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Google took the lead over Facebook last year in referrals to media sites, according to a recent report from Parse.ly. A new analysis [download page] from the firm delves into the major referrers by article category, finding that Google search is a bigger referrer than Facebook for most.

The analysis is based on 8 billion page views in April and May 2018 for 1 million articles across Parse.ly’s network of thousands of sites. The results indicate that the influence of Google search is highest for Technology & Computing articles, as it accounts for 63% of referred traffic, about 4 times higher than Facebook (16% share).

Google also accounts for at least half of referred traffic to articles about Home & Garden (57%), Personal Finance (52%), Sports (51%) and Business (50%).

Beyond those, Google outpaces Facebook in referral traffic to several other categories including Careers, Arts & Entertainment, Science, Hobbies & Interests, Automotive and News, among others.

(Parse.ly used natural language processing to classify article content into categories and topics, with individual articles sometimes associated with more than one category and/or topic.)

Facebook does hold a lead in referral traffic to some article categories. It’s the main source for Lifestyle articles (45% of referral traffic), Real Estate (44% of referral traffic), Education (41%) and Law, Government and Politics (37%), though it doesn’t comprise a majority of referrals for any of those.

Despite a decline in referral influence over the past couple of years in the Lifestyle category, Facebook does have an outsized impact in some of its subcategories. For example, it accounts for 70% of referral traffic to Family and Parenting articles, which makes sense in light of Facebook IQ research suggesting that almost half of new parents say that social media is a preferred source of information on the latest baby-related products and services.

Meanwhile, Facebook also accounts a majority of referral traffic in the Lifestyle subcategories of Style & Fashion (59%) and Society (54%). And in an important note for retailers, Facebook sends half of all traffic referred to Shopping articles, compared to about one-third (34%) from Google search.

Google AMP Tops Facebook Instant Articles

Parse.ly declares in its report that “Google AMP has won” the “distributed content wars.” Indeed Google AMP sent more traffic than Facebook Instant Articles to articles in each of the 23 categories analyzed.

AMP’s clout is especially large in the News (27% of referral traffic), Sports (25%), Careers (21%) and Automotive (21%) categories. Facebook Instant Articles, for its part, only accounts for a double-digit share of referrals in the Shopping (12%), Sports (11%), Law, Government & Politics (11%) and Religion & Spirituality (10%) categories.

Who Else Refers Readers?

Of course, there’s more than just Google search and Facebook referring readers to articles. Other referrers, for example, collectively send 35% of referral traffic to News articles (more than referred by Facebook).

In fact, combined referrals from external traffic sources other than Facebook and Google search grew by about 3% from 2017 to 2018, per the report.

Highlighting 3 referrers, the analysis reveals that:

  • Flipboard has its highest share of referrals in the News (3.7%) and Science (3.5%) categories;
  • Twitter’s influence is the highest in the News (5.2%) and Careers (5.0%) categories; and
  • Pinterest has the most clout in the Home & Garden category, where it accounts for 13.4% of referral traffic.

The report – which contains much more data – can be downloaded here.

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