Facebook fails to bring traffic for news publishers

Over the years, Facebook has gained a dominant position in the global internet market as users relied on the platform not only to keep in touch with families and friends but also to access the latest news as well as photos, videos, music and all sorts of data floating around the online universe.

But recent moves by the social media giant to manage what users find on their News Feeds appear to have made a dramatic impact on the public’s perception of the network. A growing number of people are beginning to feel that Facebook is controlling what they ought to see and hear on the internet, and therefore is reducing, if not censoring, their online experience.

As a result, many social media users are reducing the time they devote to the network, trying out other social media platforms, or leaving Facebook altogether.

Last week, US business magazine Fast Company reported that Facebook suffered a 24 percent drop in the average time users spent on the site in December last year, citing figures released by media research firm Nielsen.

Instagram, another social media platform owned by Facebook, also saw some poor engagement numbers. The aggregate consumption figure went up, but so did the user base. In all, the average time spent per person on the site dropped by 9 percent.

It should be noted that Facebook’s move to alter the algorithm that controls what users see on their News Feeds was intended to improve their experience on the site. Basically, the company wants users to devote more time to interacting with relatives and friends rather than consuming a lot of their time browsing through items about current events.

Management’s decision no doubt was prompted by findings that Facebook played a role in the spread of fake news during the 2016 US presidential election.

Facebook, being a responsible social media company, would not want to be party to such abhorrent practices, and decided to take steps to clamp down on the spread of false information on its platform.

Despite the company’s good intentions, however, users are starting to feel that the experience they get from the network is not as vibrant as before. Of course, there could be many factors, such as their frequent use of the platform, but their feeling of dissatisfaction with the medium is undeniable.

Meanwhile, more publishers are signing up for inclusion in Google’s publishing format. Launched in 2015, the Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) is a project of Google and Twitter to make really fast mobile pages. It hosts publishers’ content directly on Google’s servers so it loads faster for mobile users.

Last month, Google said about 31 million websites were using AMP, up 25 percent from October last year. The fast-loading mobile web pages keep people from abandoning searches and drive more traffic to websites as a result, it said.

When users search for news on Google, all AMP results would be displayed on the top of the list of stories, enabling users to access the news publishers’ sites. Such traffic diversion should help bring in more readers.

All these developments indicate a change in the leadership of internet traffic which has been dominated by social media in the past three years.

According to data from content marketing platform Shareholic, searches drove 34.8 percent of site visits in 2017 while social networks accounted for 25.6 percent of referral traffic.

Chartbeat, an analytics platform for online publishers and media organizations, has witnessed a similar trend with traffic from Google search to publisher websites up more than 25 percent since the start of 2017.

Indeed, people are now returning to the search engine for the information they want as Facebook appears to be letting them down.

On Tuesday, Google announced that users who subscribe to digital newspapers and magazines will see articles from those titles appear higher in their search results.

Google also has plans to help publishers get more subscribers by providing data on users who are more likely to buy their content.

The move came after Apple announced that it would allow news publishers to use their paywalls inside Facebook’s iOS app, bypassing the company’s App Store gateway.

Apple and Facebook agree to give each user five free articles to read using the company’s iOS app before charging them.

Both Facebook and Google are now working hard to partner with news publishers to build a sustainable revenue model that benefits the entire news industry. This came after news publishers slammed the internet giants for using their content to generate advertising income.

But it seems that Google is now taking the lead in this battle over news content. By using Google, users feel they are getting what they want to read based on the keywords they search.

On the other hand, they find Facebook to be less engaging than before it changed its algorithm to manage what appears on the News Feed.

The battle for the hearts and minds of internet users continues.

Originally published at www.ejinsight.com on March 15, 2018.

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