Facebook organic reach is dying.
Facebook organic reach is dead.
If you want any traffic from Facebook, you have to pay for it.
We’ve been hearing variations on the above themes for a while now from marketers, brands, and publishers who have watched a flood of organic traffic become a trickle over the years.
This has been due, in part, to:
- Higher competition (more brands/publishers are posting more content).
- More clickbait (more competition has made brands/publishers use outlandish or misleading headlines).
- Algorithm changes meant to show less of the above and more from friends and family.
Facebook puts a premium on connecting people with their friends and family. This element is a major part of Facebook’s News Feed Values.
The social media platform also recognizes that people expect their feeds to deliver informative and entertaining stories.
In 2015 and 2016, Facebook made several algorithm updates aimed to show posts shared by friends and family higher up in the news feed – over those from publishers, brands, and other pages.
Back then, Facebook had warned that the update may cause reach and referral traffic to decline for some pages and encouraged publishers to post things that their audience are likely to share with their friends.
But it turns out, these tweaks were not the last of its kind.
Earlier this year, Facebook rolled out another major news feed algorithm update that focuses on helping users have more meaningful social interactions.
This meant showing:
- More stories from friends, family, and groups.
- Less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media.
Facebook is basically saying that Pages simply producing entertaining and informative articles won’t cut it anymore. Public content from Pages must likewise encourage meaningful interactions between people.
This recent change in Facebook’s news feed algorithm left plenty of publishers and businesses reeling from notable drops in organic reach and engagement.
And Search Engine Journal is no exception.
Search Engine Journal’s Facebook Traffic Decline
At Search Engine Journal, when the “friends and family” algorithm was launched, we braced for the worst. We expected to lose a good chunk of our organic traffic.
For the first time in a long time, our Facebook traffic was down year on year (January 2018 vs. January 2017). But only by 2 percent. Not too bad.
But in February, traffic from Facebook was down 24 percent year over year.
We started to get worried, but things seemed to return to normal through June, where we either up slightly or about even from the prior year.
Then came July. Down 45 percent.
August was more of the same. Down 42 percent from last year.
September was better, we were only down 20 percent.
In October? Facebook traffic was down 52 percent!
We were able to make up some of this traffic with solid gains on Twitter and LinkedIn – but not all of it.
What the heck is going on?
Were we alone in seeing this trend?
To find out, we asked the SEJ community on Twitter.
How Do You Describe Your Current Traffic from Facebook Compared to This Time Last Year?
Here are the results from this #SEJSurveySays poll question.
According to SEJ’s Twitter audience:
- 37 percent stated that their traffic from Facebook is much lower now compared to this time last year.
- 27 percent responded that it is somewhat lower.
- 25 percent answered that their Facebook traffic is about the same as opposed to this time last year’s traffic.
Eleven percent of the respondents said they actually have higher Facebook traffic this year.
The Long, Steady Decline of Facebook Traffic
This problem isn’t unique to SEJ, obviously.
Other well-known publishers like BuzzFeed, HuffPost, and Mashable have all seen significant website traffic declines over the past two years, as noted by Ethan Chernofsky, Director of Corporate Marketing at SimilarWeb.
Chernofsky further highlights:
“While there are many factors behind these declines, these sites share a key trait: a heavy reliance on social traffic.”
Several third-party data show that BuzzFeed is losing overall website traffic.
According to stats shared by Recode via SimilarWeb, over 40 percent of BuzzFeed’s traffic comes from social – making it the site’s biggest traffic driver – as opposed to 22 percent of traffic from search.
That percentage is still a far cry from BuzzFeed’s heyday around four years ago, when they were getting 75 percent of their 150 million unique visitors per month through social media and Facebook was sending nearly four times the traffic as Google search.
At the time, BuzzFeed’s Founder and CEO Jonah Peretti shared that they don’t really think about SEO anymore and they have decided to optimize for social instead.
A lot has changed since then.
Now, BuzzFeed is trying to lessen its dependency on Facebook by trying to get readers to download their own mobile app and build a direct relationship with their audience.
There are many other news publishers bearing the brunt caused by the dip in Facebook traffic.
Online magazine Slate was among those strongly affected. The website’s Facebook traffic dramatically dropped by 87 percent since 2017 and it’s down more than 55 percent in 2018 alone.
Facebook’s Tightened Grip on Pages’ Organic Reach
In the early 2010s, while BuzzFeed was enjoying massive traffic from Facebook, other Page owners from the network were already suffering from a drop in organic reach.
As early as 2012, Facebook Page owners have noticed a plunge in organic reach of up to 40-50 percent (or more) due to a key algorithm update implemented in September of that year.
Several other marketers documented similar experiences and some theorized that the social network’s actions where intended to grow their Facebook Ads platform.
A 2014 report from social@Ogilvy forecast a scenario where “organic reach of the content brands publish in Facebook is destined to hit zero.”
In the years that followed, Facebook continued to roll out more tweaks in its News Feed and, consequently, identical anecdotes from frustrated Facebook marketers became commonplace.
Here are just a few:
Approaching Facebook’s Organic Reach Tweaks to Traffic
Facebook organic reach is not dead yet, but it continues to dwindle to this day. The downward trend is among the contributors to the steady decline of website traffic from the social network.
Not everyone in the industry view Facebook’s News Feed updates negatively, though.
Mark Traphagen of Perficient Digital thinks that these changes could turn out to be a blessing in disguise for smart marketers who create “content that makes users want to think and engage in real conversations, not just clicking a Like button and moving on.”
Indeed, marketers are left with no choice but to move on and find ways to reclaim lost website traffic.
Here are a few tips to overcome these challenges:
Facebook’s recent algorithm updates underscore the need for publishers, brands and businesses to focus on making content that encourages meaningful interactions between people.
These articles can help you understand the importance of engaging your social audience and how to do it right.
Keep Yourself Updated
Familiarize yourself with how Facebook’s News Feed algorithm really works so you can better understand when changes like this happen:
Also, make sure to follow the latest Facebook news and updates from Search Engine Journal.
Rethink Your Overall Strategy
It’s about time to rethink how you do your marketing initiatives. SEJ contributor Katy Katz offers an alternative approach to your overall strategy:
“Instead of categorizing your marketing efforts by how you acquire the traffic, think instead about who owns that property. Categorizing your efforts into owned, earned, and paid is about identifying how your content achieves a seat at the audience table.”
Katz further asserts that a healthy marketing strategy factors in each of these types of digital media distribution opportunities.
Don’t Forget SEO
Publishers who relied heavily in social media, particularly Facebook, ought to learn their lesson. Do not overlook SEO completely.
With Google sending more traffic than Facebook to websites again, hopefully publishers and brands will realize that search still matters.
Have Your Say
How do you describe your current traffic from Facebook compared to this time last year? Tag us on social media to let us know.
Be sure to have your say in the next survey – check out the #SEJSurveySays hashtag on Twitter for future polls and data.
Chart created by Shayne Zalameda
Subscribe to SEJ
Get our daily newsletter from SEJ’s Founder Loren Baker about the latest news in the industry!