NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Marketers spend billions to attract search traffic from Google, but late last year Facebook started becoming a bigger source of traffic for some large websites, according to analytics firm Hitwise.
It seems inevitable that, given Facebook's sheer scale (180 million registered users and counting), it would at some point start referring a lot of users to some sites, but the development is surprising. Web users go to Google to figure out where to go next; they go to Facebook to, well, hang out.
Facebook gets a little more than a third of Google's unique visitors in the U.S. (50 million vs. 149 million in January, per ComScore); since last summer, registered users have been growing at a double-digit rate.
Where they're going
But since the beginning of the year, Facebook has become a bigger referring site than Google to a number of sites, including gossip sites PerezHilton.com and Dlisted, mom site CafeMom, Evite, video site Tagged.com, and, yes, Twitter.
There are good reasons for some of this: CafeMom has a Facebook fan page, which no doubt helps drive traffic, and users can synchronize updates with Facebook and Twitter.
It's hard to know why two gossip sites are on the list, aside from the fact that they tend to be places people spend a lot of time. Since the beginning of 2009, gossip site PerezHilton.com has received 8.7% of its visitors from Facebook, compared with 7.6% from Google, according to Hitwise. The same didn't hold true, however, for gossip site TMZ, which got 12.2% of its traffic from Google, compared with 3.8% from Facebook.
Big source for video sites
As NewTeeVee points out, Facebook has also become a big source of referrals for video sites as users post and share clips. Traffic from Facebook accounted for 3.3% of visits to video sites in February, according to Hitwise, up from less than 2% in February of last year.
It all points to the growing power of content sharing; the question is how to harness that and what it means for the future of "search" marketing. Companies spent $12.2 billion in 2008 on search optimization and marketing to get traffic from Google, according to eMarketer.
But Peter Yared, CEO of marketing firm iWidgets, said he thinks some of that spending is going to shift to where the viewers, and the traffic, increasingly are. "Soon the [search-engine marketing and search-engine optimization] spend will start to follow the eyeballs and transition from Google to social media," he said.