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BuzzFeed is losing website traffic as readers head for more traditional news sites

The New York Times, Fox News and the Washington Post have eclipsed BuzzFeed in U.S. visitors, according to comScore.

People stand outside an Apple store looking at books and phones. Drew Angerer / Getty
Rani Molla is a senior correspondent at Vox and has been focusing her reporting on the future of work. She has covered business and technology for more than a decade — often in charts — including at Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal.

This post has been updated.

Major news sites have seen increased readership as Americans try to make sense of the tumultuous political climate, but BuzzFeed has seen its web traffic decline.

The company announced layoffs yesterday after missing revenue targets. A rep for BuzzFeed, which has long focused its business on advertising that travels across the web on sites like Facebook — but is increasingly trying to generate revenue from its own site — said the layoffs are “completely unrelated” and that its audience is “a major asset.”

While U.S. web traffic to CNN, the New York Times, Fox News and the Washington Post has grown over the past year, unique visitors to BuzzFeed’s website have been falling over the last two years. It saw 69.8 million U.S. readers in October, a 10 percent drop from the 77.4 million readers it drew in October 2016, and a 12 percent drop from 2015 when it had 79.3 million readers, according to comScore data.

Another third-party data source supports comScore’s findings. BuzzFeed’s website traffic in the U.S. declined to 106 million visits this October, down from 134.7 million visits in October 2016, according to data from SimilarWeb.

Since BuzzFeed does a lot of its publishing straight to Facebook, these figures don’t reflect that traffic. People watching its Tasty videos, for example, don’t show up in the data.

The measurement “doesn't accurately represent our true reach,” a BuzzFeed spokesperson told Recode. “Last month, BuzzFeed overall had more than nine billion monthly global content views across platforms, and BuzzFeed News had more than 250 million pageviews to our web pages."

According to BuzzFeed’s own measurements conducted through Nielsen — which include site traffic as well as social traffic on Facebook — BuzzFeed reached 163 million U.S. users in October, up from 160 million in August.

BuzzFeed declined to disclose the percentage of its revenue that occurs off-site on platforms like Facebook. But traffic to its website is still important for the publisher, which recently started letting advertisers put banner and other ads on its web pages. BuzzFeed also needs web traffic to help sell gadgets, another recent revenue source.

The company has built a lot of its business on social media, which has become a fickle source of traffic. Facebook is constantly readjusting its algorithms and publishers have lost out as a result of the latest changes. It caused traffic to viral sites like Upworthy and Distractify to plummet.

BuzzFeed’s site gets the biggest portion of its web traffic — 42 percent — from social media, according to SimilarWeb data over the past 18 months. This has propelled BuzzFeed’s business on social platforms, but also gives BuzzFeed less control over its destiny.

At the same time, CNN, the Washington Post, the New York Times and Fox News all saw peak web readership around last year’s presidential election and, more importantly, have managed to sustain gains amid continued political tension. Unlike BuzzFeed and other virally driven sites, the news sites get a majority of their traffic from readers going directly to their websites, or through search, according to SimilarWeb.

Facebook has historically made changes that affect publisher reach. The social giant started testing a news-only feed in a few countries earlier this year, for example, which crushed publisher traffic and created a potential scenario where publishers could be forced to pay Facebook in order to reach readers.

In an effort to combat fake news, Facebook recently employed a “disputed” tag for posts for stories that might be considered inaccurate by third-party fact-checkers working with the social network. Facebook has also been trying to show users more story options, with the idea that more options might present more viewpoints on the same piece of news.

In general, publications that downsized their editorial staff when they pivoted to video recently saw their traffic tank, but that doesn’t seem to be the case with BuzzFeed, which maintained a robust editorial staff.

This post has been edited and updated with additional comment from BuzzFeed and additional context.

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