Ashwini Gangal

Search versus social traffic: What's more precious to web publishers?

The answer depends on the genre of the content in question, among other things.

Session descriptor: When publishers have limited resources, where should they be deployed to generate traffic? Both social media and search offer great riches but come with perils as well.

At Digipub World 2018, three publishers and a brand expert discussed the options. The session was moderated by Vanita Kohli-Khandekar, contributing editor, Business Standard.

Answering a question about organic traffic versus search/social media traffic , Gyan Gupta, CEO, FirstWall, a short form video app from the house of DB Digital (the digital arm of Dainik Bhaskar Group), says, "Currency doesn't have a colour; money is money. Similarly, traffic is traffic - where you get the traffic from is not like a medal of honour. In the publishing business, what's important is - that you get the traffic! Sometimes we go overboard in trying to create traffic from a specific medium (the 'this-kind-of-content-really-works-on-social-media-so-let's-create-more-of-it' trap); that's when the game gets dangerous... you start moving away from your brand image."

Search versus social traffic: What's more precious to web publishers?

Gyan Gupta

Search versus social traffic: What's more precious to web publishers?

Mayur Sethi

At DB, search has been far more effective as a traffic generator for English, versus Hindi, content. For language content, social plays a bigger role. Gupta attributes this difference more to the way the ecosystem is built, than the publisher's own doing.

Responding to a question about publishers' need for their 'own' traffic, organic traffic, discoverability, as well as good CPMs, and some balance therein, Mayur Sethi, WittyFeed, a non-news, new-age media platform, says, "Seven years back when we discovered the aspect of generating traffic from social channels, especially Facebook, we realised that it's a powerful medium - you target the right audience, bring in the right kind of traffic... unlike search, where people look for certain keywords and then discover that piece of content... and then realise it's not their kind of content. Yes, dominance on any one platform creates problems (Wittyfeed has, as Vanita reminded the audience, been at the receiving end of changes in FB's algorithms, in the past). There's nothing wrong with paying for traffic, (as long as the) cost per customer acquisition and the customer lifetime value (add up eventually)..."

Today, Wittyfeed generates more or less uniform traffic from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and native ad platforms. For Wittyfeed, social traffic is relevant because the platform caters to millennials. Also, social helps Wittyfeed crack the virality code a lot faster than search does. Content, Sethi insists, is only as good as its distribution.

Search versus social traffic: What's more precious to web publishers?

Rajesh Lalwani

Rajesh Lalwani, CEO, Blogworks, a social media consulting firm, spoke about the difference between print and web publishing: In the case of print, loyalty and choice drive consumption. In the case of web content, though, we consume bite-sized pieces that are thrown our way; we're not necessarily choosing what we're consuming. Largely, the business model that most web publishers follow is advertising-driven. This model is built on the premise of being able to predict who will consume what, and when. But it's this very predictability that's absent today. Therefore, "the task for web publishers today is to create loyalty. To some extent this can be done through social - an extremely important distribution channel. If content is a bomb, social is the fuse that ignites it," he says.

FirstWall's Gupta points out, however, that each of these distribution mechanisms have started creating their own ecosystems (like Facebook Instant Articles and Google AMP, for instance), a practice that has taken a lot of control and power away from publishers, in terms of aspects like ad placement and user experience, for example.

Search versus social traffic: What's more precious to web publishers?

Rajiv Bansal

Disagreeing with his co-panelists, Rajiv Bansal, CEO, HT Digital Streams (Hindustan Times' digital business) and chief digital officer, HT Media, makes it clear that he doesn't subscribe to the idea that all sources of traffic are equal. "Folks who come directly give far more engagement than traffic that comes through search or social," he says, going on to explain that this ties back to the way in which people use different mediums - when they come to a news website, they're there to consume news, so they do a lot of that, but when they go to Facebook, they do so to connect with friends and family... if news is offered to them, they'll consume a bit of it, but they're not necessarily the right audience for that news or in the right mood for it.

The same is true in the case of Google Search, as people use the platform "like a directory", and come there primarily to "find stuff on the internet". Bansal concedes that search and social are audience acquisition mechanisms - after all, Google and Facebook drive engagement - but he insists it's all really about the publisher's direct consumers and their experience.

Search versus social traffic: What's more precious to web publishers?

L-R - Gyan Gupta, Mayur Sethi, Rajesh Lalwani, Rajiv Bansal, Vanita Kohli-Khandekar
Click here to enlarge

Monetisation, be it through advertising or subscription, follows "deep engagement", which is something only "natural" traffic yields. Essentially, publishers' reliance on search or social for traffic is, in Bansal's view, akin to "outsourcing" their traffic related problems to these platforms. Consumers want an "authoritative" source of news, something social networks don't qualify as providers of.

On the monetisation-through-ad revenue front, the big question that continues to loom is: Do advertisers care about the amount of social media engagement a publisher has or is it just the overall traffic numbers that matter?

Event partners - (platinum partner), Akamai and Facebook (silver partners), and Freshworks, Vidooly, comScore, Quintype, Times Internet and 24 Frames Digital (bronze partners).

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