December 14, 2016

Bad news for publishers who built their strategy on search engine referral traffic: Google is now sending a smaller proportion of visitors to news sites than it did a year ago.

Earlier today, analytics company published an interactive dashboard that shows which referrers are driving the most traffic to websites in its network.

No surprise: Facebook remains dominant, sending 37 percent of all referral traffic across the 700-website network. That’s down a few percentage points from a year ago, when it drove 41.4 percent of referrers.

But the story is different for search engines, most notably Google. In 2015, Google was slightly behind Facebook, sending a total of 39.5 percent of all referrals. Today, the report says, Google drives about 32 percent of visitors, a decrease of more than 7 percent. Compare that to a 4 percent drop for Facebook.

What does that mean for publishers? Although the numbers can vary depending on the website, indicated that Google’s influence as a traffic powerhouse among publishers is waning. The proportion of referral traffic from Yahoo has also decreased, so it’s possible that the drop may cut across search engines in general.

Take these relative declines with a terabyte of salt, though. As of November, Facebook and Google still send about 80 percent of all traffic to digital publishers in’s network. So, although Facebook and Google’s influences have diminished somewhat, they’re still kings of the digital media hill.

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Benjamin Mullin was formerly the managing editor of He also previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow,…
Benjamin Mullin

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