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Public Relations Thought Leader

Social Media Gaining on Search Engines

How did you find this blog?

An analytics report for this site will show you were most likely brought here by Google, Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. If not one of those, perhaps it was Yahoo, Pinterest, or Google+.

A year or two ago, the traffic directed from social media channels couldn’t hold a candle to what search engines were bringing in to websites. Now, Facebook and Twitter are juxtaposed with Google and Yahoo for top site referrers. It seems the totalitarian structure of the Internet is changing and social media may be a viable contender to overtake the search engine throne.

A recent post by Buzz Feed titled “Where did all the search traffic go?” explores changes in website traffic. BuzzFeed tracked traffic referrals to more than 200 publishers in their network that include more than 300 million people globally. They found that traffic from Google dropped more than 30 percent from August 2012 through March 2013 and search engines in general dropped by 20 percent in the same period.

BuzzFeed's graph illustrating traffic sources

BuzzFeed’s graph illustrating traffic sources

While search-engine-directed traffic decreased, site traffic did not. Traffic from all social media channels combined grew by 25 percent for the site. In March 2013, BuzzFeed found that Facebook sent 1.5 times more traffic than Google – the largest increase they have ever seen.

Additionally, over the past 12 months, BuzzFeed’s “Dark Social” traffic increased by 52 percent. “Dark Social” is a term that was coined in The Atlantic last year that refers to site traffic directed from a text message, instant message, email, etc. that can’t be tracked like a mainstream social media platform. It may not be traceable, but it’s social traffic.

Despite the impressive numbers, the increase in traffic from social media doesn’t mean search engines are obsolete. Increased social traffic proves the influence social platforms can have on users and implies that users’ online experience can be directed from friends and connections on social media as much as it can from highly intelligent Google robots.

If you need more proof than BuzzFeed’s analytics and presumptions, look no further than the introduction of Facebook’s Graph Search. With users spending increasingly more time on social media, Facebook took the user experience one step further allowing users to search for answers based on their network of friends’ online activity and behavior. The new feature makes it easier than ever for social media users to connect and base their answers – and decisions – on their social community.

As BuzzFeed put it, “We aren’t hunting for content as much as we are foraging from what’s right in front of us.” Whereas people may have once been led to food blogs by searching for a recipe and ingredients online, they are now led by their friend’s Facebook post, Pinterest board, or tweet. Similarly, you were most likely directed to this blog from Facebook, Twitter, or an email than from typing in “public relations blog” as a Google search term.

That’s not to say you wouldn’t have found this blog if you typed that in – but in the world of social, people may be taking less time to type in search terms and decide to read what’s sent to their inbox or included in their newsfeed.

– Bailee Bowman


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