Research

Mobile direct traffic to publishers grows 30%, surpasses Facebook: Chartbeat

Since the beginning of last year, Facebook mobile traffic to publishers has declined nearly 40%, according to John Saroff, CEO of Chartbeat, a content intelligence platform for publishers.

During the same period, direct mobile traffic has grown by more than 30%, overtaking Facebook. Chartbeat’s data shows that mobile readers are now more likely to go direct to mobile apps and homepages by typing in the URL than they are to be referred to a site by Facebook.

Recent data shows that direct mobile traffic surpassed all Facebook-referred traffic as of mid-October and is steadily climbing. Despite the recent News Feed changes in Facebook which have resulted in declining traffic to publishers, readers are still seeking out news, and they are seeking it out on mobile devices.

Chartbeat 

“If you don’t do it, then aggregators will do it.”

In a presentation at MPA’s Data Points Symposium held in New York City this week, Chartbeat CEO John Saroff stated that Google Search on mobile has grown over 200% since January 2017, and that particular referral traffic has more than offset the declines in traffic from Facebook.

“Now that Facebook is retreating from news, there is an opportunity for you to create engaging mobile experiences,” said Saroff. “If you don’t do it, then aggregators will do it.”

As an example, he cited Flipboard, which is now a larger referrer on mobile than Yahoo and Outbrain. Flipboard has grown its traffic driven to publishers by 200% in the last year alone.

Chartbeat research indicates that discovery tools in the browser may be the next main gateway to news.

“We’ve seen a rise of in-browser content recommendation modules, such as Google Chrome Suggestions, and with it a rise of referred traffic; since last year, traffic from Google Chrome Suggestions has grown 21x,” says Terri Walter, Chief Marketing Officer at Chartbeat.

“Another is Pocket, which has an integration with Firefox and was acquired by Mozilla in February 2017. Pocket may be significantly smaller than Google Chrome Suggestions, but with a 297% increase in referral traffic since January 2017, it is worth watching.”

“Now may be the time to rethink what we thought we knew about mobile”

According to Chartbeat, there are very strong gains in the last year from a new tier of news aggregators including the brand new Google News app, Flipboard, Instagram and Axel Springer’s Upday app. Here’s what the data is showing:

  • Google News is quickly trending up as a referrer source, particularly since May when Google announced an all-new Google News app.
  • Flipboard has had a dramatic increase in the amount of referrer traffic it sends to publishers, having doubled since June 2017.
  • Instagram, which recently announced its billionth user, is becoming a meaningful source of traffic for news sites; Instagram referrer traffic to publishers has grown 232% since January 2017.

Even more surprising is Upday News for Samsung – a news app from Axel Springer that is featured on Samsung phones. Since January 2017, Upday saw a huge tick upwards of 763% growth in referrer traffic. Upday is not only one of the fastest growing sources of traffic for publishers in Europe, but it is also now driving roughly the same level of traffic to publishers as Instagram.

“All of this indicates that the consumer demand for news via apps has strong momentum,” says Terri, “and you should keep a close eye on the growing news app ecosystem as part of your content distribution strategy.”

Chartbeat also found that mobile readers are also 20% more likely to click-through to articles than those on desktop.

Mobile homepage visitors click through to articles 68% of the time, compared to 57% on desktop. Whereas desktop homepage readers scroll more of the page, mobile readers are more engaged in reading articles by clicking from the mobile homepage into content.

“Consumers are increasingly seeking content directly on publishers’ mobile websites and apps, as well as on news aggregators,” says Terri. “And with mobile homepage readers more engaged in content than we thought, now may be the time to rethink what we thought we knew about mobile.”


Download WNIP’s new Media Moments 2018 report, which dives deeper into this year’s developments in publishing, and looks at what opportunities 2019 could usher in. The report is free and can be downloaded here.

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