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There has been a lot of discussion about the growing importance of social discovery to drive traffic to content in recent years, and of course, SEO has been a priority for many content publishers for even longer. However, a new study by Pew Research Center reveals that the value of the traffic that comes to news sites from search engines and social media referrals is actually lower than the value of traffic that comes directly to those news sites.In fact, the difference is quite significant. Using data from comScore, the Pew Research Center found that visitors to news sites that came directly to those sites view approximately five times as many pages per month and stay on those sites approximately three times longer than people who arrive via Facebook.Specifically, visitors who arrive via search spend 1 minute and 42 seconds on the news site per visit compared to 1 minute and 41 seconds for visitors from Facebook and 4 minutes and 36 seconds for visitors who arrive directly to the news site. Furthermore, visitors who arrive via search view 4.9 pages (per visitor) compared to 4.2 for visitors who arrive via Facebook and 24.8 pages for visitors who arrive directly. Finally, visitors who arrive through a search engine visit the news site 3.1 times per month compared to 2.9 times per month for visitors from Facebook and 10.9 visits per month from people who arrive on the news site directly.Bottom-line, the value of direct traffic trumps the value of search and social referral traffic for news sites because the engagement level per visit and the loyalty over time is so much higher for direct visitors.It's also important to point out that some types of news are noticed and seen by Facebook users more than others. For example, 73% of Facebook news consumers report regularly seeing news on Facebook about entertainment but only 31% report regularly seeing news on Facebook about business. Here is the full breakdown from Pew Research Center:

  • Entertainment = 73%
  • People and events in my community = 65%
  • Sports = 57%
  • National government and politics = 55%
  • Crime = 51%
  • Health and medicine = 46%
  • Local government and politics = 44%
  • Local weather and traffic = 42%
  • International news = 39%
  • Science and technology = 37%
  • Business = 31%

Furthermore, Facebook is not the go-to social media source for publishing, sharing, and discussing breaking news. Twitter is preferred for breaking news. Only 28% of Facebook news consumers use the site to keep up with a news event as it's happening, and only half of those people would go to Facebook intentionally to follow a news story as it happens.Authoritative Content publishers can use this research as a reminder that your subscribers and direct visitors are extremely valuable and should not be ignored. Give them opportunities to access premium content for free or other special and exclusive offers to reward their loyalty. However, don't put all of your eggs in one basket. Use search and social as marketing tools to extend your reach with the goal to convert some of those people into loyal visitors---just like marketers do to find new customers.Image: Marco Paköeningrat licensed CC BY-SA 2.0

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