X referral traffic falls for publishers like BuzzFeed, Reuters, CNN


Many publishers are getting less traffic from X, formerly known as Twitter, this year compared to a year ago.

Why we care. Being visible in social media remains important for brands even as social media continues to lose importance as a referral source for some publishers. But that doesn’t mean it’s safe to ignore X or social media entirely – watch your traffic data to see whether it’s time to revisit your audience and traffic growth strategies.

A 24% drop on average. Traffic from X fell 24%, on average, for a random set of 25 large and small publishers from the first half of 2022 to the first half of 2023, according to analysis by Automattic, as Digiday reported.

By the numbers. Ten publishers that saw significant drops in X referral traffic, according to SimilarWeb, were:

  • BuzzFeed -70%
  • Reuters -67%
  • The Washington Post -48%
  • The Wall Street Journal -42%
  • CNN -41%
  • Fox News -39%
  • NBC News -38%
  • The New York Times -35%
  • The Guardian -29%
  • BBC -20%

A five-year trend. The decline of X/Twitter referral traffic didn’t start this year. Publishers large and small have been watching this happen since 2018, according to Press Gazette:

Data from publisher analytics firm Chartbeat shows that Twitter referral traffic, 1.9% of all traffic in April 2018 to 1,350 publisher sites included in the analysis, had fallen to 1.2% five years later in April this year.

But. Referral traffic from X is not declining for all publishers. I looked at Search Engine Land’s referral data from X, comparing 2023 vs. 2022 (from Jan. 1 to Aug. 23):

  • Sessions were up 50%
  • Pageviews were up 62%.

Twitter/X was our third largest referral source from social, not far behind LinkedIn and Facebook. Social overall accounted for 5.8% of all Search Engine Land sessions.

Search = Elon proof. After Elon Musk bought Twitter, now rebranded as X, some search marketers abandoned the platform, but many others still continue to use it regularly, while others lurk or use it less than in prior years. The nature of the search marketing industry – and our need to stay on top of all the latest news as it happens – could be a contributing factor to Search Engine Land’s growth.

Could things get worse? Potentially. Twitter is testing removing headlines from links to articles – which could further impact referral traffic. Only the article’s featured image and URL will be displayed to “greatly improve the esthetics,” Musk confirmed via X.



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