Facebook social reader app contributes to record traffic for U.K. news site

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By Brittany Darwell Comment

The Guardian reached a new record of unique visitors and page impressions for Guardian.co.uk in February, and the news organization attributes 30 percent of referral traffic to Facebook. That’s up from 2 percent only six months ago.

The change is largely the result of a Facebook canvas application that lets users read Guardian stories and share them automatically via Ticker, Timeline and News Feed. This is yet another example of Open Graph driving significant traffic to third-party apps and websites. For a few days in February, Facebook even surpassed Google in referral percentage to the Guardian, though it hasn’t maintained the lead.

“I believe it is only a matter of time before it [Facebook] becomes the main driver of traffic to many core Guardian products,” said Tanya Cordrey, director of digital development for the Guardian, at the Guardian Changing Media Summit on Wednesday.

Cordrey also discussed statistics and trends related to the company’s social news app. She said more than 8 million people have added the Facebook app in five months, and about 40,000 new users sign up each day. More than 4 million people used the ad-supported app in the last four weeks and many of them read several stories per day, she added. According to AppData, the canvas app has been getting between 200,000 and 250,000 daily active users.

Of these users, “only a small percentage” elect to hide or remove stories from their Timeline, Cordrey explained. We previously identified the Guardian’s privacy controls as some of the best among social reader applications. Because most users share all the stories they read within the app, and Facebook highlights social reader activity in aggregate News Feed stories, a new audience is discovering the Guardian.

Cordrey pointed out that largest group of users for the Guardian Facebook app are between 18 and 24 years old, a demographic that is hard for news sites to reach. The app’s users are also global. According to AppData, 50 percent of users are from the U.K., but the rest are from a range of countries. Cordrey said Facebook is also unique in that the peak time for news consumption appears to be the afternoon, not around morning, lunch and dinner, which is typical for radio, TV and the web.