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Search overtakes social as the main source of traffic for websites

Search marketing is once again the main source of traffic for websites after losing its position to social media back in 2014.

The last study from Shareaholic shows that in 2017, search (paid and non-paid) drove 34.8% of all traffic online, while social fell to a distant second position with 25.6%.

This increase has been mainly caused by the new updates to the Facebook algorithm aimed at turning the platform into a walled garden. Content publishers have seen their organic reach virtually disappear, forcing marketers and advertisers to rely on paid advertising so they can make up for the lost eyeballs.

The social network is not backing down, so it’s safe to assume that the current trend will continue and Facebook will send less and less traffic to sites, following along the lines of Instagram. To make matters worse, Zuckerberg has seen himself in hot waters lately regarding their data breach scandal. This has forced the company to scale down the tools they offer to advertisers on their platform, which might further impact the opportunities for brands to compensate the organic traffic lost with paid advertising.

What can brands do in this scenario?

First, brands should limit their dependence on Facebook. Given the changes to its algorithm and advertising platform, they might want to set budgets quarterly or monthly instead of yearly. That way, they will be able to react to changes in the platform.

Second, brands should explore other social networks. While Facebook has dropped, Pinterest seems to be sending more traffic than ever and LinkedIn is becoming extremely popular as a platform. This might be a good moment for brands to evaluate their social strategy and test new avenues for their content as long as they’re right for the brand.

Third, as people rely less on social for content discovery, this has opened up new opportunities in the form of dark social and notifications. Hubspot’s research shows that mobile notifications and slack are two of the main channels where users discover news.

Dark social —the traffic coming from content sharing that occurs outside of what can be measured by Web analytics— is as strong as ever. By ensuring content is shareable and optimised, for example, by including open graph tags, it might make all the difference. Other platforms —such as large media groups— are growing through smartphone and web browser notifications. Implementing these new opportunities in an intelligent fashion can open new channels of traffic.

Lastly, and most importantly, these changes consolidate SEM and SEO as the most relevant channels for generating traffic to any website and as a safe investment during a time where other channels are so volatile. Brands should adapt their digital strategy, budget and talent to reflect that.