By Geoffrey A. Fowler
The Web 2.0 Expo kicked off in San Francisco on Tuesday with a discussion that would be unthinkable without social media: How Web publishers can be successful without Google.
- AFP/Getty Images
- Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.
The panel, moderated by the Journal’s Jessica Vascellaro, noted that many news websites today are addicted to Google’s search engine, which in many cases is their single-largest driver of traffic.
Yet the traffic they get from social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter is growing much more quickly these days. For example, newspaper and magazine publisher Hearst is seeing traffic from social media sites grow at a 250% annual rate, said Heidi Perry of Share This, a company that integrates sharing capability into thousands of big and small publishers, including Hearst.
Moreover, traffic from Google tends to take a U-turn, said Tristan Harris from Apture, a company that helps sites figure out how to hold onto traffic once they get it. Some 30% of top news sites’ traffic comes from Google and about 30% of it goes quickly right back to Google, he said. “What good is all of this investment you make in driving traffic to your site from Google if it goes right back to Google?” he asked.
Users who find content through social media tend to stick around longer and are more valuable, argued the panelists. That’s one reason so many of them are latching on to Facebook’s new “like” function, which not only gives users a way to share and interact with content, but also helps publishers’ content show up in Facebook’s own search function.
But beware Facebook and Twitter, too, as they seek new ways to drive their own search and advertising businesses.
“We are in a period where there is definitely an anti-Google sentiment” among publishers, said Mr. Harris. “But are we going to be in a position again in a five years when Twitter and Facebook own our destiny too?”
Rather, he said, publishers should “control their own destiny,” by trying to keep people on their own sites for as long as possible, and getting people coming back more often to look for information.
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This strikes me as strange. I get how publishers have a love/hate relationship with Google. And there certainly is nothing wrong with working to have your readers spend more time with you. But Mr. Harris has a wrong paradigm, in my opinion. Traffic coming to you from Facebook and Twitter is primarily from a publisher's READERS finding your content so compelling they share it! What's wrong with that?