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How Publishers are Defying the Duopoly — and Driving Traffic

Publishers and advertisers have infamously coined Google and Facebook as the duopoly because of their great control over ad spend. Last year, the two tech giants together attracted more than 84 percent of global spending on digital advertising, according to a report by GroupM.1

However, in light of recent events, publishers should be wary of relying solely on the duopoly for traffic. “The recent Cambridge Analytica scandal significantly damaged user trust in Facebook and prompted advertisers such as Mozilla to pull ad spend from the platform in the same way that brands boycotted Google’s YouTube following last year’s brand safety breaches,” says Mark Hammond, chief commercial officer at PubGalaxy, an ad monetization platform for publishers.2

Additionally, as Facebook changes its algorithm for the way content appears on its news feed, and Google continues to update its search algorithm, publishers are adjusting ad distribution strategy accordingly.

“Publishers haven’t had good options for monetizing their inventory,” says AppNexus president Michael Rubenstein in an interview with Beet.TV. “For 10-plus years, they’ve been stuck behind this duopoly.”3

But Rubenstein suggests times may be changing. “Publishers are really voting with their feet right now – they’re looking for ways to increase monetization in a way where they’re taking more control and they have more transparency.4

Here’s how publishers are finding alternative ways to drive traffic to their websites.

Alternative 1: Email Newsletters
Publishers are finding email newsletters are effective in directing traffic to their sites, and it all starts with how frequently users are checking their emails. Reuters found in a recent study that U.S. workers spend 6.3 hours a day checking email, with 3.2 hours devoted to work emails and 3.1 hours to personal messages.5

“This six-plus hours a day that people spend reading email is more than seven times the time that people spend on all Facebook platforms per day,” says Jonathan Abrams, founder and CEO for Nuzzel, a personalized news discovery platform.6

Publishers that engaged with their audiences through email newsletters saw massive boosts in traffic and upticks in digital subscribers. Even BuzzFeed saw email become a major source of traffic compared to social media outlets such as Twitter and Pinterest.7

“Each email we send contains original content from the BuzzFeed site and we purposely only send a small snippet of each story along with a link to encourage people to click through to the site and read the full article,” says Dan Oshinsky, former Director of Newsletters at BuzzFeed.8

At BuzzFeed, email is consistently one of the top 5 or 6 referrers of traffic to their website each month. The objective is to drive subscribers back to the BuzzFeed site where users can read content and share it with their friends and family.

“A big reason for these results might be that publishers were finally focusing on an engaged pocket of their audience,” explains Digiday editor Max Willens.9

Alternative 2: Planting Content on News Aggregating Apps
Publishers have also discovered that delivering content via news aggregating apps can also drive traffic.

Dozens of publishers have made their content available on Flipboard, a news aggregator platform that launched in 2010. Between 6 and 7 percent of traffic to Another Magazine, part of Dazed Media, comes from Flipboard. Similarly, for finance publisher City A.M., Flipboard accounts for between 10 and 11 percent of its site traffic.10

“These aren’t Facebook-like numbers, but publishers are thirsty for platforms outside the dominant duopoly, and every bit helps,” says Digiday editor Lucinda Southern.11

According to market data and insights company App Annie, Flipboard has 100 million monthly users, and in the first half of 2017, it had 30 million average weekly active users, not including tablet or iPhone users.12

Another news aggregation platform that has been helping publishers gain traffic is Apple News. According to a report by Tom Dotan for The Information, Apple News can generate as much as 60 percent of Vox.com’s daily traffic.13

More recently launched, Google Chrome’s Articles for You is a feature of Chrome on both Android and iOS which recommends articles for users whenever they open a new tab or window.

Learn the winning formula publishers are using to successfully reach, attract, and retain mobile users.

While Chartbeat is only tracking site referrals for its publisher partners on Android devices and not iOS, Chartbeat did find that site traffic via Articles for You increased by 2,100 percent in 2017 — driving 15 million visits per month at the start of the year to an average of 341 million visits per month in December.14

The growth makes the mobile browser feature now the fourth-biggest referrer to publishers, behind Google Search, Facebook, and Twitter, and that excludes any traffic that might be coming from iOS devices, which Chartbeat doesn’t track.15

Alternative 3: Driving Traffic from Other Relevant Social Media Platforms
In response to Facebook’s recent change to its newsfeed algorithm, where 20 percent less publisher content will be seen by users, social media giants such as Twitter and Linkedin have stepped up their partnership game with relevant publishers.16

“News publishers and journalists are essential to Twitter, and we strive to be a dependable, valuable partner. Their success is our priority,” says Peter Greenberger, director of global news partnerships at Twitter.17

Twitter’s capability to send meaningful traffic to publisher sites shows an opportunity for the company’s new growth and direction—the real-time nature of the platform has driven the news cycle, but not quite the news business. Twitter is emerging as a viable social traffic source and this could help minimize site traffic deductions coming from the duopoly.18

“Twitter has always been an important place for us to reach a hyper-engaged audience and now we’re seeing the traffic it drives beginning to rival that of Facebook,” says Esquire.com site director Michael Sebastian.19

Business-oriented publishers are turning to Linkedin to increase site traffic. After a news feed overhaul, adding analytics tools for publishers, and testing a trending topics module, business-focused publishers have gotten traffic spikes from the platform, some of them driving millions of readers every month.20

Last year, Bloomberg cut the number of stories it distributes on LinkedIn by 90 percent, sharing only stories that are relevant to the platform’s users.

“We have gotten 26 percent more traffic from LinkedIn and the professionally oriented social media platform is now a top-10 source of traffic,” says Scott Havens, the global head of digital at Bloomberg. Previously, the financial publisher used automated software to pipe hundreds of stories onto Linkedin, and it was not successful.21

Forbes, which has over 6 million followers on LinkedIn, is adding approximately 150,000 new followers every month.

“We recently had a record month last April on the platform, with over 1 million clicks on our stories,” says Lewis D’Vorkin, Forbes’ chief product officer. “This was nearly 120 percent more than the traffic it drove the previous April.”22

While Facebook and Google have a grip on digital advertising, publishers are making steps beyond the duopoly by sourcing traffic from alternative distribution channels.

Content Personalization

1. Garrahan, Matthew. “Google and Facebook Dominance Forecast to Rise.” Financial Times, Financial Times, 4 Dec. 2017.
2. Hammond, Matt. “4 Ways Publishers Can Fight Back Against The Duopoly.” MediaPost, 21 June 2016.
3. Andrews, Robert. “ Publishers Seek Alternative To Google, Facebook Duopoly: AppNexus’ Rubenstein.” Beet.TV, 12 Feb. 2017.
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5. Reaney, Patricia. “Love Them or Loathe Them, Emails Are Here to Stay -Survey.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 26 Aug. 2015.
6. Andrews, Robert. “ Publishers Seek Alternative To Google, Facebook Duopoly: AppNexus’ Rubenstein.” Beet.TV, 12 Feb. 2017.
7. Reaney, Patricia. “Love Them or Loathe Them, Emails Are Here to Stay -Survey.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 26 Aug. 2015.
8. Beashel, Aaron. “How BuzzFeed Uses Email Marketing to Drive Growth.” Campaign Monitor, 21 Apr. 2015.
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10. Benes, Ross, et al. “Publishers Are Finding Flipboard Drives Nice Traffic.” Digiday, 20 July 2017.
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14. Saroff, John. “The Next Major Traffic Source for Publishers: This Google Chrome Feature.”Chartbeat Blog, 2 Apr. 2018.
15. Schomer, Audrey. “Publishers and Platforms Are in a Constant Tug-of-War.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 16 Apr. 2018.
16. Kantrowitz, Alex. “Twitter Is Sending More Clicks To Publishers As Facebook Sends Fewer, New Data Show.” BuzzFeed, BuzzFeed, 31 Jan. 2018.
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20. Willens, Max, et al. “Business Publishers Are Enjoying Traffic Spikes from LinkedIn.” Digiday, 4 May 2017.
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