Google’s mobile shifts driving traffic boost to publishers

In the past year, while the dialogue around platform traffic focused on the decline from Facebook, Google was quietly executing on a tectonic shift towards mobile. In February, we commented on the dramatic increases in traffic from AMP pages as well as Google Chrome Suggestions. More recently, Chartbeat has observed sizable traffic increases to publishers from Google News and Google Search as well. Let’s check out the data.

Relaunch of Google News app drives net increase in traffic

On May 8, Google announced the relaunch of their Google News app and the sunsetting of Google Play Newsstand. From early May through mid-July, traffic from Google News has grown 49% while Google Play Newsstand has dropped off. The combination has driven a net 24% increase in traffic from Google News to publishers.

Chartbeat Non-Search Google Referral Traffic

Unexpected Traffic Changes from Google Search

Google Search sends billions of pageviews a week to publishers’ sites. We’ve seen large fluctuations in traffic over the past few months, but only recently have we seen a steady increase in mobile traffic.

Let’s take a look:

A new desktop-mobile mix

Chartbeat is tracking a clear and substantial change in Google Search traffic in the June-July time frame, as seen in the graph below showing total aggregate traffic from Google Search on desktop and mobile.

Chartbeat 2018 traffic by device

Comparing the first four weeks of July to the four weeks prior in June, there has been a 10% increase in the total volume of Google Search traffic to publishers’ mobile sites. The reverse is true on the desktop side as desktop traffic from Google Search has decreased by roughly 8%. With these two trends, the fraction of Google Search traffic taking place on mobile devices has grown. We’re now seeing over 70% of Google Search traffic on mobile, up from 65% at the beginning of the year.

A larger pie

Because the mobile increase was larger than desktop’s decline, overall we’ve seen a roughly 5% increase in total traffic coming from Google Search. Additionally, a strong majority of publishers have seen their traffic rise. In fact, 71% of websites in our aggregate base saw their total Google Search traffic increase in June-July.

Chartbeat total traffic 2018

Why the rise in traffic?

It is hard to pinpoint the reason for these increases. Earlier this year, Google announced that mobile-related algorithm changes were coming in the June-July. The timing coincides, but it is hard to tie the traffic changes conclusively to these algorithm shifts. While mobile-first indexing does not affect ranking, it does mean that Google indexes a different mix of pages, and this change potentially could alter the norms around content discovery. The page-speed ranking change that prioritizes fast-loading, mobile-friendly pages may also have had an impact on traffic, but this doesn’t seem to add up. Notably, in our Chartbeat data we have not seen a correlation between publisher page load time (overall or on mobile) and changes in Google Search traffic.

Google’s mobile momentum

Google’s relaunch of Google News and transition to a mobile-first Google Search are impacting traffic to most publishers and offsetting the desktop-mobile mix. As Google accelerates quickly towards mobile, they are quietly and subtly altering the way the world gets its news and information on the web, but the implications of these changes are still unclear. With over 70% of Google Search traffic to publishers now coming in on mobile devices, publishers may find that while mobile no longer equals social— for good or for bad—it may require more reliance on Google.

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