Bursting Social Bubbles: How Search Overtakes Social During Major News Events

November 17th, 2016 by Kris

Recently, there’s been a big push for social over search – the idea has emerged that social channels are the main, if not only, sources that consumers turn to to get their news. While it’s true that social promotion is an important part of anyone’s content strategy – we know Facebook isn’t going away anytime soon – Google still drives more traffic than any other referrer. This is especially true during big news events. So how should this affect your strategy during extraordinary news events?

 

Search vs. Social Traffic During Election Day

We’ve written before about how search leads social in the early hours of major events. Take, for example, our analysis of Brexit, where we note that in the hours leading up to polls closing in the UK, search overtook social traffic. We concluded that this behavior happens overwhelmingly in big news events as people proactively seek out news, instead of passively ingesting information from their Facebook newsfeed.

Following these conclusions, we decided to delve a little more into this behavior using the US Presidential election as a case study. Like Brexit, the US election represents a special type of news event: one where publishers have prior knowledge of the event and can prepare ahead of time to optimize their content strategy.

The graph below shows the breakdown of publisher traffic coming from Google versus Facebook between 12AM on Election Day (November 8th) and 12AM on the 10th (Eastern Standard Time), as compared to the trends we see on an average day (denoted by the dotted lines).

Search vs Social Traffic During Election Day

On an average weekday, we tend to see about 36% of referred traffic in our network coming from Facebook, while 41% comes from Google. As we can see in the graph above, Google traffic throughout Election Day was already performing higher than expected. From midnight on November 7th until polls started closing on the 8th we saw an approximate four point increase in Google traffic and six point decrease in Facebook traffic.

As the first US states started closing their polls at 6PM, there was an even surge in traffic from Google as readers became more and more entranced by the final results. This trend continued until slightly after the last polls closed in Alaska at 1AM EST. During this period, Google traffic shot up by an average 14 percentage points across our network. This uptick in Google referrals corresponds to readers proactively looking to Google for information about election results.

After the race was called at 3AM, we see a very noticeable swing to Facebook as readers flocked to share the news of the election results, read opinions of others in their peer network, and consume the overwhelming amount of post-election commentary.

 

Takeaways For Publishers

So what does this tell us about reader trends during Election Day, and how they relate back to trends during major breaking news events? We see three main takeaways:

  1. Concentrating on SEO strategy before big news events is critical to maximizing traffic during the event. The majority of referred traffic in the first few hours of an event will inevitably be coming from search.
  2. The most successful stories on Facebook tend to have an emotional versus strictly informative lens, as seen with the shift of traffic to Facebook after the election was called. So while search traffic is important to harness during breaking news events, keep in mind that social traffic picks up again in the aftermath.
  3. Despite the growing commentary on social media contributing to “filter bubbles” in the news people seek out and ultimately engage with, during large impactful news events readers don’t settle for what materializes on their Facebook feeds. We still see major trends in readers proactively scouring the web to stay up to date and informed on the progress of events as they unfold.

Stay tuned for more election trends, or get in touch with any questions.

Comments are closed.