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Facebook Referrals to Media Sites Decline on the Desktop

This year, more than eight in 10 people who use Facebook will do so on a mobile phone

US media publishers like Yahoo, Gannett and NBC Universal have seen a decrease in desktop visits from Facebook during Q2 2016 compared to the previous quarter, research indicates. But this decline may not be all that surprising: The use of Facebook on mobile devices has skyrocketed over the past few years. Nearly 86% of all Facebook users will access the platform via a mobile phone this year. And by 2020, more than nine in 10 people who use Facebook will do so on a mobile phone.

Change in Facebook Desktop Referral Traffic for the Top 10* US Media Publishers, Q2 2016 (% change vs. prior quarter)

Data from web traffic analytics platform SimilarWeb analyzed the change in Facebook visits publishers saw in Q2 2016 compared to the previous quarter. Yahoo, Time Warner and Gannett saw some of the biggest losses, among publishers who were ranked in the top 10 in terms of all site visits. For example, Yahoo’s desktop traffic from Facebook fell by 45% in Q2 2016 compared to Q1 2016, and Time Warner’s desktop traffic declined by 36%.

Not everyone saw such drastic declines, however. SimilarWeb also reported that Google saw an increase of 67% in desktop Facebook visits during Q2 2016. Additionally, Matt Drudge of The Drudge Report saw an increase of 50%.

US Mobile Phone Facebook Users and Penetration, 2015-2020 (millions and % of total Facebook users)

Mobile could be the reason why Facebook desktop traffic is declining. As the overall shift to mobile web access continues, more users are accessing Facebook content via mobile rather than desktop. And this shift to mobile isn’t just happening on Facebook, it’s happening across all social networks. This year, 80.2% of the world’s social network users will use their mobile phone to access social networking sites, according to eMarketer.

Average Time Spent per Day with Facebook by US Adults, by Device, 2013-2018 (hrs:mins)

In the US, eMarketer estimates that the average adult has been spending more time on Facebook via mobile than via PC for several years already—and mobile continues to gain share of average Facebook time. This year, more than two-thirds of the average person’s daily Facebook consumption occurs via mobile.

Mobile may not be the only reason why publishers are seeing a decline in traffic. In June 2016, Facebook announced that it would be de-emphasizing content from digital publishers in its news feed, while increasingly prioritizing user-generated content. But though this new change reduces news-oriented content from digital publishers, Facebook is still a major contributor to news consumption. A Reuters Institute survey found that 44% of internet users worldwide said they had accessed news content on the social network at some point in the past week.

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