According to Lucia Moses of Digiday, traffic to Facebook's top publishers has dropped precipitously this year, even while Facebook garners a lot of media attention (including from Social Media Today) for making inroads and deals with digital publishers.
As stated in the article "Facebook's traffic to top publishers fell 32 percent since January", referral traffic from both desktop and mobile to the top 30 Facebook publishers had dropped in the period from January to October, with deeper drops the more a publisher relied on Facebook for distribution of its content. This is all according to analytics from SimpleReach, a distribution analytics company. Their analysis lines up with social traffic tracker SimilarWeb, which examined top Facebook publishers over a similar time period.
The Huffington Post's traffic dropped 60%, Fox News fell about 50%, Buzzfeed lost 40% of its Facebook traffic. The drop mostly occurred in the first two months of this year, when traffic fell of 75% and struggled to recover from there.
Moses posits several theories as to why the drop occurred, including that people are emailing or texting articles more, that what worked in the past doesn't anymore, or that publishers are simply putting less stuff on Facebook. Facebook also adjusted its algorithm to favor user generated content over the content of digital publishers.
But by Moses' account, the prevailing theory for the drop in traffic is that as Facebook has encouraged publishers to make their content native to Facebook, putting up whole articles and video and using the social media giant's Instant Articles service, fewer traditional referral links has been popping up in users' news feeds, leading to less traffic.
This does not bode well for digital publishers, who need to get eyes on their content to make money from ads. As Moses notes, "while Facebook is letting publishers keep all the revenue from ads they sell on their Instant Articles, Facebook can change the rules at any time; and there's no clear path for publishers to monetize native video."
Overall, the news further cements the difficult position that digital publishers continue to find themselves in, where they don't have enough leverage or advertising revenue in an increasingly AdBlocked world, and so hitch their wagons to a huge entity like Facebook. But, as we are seeing, for publishers this may just be trading one devil for another.