X Media™ Company

New Report Shows That Referral Traffic from Facebook and X Has Continued to Decline

In news that will come as no surprise to anybody who manages basically any kind of website, a new report has found that referral traffic from both Facebook and X has continued to decline over the past year, with social media traffic now contributing a much smaller chunk of your overall visitor numbers.

According to data from Similarweb, and analysis conducted by Axios, Facebook referrals to news websites have declined by around 80% since September 2020, while X traffic has shrunk by around 60% in the same period. That’s been even more pronounced of late, as both platforms look to lean into shifting user behaviors, like short-form video, in order to maximize engagement.

Which, again, is no surprise.

Based on Meta’s own data, views of Facebook posts that include links have declined by almost 50% over the past two years.

Facebook widely viewed content report

That, in part, is driven by Meta’s own attempts to reduce the presence of political content in feeds, because users have repeatedly told the company that they don’t want divisive political debates to dominate their experience.

Though as noted, the biggest impact has been the rise of short-form video, which is cumulatively now seeing over 200 billion views per day across both Facebook and Instagram.

Meta’s been leaning into AI-based content recommendations to feed into this, following TikTok’s lead, which enables the platform to highlight the most engaging content to each individual user based on their interests, as opposed to restricting what they can see to only the people and Pages that they’ve chosen to follow in each app.

This has been a paradigm shift for social media more broadly, and one that could also alter the definition of what “social” media will become. These days, fewer people are posting personal updates to social apps, but they’re consuming more content. Really, that would make social platforms entertainment media, not social apps, with the social elements now merging across to messaging tools instead.

But in any event, the outcome is that fewer people are clicking on links, and Meta’s apps are highlighting fewer link posts, opting to feed into video instead.

On X, it’s slightly different, though the emphasis ends up being largely the same.

X owner Elon Musk has noted that X is looking to encourage direct posting to the app, which means that link posts now get less reach than they used to, while the X algorithm is also increasingly emphasizing video, in line with the aforementioned usage trends.   

As a result, link posts, overall, are getting far less exposure, which ultimately means fewer clicks.

Logically, it all makes sense, and is in line with the broader usage trends and shifts. But it’ll still have an impact on your social posting strategy, and could prompt you to re-think how you can best engage your audience within each app.

Some media publishers, on Facebook in particular, have now switched to posting a description of an article in an image post, with a link to the actual post then added in the first comment. We tried this at SMT, and while our reach on Facebook did go up, initially, as a result, link clicks saw no significant impact, and reach also normalized after a week or so. So this may be an option to consider, and it could lead to better response, but we didn’t see any significant change from this (also, it’s a bit more mucking around, because you can’t schedule comments).

Some publishers are also now looking to post more visual elements, like carousels and videos, to explain their latest posts, in order to enhance brand engagement, and drive more interest.

Essentially, with referral traffic in decline, it could be time to reconsider what, exactly, social media is doing for your branding and engagement efforts, and whether using the medium in another way could be more beneficial, in driving more subscribers, sign-ups, etc.

There’s no definitive answer on this. But the stats on traffic declines are clear, which is worth factoring into your planning. Maybe there are other ways to drive website traffic, aside from posting links. But the numbers here underline the fact that you’re not going to get the same referral figures that you used to.

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