In the journalism and the content industries, changes are swift and sweeping. This year we've witnessed the emergence of a new and exciting generation of digital, social publishers. These are outlets exploring new ways of creating and serving content, and seeing impressive results.
In September, a relatively new site called PlayBuzz ranked second among top publishers on Facebook globally, thanks to contagious quizzes such as "How Much High School Spanish Do You Actually Remember?" This was a big deal, especially considering that PlayBuzz launched just two years ago. But it was also a reminder that Facebook now drives up to 20 percent of traffic to news sites.
Earlier this year, Facebook altered their News Feed algorithm to prefer publisher content to brand content. Overnight, brand managers saw their traffic from Facebook plummet, forcing them to buy Facebook ads to achieve the same reach. Meanwhile, publishers saw their referral traffic reach new heights.
While publishers have benefited from this change, few are entirely secure about the arrangement. But the underlying risk is not that Facebook may send publishers less traffic than what they send today due to algorithmic changes. It's that one-day Facebook will take these publishers out with the flip of a switch.
For those in the industry, Facebook is a source both of great abundance and great fear. And there's no telling where the line begins and ends.
For example, what if Facebook one day decides that it loves content in feeds so much that it no longer wants users to leave and consume content elsewhere, ever? What if users keep sharing publishers' content with Facebook, but Facebook stops sharing users back with publishers?
In such a scenario, it won't be a question of getting less traffic from Facebook, but of getting none. Articles and videos would be entirely viewed from the Facebook app. And we all know that while users might grumble at first, they would quickly get used to it, much as they've gotten used to the new timeline, or the changing presentation of images.
For most publishers, a decrease in Facebook traffic would be discouraging. Going to zero Facebook traffic, however, would be disastrous. The good news is that there are other ways people discover content that publishers can start cultivating today. Here are a few:
1. Partner with commerce sites
By adding calls-to-action in content about fashion or other consumer goods to commerce sites, you will increase your revenue per article, which means you could be more competitive when distributing your content around the web.
2. Don't underestimate email
As choices of where to consume content continue to multiply, the value of community will increase. Having a direct relationship with your audience is incredibly valuable.
3. Strike strategic partnership
Build your own network of publisher partners with which you can exchange traffic.
4. More social, less Facebook
Divide your resources more evenly among other channels that can drive audiences to your site: Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram, and Pinterest.
5. Don't abandon search (just yet)
While SEO was invented somewhere in the mid 1990s, it's still worth the investment.
6. Invest in discovery
Companies like Taboola can help distribute your content on other top-tier sites and drive high-quality, engaged audiences back to your content.
Diversifying your sources of traffic is really hard but doable, and I believe it's time to start making some meaningful investment and headway towards it. Consider some of the above suggestions, try different platforms, A/B test various types of content, invest in a great mobile experience, and build best practices that allow you to eventually get a smaller portion of traffic from Facebook, while making room for new sources of traffic to come from other places. And you'll probably have to make mistakes to eventually find what works, but that's completely ok.
We share our content on Facebook, but Facebook may one day stop sharing it back.