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For many companies, nothing has historically been more important for traffic than search, making search a virtual holy grail. But for some publishers, social is fast becoming the new search.

Take the Guardian, for instance. According to Tanya Cordrey, who is the director of digital development for the news organization, "It’s only a matter of time until social overtakes search for the Guardian."

Cordrey made that statement at the Guardian Changing Media Submit, where she spoke about the Guardian's Facebook app.

Journalism.co.uk explains that the app, which was launched six months ago, enables Facebook users to share in "frictionless" fashion with their friends all of the articles they read on the Guardian site. That, obviously, produces traffic for the Guardian and according to Cordrey, the amount of money made from this new traffic has already exceeded the cost of developing the Facebook app.

In terms of overall traffic, the Guardian's Facebook app has caused traffic from social to spike above traffic from search in several instances, and the trend has the percentage of social referrals increasing. Hence Cordrey's prediction about social overtaking search.

This is obviously encouraging news for publishers, particularly traditional news organizations that can use all the help they can get. But that doesn't mean social is a panacea. There are three things publishers should consider when looking at social:

  • Audiences aren't created equal, and quantity doesn't always mean quality. Getting to know the different audiences and understand how they differ from each other is the key to building better relationships and maximizing monetization opportunities.
  • Privacy concerns abound in the world of social and they shouldn't be underestimated. For obvious reasons, "frictionless sharing" has raised numerous privacy concerns.
  • Publishers should be careful about becoming too dependent on platforms like Facebook. Yes, Google isn't always the best friend, but the publisher's relationship with Facebook is very different and Facebook's interests are arguably less well aligned with the publisher's.
Patricio Robles

Published 22 March, 2012 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (4)

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Tim Leighton-Boyce, Analyst at CxFocus

Very interested to learn this. That's an important switch. Search has dominated use of online media for so long that it's easy to imagine that things will never change.

Although The Guardian data obviously relates to publishers, I think the same thing could be happening with ecommerce.

So far, Facebook has never quite pulled off initiating purchases either through organic sharing of 'things' by people or by campaign activity by retailers.

Meanwhile search has never quite pulled off planting new ideas about things people might buy. Potential customers have to conceive of the need and then form it into search phrases first, and off-line has a big part in that process.

But now Pinterest and the clones which will appear may have finally brought us to the tipping point where people start to come across new and varied things without actively searching for them first. For ecommerce companies this would be very exciting in terms of customer acquisition from start to finish on-line.

over 4 years ago

Tom Howlett

Tom Howlett, Digital Marketing Executive at Koozai

Although social is seeing huge growth, I find it hard to imagine it overtaking search for some time. When it comes to finding products online, social proof is definitely powerful. New sites like Pinterest are creating different ways to discover something new.

When someone is interested in a specific product and brand, I still think search plays a vital role for the start of that journey. I believe social does not yet offer a good way of finding information, it is mostly about discovery currently. This could change, will be an interesting movement.

over 4 years ago

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Kevin Cook

It is unfortunate to see Google taking Facebook as its competition and trying hard to have a matched competition for it. With its experimentation on its search Algos with Panda update it is actually loosing market trust on its search with lot of businesses dependent on google making huge losses are now turning towards social media. Google is clearing ways for facebook indeed.

over 4 years ago

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David Titley, Senior Designer/Developer at The Partnership UK Ltd

The headline of this article has taken the quote from Tanya Cordrey completely out of context. Her point is that social sharing of articles is generating more traffic for the Guardian website not websites in general. Hardly prediction of the century stating something so obvious, by virtue of the fact they have invested heavily in a Facebook app.

over 4 years ago

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