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Facebook for traffic generation

Local Publishers Reduce Dependency on Facebook For Traffic — Here’s How

As controversies surrounding Facebook’s willingness to help publishers with traffic and referrals continues to swirl, a growing number of independent publishers are looking outside of Facebook for traffic, effectively reducing their dependency on the social media giant.

Just look at Slate. The online magazine has seen an 87% drop in Facebook traffic since 2017. Part of that drop can be attributed to a decrease in news feed reach in early 2018, soon after Facebook’s policy changed to limit pages from accepting content they didn’t create, primarily from social marketing companies. Slate’s drop in Facebook traffic could also be attributed to changes in the platform’s news feed, which now prioritizes content from people’s friends and family over publishers and brands.

But Slate isn’t alone. Publishers who create their own viral content are struggling to use Facebook for traffic generation, as well. Stylist, the female-focused publisher, has found success publishing beauty and fashion videos on the web. It now sees as much as 12% of its referral traffic coming from Facebook. But constant changes in the content discovery algorithm, coupled with questionable monetization concepts, have led Stylist to explore additional channels for distribution. Among those is Apple News, which funnels significant traffic towards Stylist’s videos and offers a number of options for monetization.

Apple News is just one of many options for local publishers deciding to place less reliance on Facebook for traffic generation. Search engine optimization (SEO) is also coming back into style.

Pushed into the background in recent years, SEO is experiencing a comeback right now, particularly within the local publishing community.

Formatting articles in a way that ensures they rank highly on search engines, like Google and Bing, has never gone out of style, but with traffic coming from Facebook and other social channels continuing to decrease, publishers are kicking their SEO strategies into high gear.

Then there’s the strategy being honed by Mic. The youth-oriented digital publisher is using a strategy referred to as “deliberate distribution” to make up for the drop in Facebook traffic.

What does the phrase “deliberate distribution” mean, exactly? For starters, Mic publishes significantly less—roughly half—content on Facebook now than it did in the past, and it has axed its partner swaps with other publishers. Instead of relying on Facebook for traffic generation, Mic is looking more closely at Apple News and Twitter. Like Stylist, Mic sees an opportunity to reach a large audience by posting videos on the Apple News platform.

Probably just as important are the changes Mic has made to its own publishing strategy. For example, the digital publication went from publishing as many as 75 articles each day, down to just 25. It now measures editorial content based on time spent on the website instead of page views.

The goal here, for Mic and many other independent, local publishers around the country, is to build a brand that readers will value enough to visit directly on the web. Once a publication builds a loyal audience, it becomes much less important what changes Facebook is making to its news feed algorithm on a day to day basis.

Here are three strategies for any local publisher looking to reduce their own dependence on Facebook for traffic generation.

  1. Pay attention to SEO. Don’t let SEO fall to the wayside. Search engine traffic is just as important now as it ever was, and small changes to content and website layouts, can have a significant impact on the amount of traffic coming through places like Google and Bing.
  2. Explore new channels. Apple News is a big player here, but a number of other niche distribution options exist for publishers right now. Do the research to find out which channels your own readers are using and start getting your site’s content posted on those channels.
  3. Focus on quality. Publishers who have historically relied on social media platforms like Facebook for traffic have focused more on quantity than quality. But the latest changes to Facebook’s news feed algorithms are changing the game for publishers that traffic in gimmicky content. Ultimately, these changes may end up helping local news publisher that regularly post high-quality, original content.
Launching a local news site

Guidelines for Content Aggregation

Most digital publishers aggregate news content to a certain degree, but the practice has gotten a bad rap in recent years because of some egregious instances of theft and plagiarism. When content aggregation is done right, following recognized guidelines and protocols, the practice actually adds value to publishing brands.

At its core, content aggregation is simply the practice of taking information from multiple locations, condensing it, and displaying it in a single place. Hyperlocal publishers will frequently use information from third-party sources to generate new articles, or they may publish a daily list of the top articles from around the web with outgoing links to external sources.

The daily email newsletter is an especially common place for aggregated content to pop up. As much as 75% of the links the Daily Brief, a newsletter published by the news website Quartz, comes from external sources.

When publishers like Quartz follow industry-accepted guidelines for content aggregation, the result is a win/win for everyone involved. The practice serves as a source of free advertising for news outlets and distributes work to larger audiences.

Readers aren’t necessarily against aggregation, either. Although most readers would prefer to see original content, they’d rather see brief descriptions of articles with links to read more than to not know that an article on the topic was published at all. However, when writers republish content from outside sources without giving the appropriate credit, it creates distrust among readers and fellow journalists.

Content aggregation can be beneficial for search engine optimization, as well. For the publisher with incoming links, content aggregation not only helps point readers towards a new website they may not have known about, but also indicates to search engines like Google and Bing that this website is a reputable source of information.

But search engines don’t like exact copies of content in different places, and that’s where one negative aspect of content aggregation comes into play. What search engines love is original content. That’s what publishers in the media industry want, too. Simply copying and pasting stories from a competing news outlet, even with a small link back to the original source, isn’t helping anyone. From the search engine’s perspective, the duplicate content does not add value.

Monetizing the content from other websites has become an accepted part of today’s publishing model, but following these best practices is the key to aggregating news content in an acceptable way.

7 Guidelines for Content Aggregation

Always add value.

This first guideline for content aggregation is the most important. Never post someone else’s content without adding value, such as insightful commentary or a broader context that might be useful for local readers. Copying content word-for-word is plagiarism, not aggregation.

Only reproduce content when necessary.

Be careful about how much content you reproduce, and use quotations around any information that’s been republished verbatim. Direct quotes from sources included in an original story can be reprinted with attribution, but otherwise it’s generally recommended that reporters synthesize content and use their own words when possible.

Link to original sources.

Viral articles might be posted on hundreds, or even thousands, of websites. Always do the necessary work to find the original source of the information—whether that’s a publisher’s website, a YouTube link, or even a social media post—and identify those sources directly with a prominent link.

Favor quality over quantity.

Publishers with broad coverage areas might have a limitless number of interesting articles to aggregate, but posting too many links can overwhelm readers. Do the work for your readers by distilling the news down and aggregating only the most important articles of the day or week.

Don’t use too many articles from a single source.

Problems come up when a hyperlocal publisher uses too much content from a single news source, like the local newspaper or television station. To avoid running into these issues, link to articles from a variety of news sources and try not to use all of the most recent articles from any single source.

Keep SEO in mind.

Some publishers are great at optimizing their content for search engines, and some are not. Using the appropriate guidelines for content aggregation, include strategic keywords in your commentary about the articles you’re posting to help not just your own website, but the site you’re linking to, as well.

Follow the Golden Rule.

In its Digital Publishing Guidelines, the Washington Post advises reporter and editors to, “Use and credit the content the way you’d expect other sites to use and credit Post content.” Digital publishers who’ve worked hard to grow their own brands should understand this concept well, and in turn they should make sure to not infringe on any other publisher’s intellectual property.