A Facebook Tweak Gives Publishers a Traffic Boost

Facebook has altered its newsfeed algorithm, which is turning out to be great news for online publishers: Major sites report more referrals from the social network in the past month than ever before, owing largely to the change.

“We’ve made a few updates over the last few months to try and do a better job of showing people what they want to see in newsfeed,” a Facebook spokesperson told Digiday. As a result, “Popular posts could see further increases in distribution,” the spokesperson added.

The move might be a reactionary one in part, to the fact that Twitter is increasingly being seen as the premier social network to find and circulate new content by users and publishers respectively.

“Our content has always done well on social networks, but it seems clear that recent Facebook changes are amplifying that fact,” said Business Insider President Julie Hansen, who claims Facebook referrals increased 180 percent between August and October.

They’re not alone. Last week, BuzzFeed reported referrals from Facebook to its network of over 200 partner sites grew 69 percent between August and October of this year. The Huffington Post says it has seen “huge growth” in traffic coming from Facebook in the past few months .

“Our best ever month for social traffic is November, and a growing share of that is from Facebook,” said HuffPo managing editor Jimmy Soni.

According to Facebook, Time’s referral traffic increased 208 percent between September 2012 and September 2013, and Bleacher Report has increased 1081 percent.

It’s evident the algorithm tweak is having an impact on referrals, but publishers say that’s not the only reason they’re getting more Facebook traffic. They’re also gaining a better understanding of what pops on the social network, and building more sophisticated strategies to take advantage of that fact.

Complex Media, for example, has seen a “huge bump” in Facebook traffic to its sites in the past 45 days. But CEO Rich Antoniello credits that to a change in tactics around the type of content it posts to the site and when. Complex digs through its archives to quickly post older evergreen stories topics that happen to be trending at the moment.

“Rather than chasing the same story, we’ve been trying to round it out with older content, putting it into context,” Antoniello said. When Kanye West began trending for his bizarre motorcycle video with betrothed Kim Kardashian, for example, Complex surfaced earlier coverage of the rapper.

Soni said the Huffington Post is getting savvier about how it publishes its content to Facebook, too, which has helped drive more traffic in addition to the algorithm change.

“It’s probably a little of both,” Soni said. “Facebook has changed the way we publish.”

But not all publishers have the type of traffic boosts HuffPo and Business Insider have enjoyed. Some smaller sites have noticed little difference. The Daily Meal, for example, which comScore says attracted 2.2 million uniques in October, hasn’t seen a noticeable change. (Digiday, which does not have a particularly aggressive Facebook strategy, has seen virtually no bump.)

“We’ve seen Facebook traffic go up a bit, but then this is the holiday season, and recipe and other food and drink type stuff do a bit better at these times,” said The Daily Meal publisher Jim Spanfeller. “We have not seen the increase that BuzzFeed talked about.”

Still, Facebook said it plans to continue to tweak its algorithms to more prominently highlight what it calls “high-quality content,” perhaps in response to users’ criticisms that the newsfeed has become increasingly full of ads. Either way, those changes look like they’ll be good news for publishers.