Online Referrals: Will Facebook’s Small Business Snub Be a Game Changer?

changing currentsThe currents that carry website visitors around the Internet are always ebbing and flowing. If you watch them over time you’ll observe some big changes.

For as long as most of us can remember, the major current carrying referral visitors has been organic searches, mostly via Google, however that changed in the final quarter of 2014, according to a report from Shareaholic. Social networks pushed Google out of its first place position. Eight major social networks combined for over 31 percent of Internet referral traffic.

Beating Google at its own game is great, but even more impressive is social media’s year-to-year growth. In Q1 2013, this group accounted for only about 23 percent of referral traffic. That’s almost a 35 percent growth in one year.

Will Smallbiz jump ship?

Yet there could be more changes just around the corner. The single biggest player among the social media platforms for referral traffic is – as I’m sure you guessed – Facebook. But a recent poll conducted by Alignable says that a majority of small business owners will not be paying for promotional posts as Facebook stops putting business posts into news feeds for free, which it began to do in January.

Fully 68 percent of respondents said they wouldn’t pay; 14 percent said they would, and 18 percent were undecided. Facebooks “paying for posts policy” is really putting the squeeze on small business owners, especially when it’s coupled with Facebook’s concerted effort to halt business-related posts made via a member’s personal profiles.

Currently Facebook drives about a quarter of all Internet referral traffic. Pinterest ranks second and the six other properties – Twitter, StumbleUpon, Reddit, Google+, LinkedIn and YouTube – account for less than 2 percent of total web referral traffic.

If the Alignable poll results are anything close to what will actually occur in the coming months, further increases in Facebook referrals will happen largely without the participation of small business. Ultimately, however, many small business owners may decide to apportion part of their advertising and marketing budgets currently earmarked for Google’s AdWords program, to Facebook advertising.

Maybe mobile will pay off

I should also note that Facebook’s mobile advertising revenue has seen some impressive gains in recent months, which either means that businesses are experimenting with its service or that it is delivering the results advertisers are looking for. If it’s the latter, Google should continue to see its referral share decrease.

How does your business fit into this ever-changing picture? If it teaches us one thing, it’s that no business owner should “stand pat” on a specific social media marketing mix. You need to be ready to try different platforms, with varying content. You need to be willing to create an advertising and marketing budget so you can honestly test the options you have available.

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