Keyboard with brackets

FaceBook vs Google traffic (again!)

A continual theme in my unsolicited advice is trying to figure out how best to get eyeballs on your content, and how Google and Facebook contribute traffic. It’s an ongoing back and forth between two giants.

graph of referrals from Facebook and Google in 2017

There are a few new bits of data to add to the ongoing discussion. Recode has 2017 traffic data, and it looks like Facebook’s new  policies of prioritizing families and friends in their feed led to a drop in referral traffic for news (and a corresponding increase by Google referrals).

An interesting, though not direct, confirmation of those changes in Facebook algorithm can be seen in this article from Neiman Labs; over 70% of articles in feeds are now from friends and families. News content: less than 10%.

There also has been an increase in traffic coming through the Google AMP service, or Accelerated Mobile Pages.  AMP is a competitor for Facebook Instant Articles, and they both try to do the same thing: serve up content from all over the web as fast as possible. With the caveat, of course, that you remain within the Facebook or Google Ecosystem when you consume those articles.

There is also an interesting new feature in Google’s Chrome browser. When you open Chrome, it will suggest news items for you (if you are an android user). This obviously leads to increased traffic for suggested web pages, but it’s too early to say much about how those pages are chosen or how much traffic it generates.

The ultimate take-home message for content creators is still the same: don’t ignore Facebook or Google. You have to optimize for both.

Google “Promoted” search results are…..terrible.

WSJ has a new long, wonky article about web traffic that is just the sort of thing I love.  And, like a lot of news about our online ecosystem, it’s a bit depressing.

When you search in Google, it often puts “featured snippets” or “knowledge cards” at the top of the search results. You may also see a list of similar questions under “People also ask.” The problem is that the answers are sometimes bogus, and sourced poorly.

graph showing increase of google answers
From WSJ

“A study this year by Stone Temple, a prominent analyst of the industry, showed Google’s search engine answered 74.3% of 5,000 questions, and on those answers it had a 97.4% accuracy rate. Both percentages are higher than services from AmazonInc., AppleInc. and Microsoft Corp.

Yet since Google handles trillions of queries a year, even a 2.6% error rate suggests Google serves billions of answers a year that are incomplete, irrelevant or wrong.”       [emphasis mine]

I’ve certainly seen this in action in queries about insect identification or pest control.

How NOT to control Fire Ants, via Google

screenshot from google
The suggestions from Google about controlling Fire ants are TERRIBLE

Here’s an example: Suggestions for controlling fire ants.  Gasoline and grits! That will end well.

Note that there is a tiny “report inappropriate predictions” box in the lower right corner — so this is an opportunity to tell Google that Kill It With Fire Is A Terrible Idea.

Let’s say you search for fire ants and grits; a common home remedy. The featured snippet tells you that instant grits will kill fire ants. NOPE.

(Here’s an authoritative article about what does and doesn’t work in home remedies. FYI: none of these are effective. )

screenshot of incorrect recommendation
Very incorrect featured snippet from Google Search

Note that again, there’s a tiny little feedback link at the bottom right of the Knowledge Card. Give feedback on both good and bad results for entomological results! Help Google do better.

screenshot of feedback form
Google Knowledge card feedback form

Google gives priority to responses that have detailed comments about why the suggested information is wrong, and links to better, more authoritative resources.

So the next time you search for something and get terrible results, take action!