Facebook Is The 2nd Largest Referral Source for Online Video

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When Christophor wrote last week about the latest comScore numbers on online video, the first thing I did was dig through the data for something odd.  It’s an instinct for me.  I’m always trying to find the odd number out… the thing that doesn’t make sense… the “one of these things” that’s “not like the other.”  And when I saw that comScore was reporting that YouTube had about 13 billion video views in April 2010, I thought I’d found my oddity.

You see, YouTube had only recently announced that they were serving 2 billion views per day.  So to see comScore give a number that was four times smaller (13 billion divided by the 30 days in the month), I thought for sure I’d caught one of them in a lie.

Until I realized the comScore video numbers are for the U.S. only, and YouTube’s “2 billion views per day” number was for the entire world.  Classic case of me being blinded by my own race to point out a lie or an error.  Oops.  Now, I still think the comScore numbers should be higher—by that I mean that you would think the U.S. viewers would make up more than ¼ of the world’s YouTube audience.   Maybe something as much as half (1 billion views per day) even.  So I still think there’s a strange disparity between the video views comScore thinks YouTube gets and YouTube’s own internal numbers.  One or both sources are quite probably less-than-perfectly-accurate.

But that’s an argument for another day.  Today I want to talk about a stat from comScore’s report that actually is a pronounced abnormality.  Nearly buried by all the raw numbers is the report’s note that Facebook is now the 5th largest provider of videos.  They had over 41 million unique video views in the month of April 2010—that’s more than CBS, Microsoft, Hulu, Viacom, or Turner (the rest of the top 10).

Facebook has more video viewers than Hulu.  Think about that for a second.

When did this happen? Because I certainly wasn’t paying attention when it happened.  But Facebook is now 5th in video behind only Google (including YouTube), Yahoo, Fox, and Vevo.  After the initial shock of the stat wore off, it kind of started to make perfect sense to me.  Let’s say you have a video—maybe you have a talented cat or something, and you shot some film of it that you want to put online.  You can go to YouTube, upload the video, then go back to Facebook and embed the thing.  Or, you can skip a step, and upload it straight to the place you’re going to share it from anyway… Facebook.

Now… this is only for videos uploaded to Facebook—this doesn’t include videos “shared” on Facebook or embedded on someone’s wall—but this is just for videos hosted at Facebook.

But interestingly enough, Facebook is an overnight player in the video referral game as well.  Head over to Compete.com and try their referral tool for yourself and you’ll find that Facebook is the number 2 referrer of traffic to YouTube, accounting for more than 16% of YouTube’s views.  Just to put that in perspective:  Google is the number 1 referrer to YouTube, sending the video portal 18% of the overall traffic.   And it drops off considerably after that, with MySpace taking the third spot by accounting for a measly 4% of YouTube referrals.

And this trend continues for other portal sites.  Check out Facebook’s status as a referrer to Vevo… or Hulu… or Vimeo.  Geez, Facebook is the number 2 referral source for each of those portals—and it’s darn near number one for Hulu.  That’s insane.

What that means is that Facebook is suddenly one of the two big dogs in the video referral game.  They’re Pepsi to Google’s Coke.  And when you look at Compete’s list of sites rank by traffic, you’ll see that Facebook is getting more than half a billion more visits per month than Google, which might account for their jump to prominence in video referrals—more eyeballs over at Facebook to see the referring links than there are at Google.

There are several implications to all this, but mainly it makes me wonder how much longer “video SEO” will be what we know it to be.  If people start using Facebook as the default way to send, share, watch, and find video… then a lot of what we know video SEO to be would cease to have importance.

But there will always be a need for some measure of sensible SEO work on your video.  The reason is the fundamental nature of Facebook—it’s a much more closed system (current privacy debate aside).  For instance, I have no idea what videos your brother has uploaded to Facebook.  And I’m never going to be “referred” from his wall page to YouTube because I can’t see his wall page… because I’m not “friends” with him.

I’m limited in terms of what videos I can be referred to by the sharing tendencies of my friends.  And I’m not stupid enough to think that my small group of Facebook friends is going to alert me to every single entertaining video that appears online.  I know I’m going to have to go to Google or YouTube and do some prospecting to find some of the gems that don’t quite make it into my Facebook network.

(By the way, this is the same reason why Facebook won’t overtake Google as a video provider—because videos uploaded to Facebook can only be seen by your friend network, which is limited by definition.  Videos seeking to go viral will simply have to be uploaded somewhere more open like YouTube.)

I remember a time, not that long ago, when Google was the number one referral source for nearly every site I worked on.  You could open up Analytics and know that Google would be the top source in 99% of cases.  Of course, that was before Facebook became the juggernaut that it is.  That was before URL shorteners and Twitter.  That was before people started getting so darn social on the web.

But while they are still the top referrer in many cases, the days of Google being the only real contender in the battle to be the “content discovery” king are over–especially for video.  Facebook is a clear challenger, and it feels like it happened overnight.


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