Clickbait Facebook posts earned Scott DeLong millions of dollars. He started and grew ViralNova.com. With uncanny timing, he sold it for $100 million in 2015.
2015 was about the time Facebook started reducing reach. While the party wasn’t entirely over, cracks were appearing.
Many sites continued raking in free traffic and money. Littlethings.com was such a site, attracting millions of monthly page views with clickbait posts on Facebook, until early 2018.
In early 2018, Facebook radically changed its reach algo dramatically reducing brand and page reach. Anyone with a FB page feels the hurt to some degree. Some sites that depended on millions of monthly visitors from Facebook have taken a beating. Littlethings.com’s beating forced them to shut ‘er down.
The Facebook party is over. It’s an end of an era.
Facebook isn’t invincible
Facebook is king of social media for now, but they aren’t bulletproof. They must tread very carefully. Maybe the reach algo was a good decision. Maybe catastrophic. Maybe it won’t affect them at all. We won’t know until it’s too late for Facebook, if it ever comes to that. To date, Facebook has been really good and fostering user loyalty. The trick will be keeping that hard won loyalty.
We do know that today’s teens are choosing other social media channels such as Instagram and Snapchat. Who can blame them?
Their parents are on Facebook. If I were a teen, I wouldn’t get anywhere close to any platform that my parents used.
Social media is fickle.
Flipboard is making every effort to be the new Facebook for pages and brands by being website publisher friendly. I quite like Flipboard as both user and publisher. It’s a great tool for your favorite content delivered to one central location. Many people used FB for that reason, but that benefit is done. Facebook’s latest mission is to “bring people closer” which apparently was their original mission. I wish them luck.
Snapchat may also be yesterday’s news.
On February 21, 2018 Kylie Jenner tweeted “sooo does anyone else not open Snapchat anymore? Or is it just me… ugh this is so sad”
The impact: Snapchat’s value dropped $1.3 billion. If that’s not fickle, nothing is. It’s crazy. One influencer says they’re done or unhappy with one platform and $1.3 billion in value evaporates instantly. Sure, that value may likely rebound if it hasn’t already, but it’s telling. What if 10 top Snapchat users permanently bailed and made it public, would that be the death blow? Maybe.
Instagram also faces challenges. Vero is a new darling social media channel that’s poaching Instagram users in droves.
Where does that leave us website publishers?
For the big players with massive marketing departments, they’ll continue scrambling trying to be everywhere all the time.
They’ll be forced to build new followings on new channels, figure out what works. Always chasing traffic.
You’re welcome to do the same.
For now, I’m very much inclined to minimize social media efforts altogether except for Pinterest.
I ditched organic Facebook back when Scott DeLong sold ViralNova.com in 2015. By ditched, I mean I realized after that reach algo change Facebook is going to keep tightening the screws on page owners until it was hopeless. Facebook is now hopeless as a traffic source.
I’m glad I saw the writing on the wall and shifted focus. While I made several attempts to resurrect FB traffic since then, all were futile. Other sites had success, but these days it’s a bloodbath.
Flipboard interests me because I get it and understand its utility. Moreover, it’s easily automated by adding your site’s RSS feeds to various magazine. Yes, you get more bang for your buck by engaging, but let’s not get carried away. One step at a time. Engaging is like outreach. No fun (but sometimes necessary).
Of course Pinterest may clamp down on publishers in the future. Imagine if they stopped permitting links to content. That would be the end of Pinterest for websites. It’s possible.
But, and this is optimism at best. Pinterest has more or less remained publisher friendly. Yes, they pulled that switcheroo by not allowing affiliate links for a few years. Otherwise, it’s been a publisher friendly platform.
I think, and I merely speculate here, that is Pinterest is more dependent on publishers than Facebook ever was. Pinterest’s content is images, most of which come from websites. If Pinterest did something that hurt traffic to publishers, the content on which Pinterest sorely depends on would dry up. I know I would block pinning on my sites.
The BIG problem with Pinterest
While I love Pinterest and it’s a good fit for me, the BIG problem is it’s not a terrific fit for every niche. It only works for visual niches (for the most part).
Where does that leave all the other niches?
It’s sad to say, but it’s Google or bust.
If you have the time or budget for YouTube videos, that can be good too… but that’s Google too.
Business niches can do okay with Twitter.
Let’s face it though, it’s Google Google Google.
What does this mean?
This means you need to publish content that gets you traffic from Google search. Depending on your SEO strategy, you may need to ramp up your content promotion efforts (ahem, link building).
What does that mean?
It means you need to develop an SEO strategy.
There are several SEO strategies. Most of which work. Some are riskier than others, but they work.
Here are your SEO strategy options:
1. Target high search volume keywords (aka high value keywords) and do white hat SEO via outreach and promotion.
- Risk level: Moderate to High (the risk is you may never rank).
- Reward potential: High.
2. Target high search volume keywords (aka high value keywords) do grey hat SEO by scaling guest posting and PBNs.
- Risk level: High (especially if you’re not meticulous and well funded for proper PBN set up which can result in a Google penalty).
- Reward level: High.
3. Target low competition keywords with good on-site SEO and minimal promotion:
- Risk level: Low to moderate. The risk is too little traffic for the amount invested in lots of content. It’s a high volume content model.
- Reward: Low to Moderate. It’s a very slow growth strategy that requires lots of excellent content consistently published over time. You won’t hit the motherload by getting to the top of the SERPs, but over time you can grow your traffic to high levels and earn well.
In a way the fickleness of social media is a relief
For years I chased traffic from every possible source – Facebook, Twitter, G+, Tumblr, Pinterest, YouTube, Scoop.it and others. Combined, that traffic doesn’t come close to my Google search traffic.
In fact, my third biggest source of traffic falls under “direct” in Analytics. Pinterest is 2nd for my B2C niche sites.
What’s the point here Jon?
The point is I’m don’t post to all these social and curation channels all that often. I won’t abandon them. But I sure ain’t putting much time into them except Pinterest. I don’t even bother posting most articles. There is no point. Actually I don’t put much time into Pinterest, which is the beauty of Pinterest – it doesn’t take much time and the traffic can be evergreen.
Don’t get me wrong, if any channel works for you, do it. If Twitter sends you a few hundred or thousand visitors per day, tweet like mad.
What about social signals and that jazz for SEO?
I’ve found the better social signals stem from visitors sharing and pinning from my site. Not me pushing it out on the channels.
Think about that for a minute.
Just because you cut down managing your many channels doesn’t mean you’re not getting social signals or traffic from those channels. You can… but it happens without your involvement.
It’s time to focus
I transitioned slowly from social media to SEO over the years. It was a good decision. When FB started its reach shenanigans to pages in 2014 to 2015, I realized it was not dependable. I didn’t entirely give up on, but I weaned myself off it.
These days I’m focused. My SEO strategy of choice is low risk and low reward. In other words, I publish lots of content that targets low competition keywords. I invest a lot of time and money into keyword research, content production and content management. That’s my focus and it’s been great being able to simply focus on content.
As an aside, I’ve been ramping up efforts to publish content that attracts links naturally. I’ve had some success with this, which is great because there are few things I loathe more than outreach.
It’s come full circle
I took a beating in 2012 when Google rolled out the Penguin algo update. My revenue plummeted by half. That’s when I switched to social media traffic and paid traffic. It worked great. It was nice not having to serve the Google content master. I cranked out posts and images round-the-clock and did quite well. It was fun until it wasn’t. The worst aspect of that model is it wasn’t passive at all. If I didn’t post, I didn’t earn.
Now that FB has kicked publishers in the teeth and that the social media environment is constantly changing, many publishers have come full circle focusing on Google search traffic.
Is this good?
Doesn’t matter. It’s all we got.
Moral of the story
Actually, the moral of the story for now is this. Jump on any social media bandwagon you can and milk it for all it’s worth. However, whatever you do, create a website that’s SEO friendly. Create your social friendly stuff and cash in however you can, but also make it or another version search friendly. In the long run you’ll be glad you did.
Or, change online models altogether. Get out of the publisher biz and do something different. Sell something. Offer services. Do lead gen. Develop software. Get into apps. Do something where paid traffic works. You have options. But there’s no free lunch. It’s all hard work unless you get lucky.
Jon runs the place around here. He pontificates about launching and growing online publishing businesses, aka blogs that make a few bucks. His pride and joy is the email newsletter he publishes that’s “the best blogging email newsletter around.”
Hyperbole? Maybe, but go check it out to see what some readers say.
In all seriousness, Jon is the founder and owner of a digital media company that publishes a variety of web properties visited and beloved by millions of readers monthly. Fatstacks is where he shares a glimpse into his digital publishing business.