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Facebook Drives Nearly 17 Percent of Overall Traffic for Publishers

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Last month, Facebook announced its first redesign of the Like and Share buttons believing the new buttons would increase social engagement among readers.

Data released Tuesday by Shareaholic, a discovery and sharing platform that helps sites promote their content, suggests they were right.

The Facebook Referrals Report analyzed 13 months of data collected from 200,000+ publishers who reach 250+ million unique monthly visitors to observe general trends in inbound traffic sites receive.

Here's the data (click to enlarge):

Shareaholic facebook share of visits chart Dec 2013

The discovery and sharing platform tracked how many referrals Facebook drove to its network of publishers and displayed those figures as "share of visits," a percentage of overall traffic -- direct traffic, social referrals, organic search, paid search, etc. -- sites received.*

The two main findings from the report include:

1) Facebook's share of visits skyrocketed (increasing 169.88%) in the past year. From November 2012 through October 2013, there was steady, incremental growth in Facebook's share of visits. Then, the social network saw its share of visits really take off during November 2013.

2) In the last month alone, its share of visits jumped 47.44%. Increasing share of visits by 5.60 percentage points in a month is no small feat. But it's Facebook we're talking about, and Zuckerberg probably isn't done shocking the world.

mark zuckerberg

Wednesday, Facebook announced it has finally rolled out the new Like and Share buttons to all publishers and reported, "New buttons drive over 5% more Likes and Shares across the web." The announcement also introduced flexible widths for embedded posts.

Although Shareaholic does not provide the new FB offerings within its share buttons, the firm still tracks inbound traffic on sites that use any of its other platform tools (analytics and related content). Some publishers have adopted the new Like and Share buttons from Facebook and are obviously reaping the benefits. Others that use Shareaholic's share buttons still see gains in Facebook referral traffic.

And those gains are remarkable.

Shareaholic facebook share of visits graph Dec 2013

How is it that even though Shareaholic does not offer the new Like and Share buttons that network publishers still realize such substantial gains in Facebook referral traffic?

I hypothesize that FB users have developed more natural inclinations towards sharing -- and interacting with -- content for four reasons:

1) Facebook's news feed is more engaging than ever (thus, more clicks, likes and shares). Like Google with it's mercurial search ranking algorithm, Facebook's news feed has seen a couple of noteworthy tweaks which keep users highly engaged with their feeds.

2) Active user counts continue to grow. Facebook's 3rd quarter announcement revealed daily active user numbers jumped 25% year-over-year to 728 million. Monthly active users grew 18% in that same timeframe to a staggering 1.19 billion. A growing number of active users increases Facebook's utility for users as well user dependency on FB for social interactions. The network effect at its finest.

3) The omnipresence of the new Like and Share buttons impacts behavior. Given the usable nature of the new buttons and their widespread availability -- Facebook's buttons are viewed 22+ billion times a day across 7.5+ million sites around the web -- people have developed a habit of sharing content they enjoy. Although not all share buttons are created equal, share buttons in general are being utilized more often by readers, thus driving more traffic to sites.

4) Sharing is now an ego-gratifying activity that's socially acceptable and universally commonplace. Sites such as Buzzfeed, Thought Catalog and Elite Daily produce super viral content that make sharing such a reflexive activity -- that also injects you with a healthy dose of serotonin when all your friends like, share and comment on your post. Effectively, sharing great content is now a no-brainer.

Of course, I can be wrong about all of these points.

In any case, the data suggests Facebook now drives more than 1/6 (17.41%) of an average site's overall traffic. Given that Facebook is one of millions of possible traffic referral sources, that's pretty significant.

How have you witnessed referrals from Facebook grow over time?

* Our data is represented as "share of visits" because the volume of visits (and uniques) our publishers receive changes month-to-month. Last year, we tracked ~250mm monthly uniques; last month, we gathered data from ~320mm unique visitors. Visits grew by a comparable clip too. Ultimately, sharing our raw data -- hundreds of millions of visits -- wouldn't enable site owners to appropriately benchmark their site's traffic against what publishers received.

** This report originally appeared on the Shareaholic Content Marketing Blog.