                 7,351,621

1.7%

0.0%

45

46

43

Businessweek (Bloomberg) BUSINESSWEEK.COM

                 6,256,325

1.7%

0.3%

46

45

44

everyday Health EVERYDAYHEALTH.COM

                 9,883,208

1.6%

0.1%

47

47

47

ThePostGame (Yahoo) THEPOSTGAME.COM

              10,242,755

1.1%

-0.1%

48

49

48

LIVESTRONG (Demand Media) LIVESTRONG.COM

               14,378,579

1.1%

0.0%

49

48

49

About.com (NY Times) ABOUT.COM

               57,358,285

1.1%

-0.1%

50

50

51

Mayo Clinic MAYOCLINIC.COM

               10,746,954

0.8%

0.0%

51

51

50

eHow (Demand Media) EHOW.COM

               54,128,475

0.7%

0.0%

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.