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Facebook Driving More Traffic Than Google

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Facebook is now the top source of traffic for major news and entertainment portals such as Yahoo and MSN, according to traffic analysis firm Compete, and is “among the leaders” for other sites as well. Although far from conclusive, this is just another sign of how the “social web” is becoming an increasingly dominant force in terms of driving traffic flows on the Internet — and that in turn makes it a growing threat for major web players such as Google (s goog), MSN (s msft) and Yahoo (s yhoo). If your core business depends on controlling and/or getting a piece of the web’s traffic flow, as it does for all of those companies, the social web is something you ignore at your peril (which helps explain the launch of new services like Google Buzz).

Compete’s director of online media and search told the San Francisco Chronicle that a snapshot of web traffic from December showed 13 percent of the traffic to major web portals like Yahoo, MSN and AOL came from Facebook. Traffic from Google generated just 7 percent, which Compete said actually put it third in traffic sources behind eBay (s ebay), which accounted for 7.6 percent.

It’s important to note that Compete’s analysis is just another data point, and probably shouldn’t be taken as definitive. The jockeying for top spot as the web’s No. 1 traffic source has been going on for some time, and every measurement firm has its own numbers, which often conflict with each other because of differences in their methods. But there’s no question about the overall trend: Facebook has been growing strongly in terms of overall traffic to the site and the traffic that it drives to other sites.

Steve Rubel of Edelman Digital says that he sees Facebook becoming an increasingly powerful competitor to Google. “I see Facebook starting to look more like Google while Google tries and stumbles at becoming more social,” he writes. “Social networking is here to stay. It’s where attention spirals are flowing and no one looms larger than Facebook. And while Facebook has plenty of critics and they run into the occasional privacy concerns, I believe that they will dominate the landscape the next few years.”

Billionaire entrepreneur and sports team owner Mark Cuban noted a similar phenomenon in a blog post last year, saying the traffic coming to his blog from Facebook and Twitter was increasing while the traffic flow from Google was “declining significantly.” He called this phenomenon “huge, because of the behavior implications for users, and because of the business implications for Twitter, Facebook and Google.”

It’s worth pointing out that while Facebook may be driving more traffic to portal sites and to blogs — particularly those like Perez Hilton, which gets far more referrals from the social network than it does from Google, according to Hitwise — that doesn’t mean it’s going to replace Google any time soon. And Google, along with Microsoft and Yahoo, is doing its best to integrate social web content from Twitter and Facebook into search results, through indexing arrangements with those sites. But the balance of power is definitely shifting.

Related posts from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

Why Google Should Fear The Social Web

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user 27147

24 Responses to “Facebook Driving More Traffic Than Google”

  1. I haven’t really tried to use facebook yet to drive traffic to my website. Not sure how to go about it, but it seems as of late I am starting to get more direct hits and some google traffic. I like this article and will try some of what I have read about very soon.

  2. I suspect Compete is trying to stir up more notice than warranted by its findings:

    First, it cites traffic sources for portals; I bet even “Don’t Be Evil” doesn’t bend over backward to send people to AOL and Yahoo, because Google has competing services and content (or can find the original AP story elsewhere).

    Second, Compete doesn’t see actual clicks from one site to another like Google Analytics and Urchin do; it just knows that someone in their panel was at FB before they were at Yahoo, not that they clicked from one to the other (Compete defines “Referral Reports” as “shows where users were before they came to a site.”) So someone whose surfing habit is to check, FB, then Yahoo! Mail, will appear to support Compete’s point even if FB had no links to Yahoo that day. And someone whose surfing habit is to check Google, then Yahoo! is probably rare!

    SEO and PPC, of course, affect Google referrals to the kind of non-portals we deal with. I’m trying to get clients to make a similar distinction in Facebook and Twitter traffic by tagging links they create on social nets. This lets Google Analytics see details on these de facto campaigns and correlate them with engagement and conversion. It also separates out “organic” social network referrals from users who Tweet or post their own links to a site.

    Sorry if my inaugural comment is too anti-Compete, I got burned using their referral data before!

  3. I can only think of one reason why both Facebook and eBay would suddenly be driving more traffic than Google to portals – Google tweaked their search results and the portals are getting a lower ranking than they used to.

  4. The metric of how many times people go to facebook or any other site, (lets call this metric “footfall”) is extremely relevant. However, what is also relevant is “attention span” – a combination of time spent at that site and data traffic from that site. If I were an advertiser, I would look at both footfalls and attention spans – matches exactly with advertising strategies for the old media (reach and depth).

  5. This isn’t hard to believe. In fact, on my website Facebook and Twitter counts as the main drivers. I find Facebook traffic are more qualified than Twitter, probably because my Facebook connections know me better than Twitter.

  6. Facebook may be bringing some traffic, but the traffic is very low quality. Nothing that we do that involves facebook gets any serious traffic from it. Why?

    Because sharing content on facebook generally means orphaning your video or images there, no one has to leave to watch or view it, and many times the headline and a snippet to a news story is enough of a bite.

  7. When you are referring to Google, are you also referring to YouTube as well. Facebook is clearly a big player, but I don’t think they’ve caught up to Google in terms of overall traffic. However, in terms of single-domain traffic, Facebook appears to be dominant.