Facebook’s algorithm change: The early impact on publishers

Data from SimilarWeb suggests some sites are experiencing steep traffic loss

It’s been less than a month since Facebook changed its algorithm to focus less on publishers’ content, and some of the most prominent news sites are already experiencing double-digit drops in traffic from the social media platform.

A recent report published by SimilarWeb found that many top news publishers in the U.S. saw significant reductions in traffic to their sites via Facebook in the past few months, with some declining by more than 50%.

Financial news publisher TheStreet.com experienced a 53% decline in visits from the social media platform, while Newsweek saw a drop of 47% in the second quarter of this year. The New York Times and Time Inc. both saw traffic from Facebook decline by 25%, while Vox experienced a decline of 28%.

It is important to note that SimilarWeb only tracks desktop traffic, and some of the findings could be the result of a wider shift towards more mobile social media consumption. More than 1.7 billion people now use Facebook each month and 1.1 billion each day. The company said more than one billion people accessed Facebook via a mobile device on an average day in June.  

While the study only tracks publisher desktop traffic in the United States, changes to Facebook’s algorithm will likely take a swing at publishers based in Canada, though some remain hopeful that it will be a less significant blow.

“The realities of how digital media organization deliver their content to their audiences is in constant evolution,” says John Hinds, the president and CEO of Newspapers Canada. “What we know, however, is that the readership for Canadian newspapers is strong.”

Hinds points to a study by Totem Research, conducted on behalf of Newspapers Canada, which found that nine out of 10 Canadians read a newspaper each week, either in print or on an electronic device. The study found that 70% of Canadians read a physical print newspaper each week, 60% read a newspaper on their desktop each week, and 50% access their news on a phone or tablet.

Though American publishers are feeling the sting of Facebook’s new algorithm Hinds is hopeful that the impact won’t be as significant north of the border. Out of 21 mobile activities tracked in the Totem Research study, reading an article or news online matched the popularity of using Facebook in Canada.

Another study published by Vividata found that daily newspapers and magazines reach 77% of Canadian millennials and 85% of adults over 50, and that a majority of Canadians still receive their news in print or across multiple platforms including print.

As a result, Hinds hopes that the changes made to Facebook’s algorithm will have a lesser impact on publishers north of the border.

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