As many major publishers and platforms have transitioned to using HTTPS, a great move for user privacy and security, a side effect has been a commensurate rise in dark social traffic — traffic that can’t be attributed to a particular referrer. Luckily, sites using HTTPS can still have their outbound traffic properly attributed if they chose to do so (e.g. by use of the meta referrer tag). We’ve chronicled major changes to dark social attribution here to ensure that publishers are up to date on the meaning of their traffic sources.One of the largest sources of dark social on the web has been the Yahoo homepage, which drives an enormous amount of traffic and moved to using HTTPS over the past year, causing their traffic to become dark for publisher sites that don’t default to HTTPS. For publishers who have partnerships with Yahoo, this has meant that directly attributing the volume of traffic they’re receiving has been difficult.On June 2, though, Yahoo pushed a change to add a meta referrer tag to their homepage and correctly attribute their traffic to sites using HTTP, and we’ve immediately seen dramatic results, as represented in the figure below. Since the change, we’ve seen a roughly 6x increase in attributable traffic coming from Yahoo, making it one of the most significant referrers on the web. On the day before the change, Yahoo was the 16th largest referrer across the Chartbeat network, and in the hours after the change Yahoo jumped to the sixth largest referrer (after Facebook, Google Search, Twitter, Google News, and Bing). Between this change and other updates by LinkedIn and Facebook, we’ve seen significant moves in the past 18 months by many of the world’s largest platforms to ensure that all traffic is correctly attributed. We’ll continue to work with publishers and platforms to track down sources of dark social, and we’ll keep you updated here as more publishers move into the light.Technical note: for those used to the hsrd.yahoo.com referrer, traffic sent via this change will carry the referrer yahoo.com, not hsrd.yahoo.com.
Two weeks ago, Facebook opened up its Instant Articles platform to all publishers. And last week, Facebook announced that they will be updating their News Feed algorithm once again. The most recent change to their algorithm will look at predictions of whether a user in the Facebook mobile browser or on an Instant Article page will click into an article and actually read that article. Time spent viewing the article will continue to be a large factor in News Feed rankings.When Facebook makes changes, the publishing industry reacts with questions and concerns (see, for example, here, here, or here). That said, each time we here at Chartbeat have looked at Facebook referrer traffic in response to one of these changes, we haven’t seen any major effect across our network. Here’s what the median percentage of traffic from Facebook looks like across our network so far this year:Besides the typical weekday / weekend variations, traffic from Facebook is remarkably stable. We see Facebook driving between 40-50% of traffic on mobile devices during peak weekday traffic and about 12-15% of traffic on desktop devices during peak weekday traffic (note that these numbers exclude cases in which we have no data for referrer, as is the case for dark social). Even given the two big changes that happened this month, we are actually seeing a slightly higher-than-normal amount of referral traffic! This increased traffic is on the order of 3-4% for the median (smaller if you look at the average; 1%).It is important to note that these curves show the median proportion across our network. Individual sites respond in different ways, so you may have seen your traffic rise or fall in response to one of these changes. Sitting in the newsroom, it is hard to see the forest for the trees, so to speak — we have the power of statistics on our side. But from what we continue to see, the majority of publishers are incredibly adept at responding to Facebook’s changes and are keeping referral numbers high.
Beginning several days ago (the evening of Tuesday, 1/20, to be precise), you may have noticed a significant increase in the traffic on your site from LinkedIn: across our network, traffic from linkedin.com increased by over 3x. Below, we’ll detail why that change occurred, and what publishers should expect going forward.Over the past year, publishers have become increasingly interested in traffic from LinkedIn, as the LinkedIn team has been steadily working to improve their feed experience with the launch of their new mobile app and content platforms. Nevertheless, when looking at referrer traffic in analytics tools like Chartbeat, web traffic from linkedin.com has always seemed smaller than it should for such a large platform, especially given the volume of traffic we see from LinkedIn’s counterpart apps, which shows up under the referrer name lnkd.in.On January 20th, that changed when LinkedIn made a change to correctly attribute their traffic, some of which had previously been categorized as dark social. The impact of that change was immediate and significant. Let’s look at traffic coming from linkedin.com to sites across the Chartbeat network over the last six months, we see two trends: a steady increase over the year, followed by a huge increase at the end of January.
Zooming in on the right side of the graph, January, 2016, we can see the immediate change in traffic as the attribution change was pushed:If we compare numbers from just after the change to the same time during previous weeks, traffic from linkedin.com was up by over 3x.
Some sites saw more than 6x increases in their LinkedIn traffic.
While LinkedIn still isn’t a major traffic source for many types of sites, we expect that many business-, media-, and technology-focused sites will see LinkedIn as a top-10 referrer going forward.With Facebook’s change last year to help attribute all of their traffic, LinkedIn’s change here, and other work to come, we’re excited to see more traffic correctly attributed. We’ll continue to work with platforms in the coming months to bring their dark social traffic into the light.
When you work with as much data as we do—and trust me, it’s a lot—it’s humbling to show off the actual journalistic output we support. So, we’ve compiled a list of the 20 stories that held your attention longest in 2015 — for a grand total of 685,231,333 Engaged Minutes (or more than 1,300 years). These were stories that held you breathless. Enraged you. Inspired you. They were long-form reports, rich with narrative, like #1, 7, 11, and 17, which show that readers really do respond to quality (!!). They were live coverages of the attacks in Paris (#3, 4, 6) or the elections in Britain (#5). They were confessional essays and impassioned arguments, investigations and elegies. These are the stories that prove that digital storytelling isn’t just alive, it’s kicking ass.
The Atlantic | February
Wired | February
In-depth examinations of global newsmakers topped the list in 2015. Undoubtedly, this was the year of long-form narrative.
BBC | November
BBC | November
BBC | May
CNN | November
It goes without saying: Breaking news will always grab and hold attention.
The New York Times | August
Rolling Stone | December
The New York Times | February
CNN | August
The New York Times | October
Honed craft. Timeless themes. Notice that these Times pieces are even more examples of the power of narrative journalism.
ESPN | September
CNN | December
Gawker | April
Thought Catalog | April
The New York Times | January
Sometimes, the most engaging content is the most distracting. Readers will engage deeply with more than just serious news items.
ESPN | May
Deadspin | November
The Atlantic | September
The Root | September
Want to see how your stories stack up? Get in touch.