Facebook Instant Articles Poses Dilemma for Publishers: Traffic or Monetization

 In Competitive Analysis, Consumer Behavior, Online Advertising, Site Analysis, Social Marketing, Tech News, Traffic Sources, Trends

A lot has been said about Facebook Instant Articles, covering all perspectives. For users, this new format improves the content consumption experience thanks to faster page load and interactive features. For publishers, Instant Articles can be automatically published to Facebook and, for the first time, publishers can display their branding elements on Facebook. Publishers can even bring in their own advertisers and retain 100% of the revenue, or use Facebook’s advertisers and share 30% of the revenue with the platform. As for Facebook itself, these hosted articles will diminish the social network’s mobile outbound traffic, keeping the user within Facebook for longer sessions. Sounds like a win-win-win situation, right? Wrong, here’s why:

Instant Articles are hosted on Facebook, meaning that users will not click through to the publishers’ mobile-web site or application, but remain within Facebook. This loss of social mobile traffic has SEO and monetization ramifications that may undermine the advantages of this new interactive content format.


Understanding Social Traffic

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Facebook is the largest contributor of referral traffic, generating 60% of the referral traffic to major websites. This emphasises how important Facebook referrals are for publishers. However, this doesn’t take into consideration the publisher’s specific distribution of traffic by sources.

A recent blog post by Hubspot suggests that social and referral traffic together consist of only 17% of a website’s traffic. This puts social traffic into perspective, but neglects one fundamental fact: across-the-board averages tend to be skewed. As a result, we decided to take a good long look into one of the publishers participating in the Instant Articles pilot: Buzzfeed.


BuzzFeed Relies on Traffic from Facebook

According to BuzzFeed, social traffic is their leading traffic source, generating 5 times the amount of traffic as organic search. They also state two important facts about their valuable mobile traffic: 60% of BuzzFeed’s social traffic is mobile and this traffic is much more engaged, sharing twice as much content as BuzzFeed’s desktop visitors.

A quick Jumpshot Site Analysis confirmed the importance of Facebook traffic to BuzzFeed. First of all, based on our global panel of 107 million users, 45% of Buzzfeed’s traffic comes from Facebook. This, coupled with the percentage of mobile social traffic BuzzFeed reported allow us to deduce that mobile traffic originating from Facebook consists of 27% of the service’s overall traffic.

BuzzFeed Traffic Sources 2015


Secondly, Jumpshot’s Traffic and Engagement report reveals that BuzzFeed enjoyed an unparalleled traffic peak on February 26th and 27th of 2015, resulting in nearly double the amount of average daily unique visitors.

BuzzFeed Traffic and Engagement 2015


We dove deep into the data for these days and quickly identified the cause for this traffic spike under the Top Pages section. Remember the blue-black / white-gold dress fiasco that broke the web? One quiz about the controversial dress was responsible for this traffic spike.

Now that we know what caused the traffic spike, it’s time to understand where the traffic came from. Our Source Paths feature shows us that nearly 50% of the traffic to the service came from Facebook. The amount of traffic generated by Facebook coincides with the traffic peak. This really is a very good example of how content goes viral, and Facebook’s contribution to content discovery and distribution.

BuzzFeed Source Paths February 2015


If this piece of content would have been published as an Instant Article, BuzzFeed would not have enjoyed such a traffic spike as 60% of the mobile traffic was from Facebook. Instead the traffic would not have gone to BuzzFeed but would have remained on Facebook. Instant Articles may offer a branded experience as well as interesting ways to interact with the content, but they also eliminate an important traffic channel: Facebook referred mobile-web traffic.


Instant Articles Negative Effect on SEO and Monetization

Publishers that choose to use this new format will supply their readers with a branded and superior reading experience, but will lose Facebook mobile referred traffic to their mobile-website and/or mobile application, not to mention all the backlinks to their content when mentioned elsewhere online.

As for monetization, publishers can bring in their own advertisers and keep all the revenue, or choose to use Facebook’s advertisers on a 70/30 rev-share basis. That is a good deal, unless you have a subscription based app, like the New York Times which is actually one of the publishers participating in this pilot.

One last point that deserves mentioning is the reader information and the effect on advertising: Instant Articles are hosted on Facebook and therefore Facebook records the user’s behavior and shares some of the data with the publishers. This supplies Facebook with even more information about the user, improving its targeting capabilities and becoming even more appealing to advertisers. This may result in publishers losing insight into their mobile visitors as well as direct advertisers.

Bottom line: Instant articles are great for Facebook, a very nice improvement for users and pose a couple dilemmas for publishers.


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