Recent reports say that the Guardian’s Facebook app has been instrumental in pushing up traffic to the site to such an extent that it could displace Google as the primary channnel for referrals.
A few days ago Frédéric Filloux said in a post on The Guardian’s Monday note, "For the first time in our history, Facebook drove more traffic to guardian.co.uk than Google for a number of days, accounting for more than 30% of our referrer traffic. This is a dramatic result from a standing start five months ago."
"Eighteen months ago, search represented 40% of the Guardian’s traffic and social represented just 2%. Six months ago – before the launch of our Facebook app – these figures had barely moved."
It makes sense for news sites to make use of the huge Facebook base to push content and attract traffic, especially when it the volumes are so astoundingly large. So what’s this app? And how does it work?
Many media houses had partenered with Facebook last September to try out these new generation apps that aims at promoting what’s been called "frictionless sharing" In the case of the Guardian app, readers get the option to try it out when they visit the site. If they choose to do so they end up reading stories in the Facebook app environment and get to see the gamut of Guardian stories in a context that is driven by the Facebook actions of a mass of readers.
This is how the Guardian’s Matin Belam described it in a blog post some time ago: Our Facebook app is an opt-in alternative way to read our content. We don’t specifically edit it or choose which articles appear. It is entirely driven by user actions, and we were able to build it because of the Guardian’s Open Platform API. Any article, video, photo gallery, podcast or audio clip available in the API can appear in the app. Any link to the Guardian that appears within Facebook is a gateway into the app, whether posted on one of our on Facebook pages, or organically shared by someone pressing the Facebook share button on our site.
The so called frictionless sharing has its share of critics, particularly because it raised privacy-related questions. Would you want your Facebook friends to know about what you have been reading on the Guardian site (though you can control it using Facebook settings)?
What kind of readership and reading accounts for this huge surge in traffic? Are they likely to grow the pool of new regular readers? Is the app turning occasional readers into regular ones?
Filloux believes that the app extends the site’s access to a large group of young people and gives unique insights via Facebook metrics. But the readers are hardly of the persistent kind and above all the dependence on Facebook should be viewed with caution, he says. That is a very sensible way of looking at it.