Facebook referral traffic is CRASHING; users are abandoning the platform in record number

I knew I was in good company. Around three months ago I decided to delete all my social media accounts, and it looks like I wasn’t alone.

According to Nextweb over one million North Americans gave Mark Zuckerberg the finger and closed their Facebook accounts.

And the good news doesn’t stop there. According to Parse.ly, an analytics company that monitors web traffic, Facebook’s referral traffic has declined by a whopping 25%. These numbers only mean one thing: censorship is rampant at Facebook and users are leaving in record numbers.

As an analytics provider for hundreds of the web’s leading publishers, we have a bird’s-eye view of trends in web-wide news consumption. This vantage revealed an industry-wide shift in how readers find news in June 2015. Facebook overtook Google as the most important traffic source for publishers. And then, for two years the situation remained a stable duopoly, with Facebook and Google each sending publishers around 35% of their identified external referral traffic.

However, in May and June we started hearing increased reports from our customers that their Facebook traffic was declining at an alarming rate. While we observed a minor dip in Facebook traffic, it was too early to make any judgement about whether the trend would hold. Many factors lead to short-lived fluctuations in Facebook referral volume, including seasonality and Facebook’s constant tweaks to its News Feed algorithm. There are also changes that publishers make, such as curating their Facebook pages, creating more video content, or integrating with Facebook Instant Articles, Facebook’s mobile news standard.

But after six months of steadily declining numbers, we’re now announcing that the decline is significant, and that it has, indeed, affected most of our publishers. Comparing data from February 2017 to October 2017, we have witnessed a 25% reduction in Facebook referral volume. The chart below shows that since June, we’ve seen a fairly steady decline, albeit with a few bumps. The chart is based on a fixed set of approximately 600 publishers who were Parse.ly customers throughout the period.

Note that in the same period, traffic from Google increased, so it’s also hard to argue that visitors have just lost interest in finding news on these sites.

Google Search and Facebook referral traffic volume

See current trends in the live referral dashboard.

The decrease has not affected all publishers equally. Some have seen huge drops in Facebook referral traffic, while others have seen an increase in the same period. The distribution, shown in the chart below, also reflects how far from the industry-average individual sites can be.

change in Facebook referral traffic to publishers

Two-thirds of the publishers saw a decrease in referral traffic over this period while the remaining one-third saw an increase. For half, traffic decreased a substantial 20% or more, and for one in five of our publishers, Facebook referral was volume cut by 50% or more.