Has Google+ Damaged Facebook Search Traffic?

Since Google announced “Search Plus Your World” back in January there has been a lot of speculation about if these changes would unfairly favour Google+ search results over more relevant search results.

This article by search engine land, which was published just after the changes went live, shows the effects SPYW had on searches related to musicians with a strong social media presence. With artists such as Britney Spears, her Google+ profile ranked higher than her Facebook profile, even though her Facebook has gathered more fans and she share more content on it.

A study recently released by PageLever has revealed some interesting statistics surrounding page referral traffic to Facebook from Google and Bing. They tracked referral data way back to 2010, but only looked at data from April 2011 to April 2012, which includes the time before and after SPYW. They looked at 500 pages, all with over 10,000 like, to ensure they were active pages and likely to be the subject of searches. The data is shown below.

Four days before the SPYW changes went live we can see a fall in traffic from both Google and Bing. Since Bing also showed decreased referral activity it is difficult to say whether the results are conclusive. It’s interesting to note that the fall in referral rates began on January 7th, while Google didn’t roll out SPYW until January 10th – so either Google rolled it out sooner than they claim, or changes on Facebook’s end are responsible for the decrease in referrals.

Since this data also fails to include internal traffic on Facebook, it’s also difficult to determine if these changes were indeed “damaging”, or if improvements and shifts to Facebook search replaced the need for search engines.

What is interesting about the data is the similarities in peaks and falls in referral traffic between Google and Bing – but with a 2-3 week delay between them. PageLever attributed this to trending topics driving search terms, however, this doesn’t account for Bing showing the same trending topics 2 weeks late.

The most important take-away from this is that referral traffic from Google and Bing dropped by 51% and 59% respectively. Regardless of the cause, it marks a significant change for search engine optimisation.