The days of readers going directly to a news outlet’s home page are over.

Most magazine and newspaper publishers are finding that less than 10% of their traffic comes directly to their home pages. Meanwhile, the double-digit and triple-digit growth of social media referrals may have reached a tipping point, with search engine referrals as a marketing method to drive traffic to magazine and newspaper media content in 2014, according to Shareaholic’s ongoing research.

Search engine referral traffic has dramatically increased in recent years.
Search engine referral traffic has dramatically increased in recent years.

For these reasons, publishers must beef up their social media optimisation (SMO) operations, whilst continuing their search engine optimisation (SEO) campaigns.

Social media is locked in a seesaw battle for dominance with search. Social media drives an average of one-third (31.7%) of publishing sites’ traffic, according to a December 2014 study by Shareaholic, compared to 22.7% in December 2013.

Social referrals to publisher Web sites edged ahead of search referrals in June 2014 (30.9% vs. 29.4%) and September 2014 (29.4% vs. 29.1%), with referrals drawn from 360,000 Web sites and 420 million unique Web site visits.

Anecdotally, publishers are reporting the percentage of referral traffic from social networks is much higher: BuzzFeed reports 80% of its Web traffic is driven by social media, while Quartz reports 70% is “side door” (non-home page) traffic from social. Facebook alone accounts for more than half of Hearst magazines’ referral traffic.

Facebook referrals have offered the biggest jump in traffic to publisher sites.
Facebook referrals have offered the biggest jump in traffic to publisher sites.

Meanwhile De Persgroep, a media company in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Denmark, reports that 30% of its traffic came from social media referrals in 2014, while 22% came from search, 23% directly from apps, and 14% directly to the site. Social media referrals are up 179% from 2013, leap-frogging search-driven referrals.

Parse.ly, an analytics technology company whose publisher clients include Condé Nast magazines, Reuters, The Dallas Morning News, Fox News, Advance Digital, The Telegraph, Slate, The Atlantic, and Mashable, analyses 10 billion pageviews and 100,000 posts each quarter to determine its clients’ referral traffic.

Parse.ly reports that Facebook gained 10 percentage points in referral traffic in 2014 to reach 22%, while Google sites have remained stable at 35% referral traffic to these sites.

For more information, or to download the executive summary of the 2015 Global Digital Media Trendbook, go to http://www.wnmn.org.