Search now generates more traffic than social (again) – and what you need to do about it


New reports from content marketing platforms Sharaholic and Chartbeat suggest search has overtaken social media as the primary source of referral traffic for the first time since 2014. In separate studies, the two technology firms report similar findings across 2017 that point toward search engines re-establishing themselves as the primary source of traffic for online brands.

“As traffic patterns change, so should your search and social strategies,” says Sharaholic’s Craig Zevin, regarding the company’s report. So let’s take a closer look at their findings and try to examine what kind of action – if any – you should make.


Search overtakes social for referral traffic


Source: Sharaholic


The graphic above show’s Sharaholic’s data on referral traffic from search vs social between April 2012 and September 2017. According to the company, search attributed for 34.8% of site visits last year compared to 25.6% from social.

Sharaholic gets its data from more than 400 million users and more than 250,000 websites, which is a sizable source to base its findings on – far more than many studies that claim to reveal insights.

It’s not alone either. Chartbeat also says it saw a significant rise in traffic from search during 2017. More specifically, Google Search is generating a higher percentage of traffic while Facebook is generating less.


Source: Chartbeat


However, Chartbeat goes a little further to delve into its data and look at mobile traffic from Google Search vs desktop traffic. Desktop traffic was pretty static throughout 2017 and the first two months of this year and all of the increase appears to be attributed to mobile traffic. Finally, Chartbeat compared mobile AMP traffic against non-AMP traffic and it’s a similar story here, as well:


Source: Chartbeat



Non-AMP traffic from mobile has also been static throughout the same period and all the increased traffic coming from search appears to be attributed to mobile AMP content. This comes at a time when Facebook is changing the way its News Feed operates to show users less organic content from brands and more from their friends and family, which helps explains the shift in power we’re seeing.


How should marketers react?

These findings certainly make a strong case for AMP and it seems Google has got precisely what it was looking for by establishing itself as the primary driver of traffic from mobile searches. When Facebook established itself as a content promotion tool and Twitter was at full strength, things looked uncertain for Google as mobile created an infrastructure where people didn’t need to search for content anymore.

Hats off to Google for repurposing itself as a content discovery tool as well as a search engine and claiming back its spot at the top of traffic referrals.

Does this mean brands should forget about social and pile all their efforts into SEO and AMP? Absolutely not. AMP makes a lot of sense to publishers who are regularly going to get their content featured in mobile AMP carousels but this isn’t going to help the majority of consumer brands who produce a different kind of content. Likewise, it’s also publishers who are suffering most from Facebook’s News Feed update, as highlighted by the closure of Little Things this week.

For brands using Facebook as an advertising platform, nothing appears to have changed and there’s no reason to think it will.

If you are a publisher, then it might be time to have a rethink about where you invest your time and resources. AMP might be the way to go but be aware that you’ll be fighting for space with major names like Forbes and Mashable and AMP traffic doesn’t necessarily land on your site. The Chartbeat study doesn’t clarify whether the uptake in traffic only includes AMP visitors that specifically click through from Google’s hosted version to actually land on publisher websites.


            Even after users click to view content in Chrome, they still get the AMP URL


Accelerated mobile pages have come in for a lot of criticism for making it hard for users to click through to a website or share content. Instead, users are more likely to swipe over to another article from a different publisher or click back to search results. Actually clicking through to your site requires a number of additional clicks and knowledge of how to do so.


As we say, the fact that search has overtaken social as the main source of referral traffic isn’t a huge deal for most brands or marketers. If you stand to gain from AMP or lose out from Facebook’s News Feed update, then signing up for Accelerated Mobile Pages and investing more in Facebook ads might be the way to go. Otherwise, you shouldn’t see any unusual fluctuations in the percentage of your traffic that comes from search and social.