The Guardian and Social Reader

One of the more interesting trends to which I’m trying to better understand is the trend away from search-driven referrals to news sites and an simultaneous increase in social-driven referrals.

This morning I had a chance to read the speech that Tanya Cordrey, director of digital development, Guardian News & Media, gave recently at the Guardian Changing Media Summit in London.

She was speaking about the positive effect that The Guardian’s Facebook app launch in September 2011 has had on its audience numbers.

At the time of the launch, Cordrey said, “search represented 40% of the Guardian’s traffic and social represented just 2%.”

  • 4 million people installed the app during the first two months.
  • Another 4 million installed the app over the subsequent four months, for a total of 8 million installs.
  • Of those 8 million installs, an average of 1 million people use the app each week.
  • At least during the first two months, the app was generating 7 million page views per week. (It’s not clear how those page views are counted. We don’t know whether that’s 7-million single-page visits or 1 million seven-page visits. Overall, gets 1.5 page views per visitor each week. The Facebook post also calls the page views from the app “extra” page views, but to prove that we’d need to look at the overall site traffic for The Guardian to see if its bottom-line traffic numbers were up by at least a million. Some might argue that Facebook “cannibalizes” other readership, similar to arguments that online cannibalized print audience. Frankly, to me that distinction matters little as I’d rather eat myself than have someone else eat me. )

Cordrey noted that it was not just the app that was driving social traffic. She said that during the previous six months there were 1.3M average weekly visits to The Guardian that started with a click from Facebook.

See also said that “Facebook drove more traffic to than Google for a number of days, accounting for more than 30% of our referrer traffic,” but be sure to look at the helpful graphic for details of this opaque statement. Note that the claim is backed by a spike in Facebook referrals for a short period of time, as well as a general upward trend of FB referals and downtrend of SEO that is years long. It looks to me like Facebook accounts for about 15 percent of visits to the site.

That’s 15 percent from Facebook alone. Six months ago, traffic from all social media was just 2 percent.

Cordrey also said that “the largest group of users for the Guardian Facebook app are between 18-24”. During the first two months, “over half” of the app users were under 24.

Two other comments that caught my eye:

  • “Content is much more likely to go viral on Facebook when users actively comment on and recommend content rather than just passively reading an article.”
  • “Only a small percentage of people have chosen to [remove a read item from their newsfeed] since we launched.”