New research released 
by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism suggests that Facebook is increasingly driving more traffic to news sites. The research, conducted in collaboration with the Nielsen Company, found that in 2010, 24 out of the top 25 top news sites generated traffic from Facebook. (The one exception being Google News.) The research indicates that Facebook is becoming a “critical player” in the way users find and share news stories online. According to Pew’s report, “Google and Facebook are increasingly set up as competitors (for) sorting through the material on the Web. If searching for news was the most important development of the last decade, sharing news may be among the most important of the next.”
Beyond the indication that Facebook may be encroaching on Google’s news territory, Pew’s research investigates how users find the top news sites, the duration of each visit, how they navigate the site and where they go once they leave. To do so, they analyzed the traffic of 25 online news outlets, including Google News, Reuters, CNN, Huffington Post and others. Overall, their findings suggest that there is not one uniform mode of online news consumption. Rather there are several different groupings for online news consumption behavior.
It’s not just how users find online content that impacts the news industry, however. Pew contends that, “Understanding not only what content users will want to consume but also what content they are likely to pass along may be a key to how stories are put together and even what stories get covered in the first place.” Overall, the research advocates that news organizations develop multi-layered strategies for serving (monetizing) their audiences.
- Google is the primary entry point for the top 25 news sites, accounting for 30% of their traffic.
- The majority of traffic depends on “casual users,” who only come to the site a few times a month and only spend a few minutes on the site. “On average, 77 percent of the traffic to the top 25 news sites came from users who visited just one or two times.”
- Loyal, “power users” visit a site more than 10 times per month and spend over an hour on the site during each visit. They account for about 7% of total traffic.
- When users leave a news site, they typically go to one of three destinations:
- Subdomains or related sites, for example going from CNN.com to money.cnn.com
- Sharing sites, e.g. Facebook, Twitter, via buttons on news sites.
- Google.com or Google Tools
To learn more about the changing dynamics of online news consumption, check out Pew’s full report “Where People Go, How They Get There And What Lures Them Away.”