Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Facebook's Rise Is a Big Deal for Media Sites. For the Rest of the Web, Not So Much.

Question: Is Google’s influence on other Web sites shrinking as Facebook grows? Or is the search giant more important than ever?

Answer: Yes.

Confused? Sure you are. But this is one of those brain-teasers that’s easier to understand once you step back a bit: Google is just as important as it ever has ever been–and in some cases more so–in driving traffic to many Web sites.

But for certain kinds of sites, its influence, while still enormous, has diminished a bit.

To put a fine point on it: The reason that Web sites that write stories about other Web sites are writing about Google’s stall and Facebook’s rise is because it seems to be true–for some media sites. But not for most of the Web.

Citigroup’s Mark Mahaney breaks it down in his newest report, which relies on comScore’s data that shows referring traffic for big Web sites. Conclusion: Google ranks as the top traffic source for 74 percent of the top properties he surveyed. And between January 2010 and January 2011, Google’s referral share increased for 69 percent of the sites Mahaney looked at.

But the two categories where Google’s influence seems to be flagging are health and media sites–particularly media sites. Note the summary chart below, which shows that for 80 percent of the top media sites, Google’s influence has diminished in the last year.

But even that drop, which seems clear-cut, is a bit fuzzy if you dig into the numbers. While Mahaney finds examples of many media properties that have seen referrals from Google decline while Facebook’s increased, the only one where he’s confident drawing a connection between the two is the Glam Media network. Glam saw Google’s share of referrals drop from 17 percent to 13 percent, and Facebook’s jumped from 5 percent to 9 percent.

But Facebook isn’t the only one gaining share in Mahaney’s analysis. Sometimes his data shows Microsoft and Yahoo inching up as well. That’s certainly counterintuitive, but then again these are usually small moves–a percentage point here and there–which makes it hard to string together a cohesive narrative.

Which won’t stop Web sites that write about other Web sites–just like this one!–from trying.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik