Friend or foe? Why publishers are shifting away from Facebook.

Author:Tornoe, Rob

In the world of digital journalism, the one constant we've all grown accustomed to is change. I bet you can relate to just how frustrating it can be sitting at conferences hearing about the next, great thing, knowing chances are good it won't even be an afterthought three years from now.

Well, change has come again for many publishers, but this time it isn't some new social network promising the world, or a shiny new app offering untold digital riches. It's actually a word we use everyday--Google.

Just like Rip Van Winkle, it appears fatigued publishers are starting to wake up from a long, Facebook-induced slumber to suddenly remember the long-forgotten importance of SEO (search engine optimization for the uninitiated), and are redeploying their engagement resources to make a play to grow their search traffic.

Back in September, Time hired noted SEO expert Jon Hawkins as the publisher's new vice president of growth, a high-level position that places a lot of importance on making search a larger part of their digital growth strategy. And recently, Thrillist Media Group hired Benjamin Maljevec as the company's first director of SEO, giving him a dedicated team in an attempt to grow search traffic.

"We need to make sure we have a diversified amount of traffic coming in and have all areas of referral traffic growing," Beth Buehler, the newly-named COO at health publisher Rodale, told Digiday. "So when Facebook changes its algorithm, while it hurts, it doesn't cripple us because we still have a healthy amount of search traffic coming in."

According to many industry insiders, Facebook's recent decision to make articles posted by publishers less visible in users' news feeds has been the tipping point, capping off a yearly decline in the organic (i.e. unpaid) reach of their articles.

"I'm hearing more and more recently about publishers losing traffic to Facebook's changing algorithm and looking to Google," said Clare Carr, vice president of marketing at, a popular analytics platform that tracks data for a number of high-profile media websites.

Carr points to the success of the New York Times, which recently re-published stories from their archives that go all the back to the 1970s, as just one example how publishers are reexamining the potential impact of search traffic. Previously, the stories were buried in non-Google friends PDF, but the Times deployed its resources in order to retag and republish thousands of stories specifically for a...

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