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Does Google’s emphasis on “Plus” hurt SEO traffic for Facebook pages?

, Co-Founder, PageLever

May 14, 2012



Has Google’s new emphasis on “Plus”  resulted in less SEO traffic to Facebook fan pages?

We benchmarked fan pages to see how much referral traffic came from major search engines. We measured from 4/1/10 to 4/15/12. Here are the results:

graph resized1 Does Googles emphasis on Plus hurt SEO traffic for Facebook pages?

Click image for full-size.

    1. Three days before Google started emphasizing “Plus” in search results, search engine traffic to Facebook Fan Pages dropped by 51%.

      Before Google released Plus, they averaged 9.25 external referrals per-day, per-page to the pages in this dataset. On January 7th, this plummeted to an average of 4.52 external referrals per-day. That’s a drop of -51%. Google released Search Plus Your World on January 10th, accompanied by complaints about Google promoting Plus pages higher than Facebook and Twitter. It’s not clear whether Facebook adjusted something in the structure of their Fan pages that made them rank lower, or if Google downranked them, but the timing is a bit suspicious.

 

    1. Bing’s referral traffic to Facebook Fan pages drops 59% from 2011 to 2012.

      In 2011, Bing generated an average of 5.19 external pageviews for Facebook Pages in this dataset. In 2012, this dropped dramatically to an average of only 2.09 pageviews per day. This is a 59% drop year over year. Slightly surprising given the integration of Facebook into Bing results.

 

  1. Traffic to FB Pages from Bing mysteriously mirrors Googles, only delayed by two weeks.

    On January 7th, the amount of traffic from Google to Facebook pages started plummeting. Mysteriously Bing’s traffic dropped in a similar manner. In fact, looking at the entire graph, it seems Bing mirrors Google major spikes, albeit typically delayed by 1-3 weeks. It’s not clear why Bing’s referral traffic seems to be influenced by Google, although this may just be the effect of the MSN toolbar.

 

Methodology:

I measured the top external traffic referrers for Fan pages. To make sure the sample was reasonably accurate, I measured 500 fan pages. Each fan page had at least 100,000 fans to make sure there were a significant number of pageviews for each page.This data comes directly from Facebook through the Insights API–PageLever is a Facebook Preferred Marketing Developer.

I used PageLever to measure the number of referrals from domains with the words “Google” and “Bing”. I included international domain variants by using a keyword search (“google”) rather than an exact match (Google.com).

A couple of caveats:
To be clear: Referral traffic started dropping on January 7th. Google didn’t roll out “Search + Your World” until the 10th of January.

These pageview counts are only comparable within this dataset to see relative changes–ie, Bing vs Google, and the trend over time. If you want to compare your Facebook page, you should compare relative changes, not the total pageview count of traffic from search engines. Let me repeat, you should compare the relative difference between Google and Bing for your fan page and this dataset or between the change over time for your fan page versus this dataset, but not the raw pageview count.

I’m measuring SEO traffic that is reported by Facebook in their list of external referrals for the day. This does not account for pageviews that come from internal referrals such as people searching from within Facebook. Additionally, the numbers reported by Facebook for internal plus external referring sources rarely adds up to the number reported by Facebook for total-unique-pageviews for the Fan page that day.

You may noticed that there are several large spikes in the graph. I don’t know what caused it, but my hypothesis is a search term started to trend and several of the Facebook Pages in our data set ranked well for it, temporarily spiking the traffic. It’s still unclear why Bing’s referral traffic would so closely mirror Google’s traffic.

For those interested in seasonality, I did check the data going back to August 2010, but found no seasonality at any point during the year. Instead, it was erratic and spiky–I chose not to graph that data because it just made the graph difficult to read.

Raw Data:
If you’re interested, you can download an Excel dump of the raw data here. This raw data goes back to August 2010.

To see our previous study on SEO, visit “SEO for Facebook Fan Pages–Does it work?”


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