Facebook users are more loyal to news and media Websites than are visitors from Google News, another sign that the leading social network is a strong driver for traffic beyond its walled garden.
HitWise surveyed clickstream data and found that among the top 5 print media Websites in the week ending March 6, 78 percent of Facebook users were returning visitors compared to 67 percent from Google News.
Visitors to broadcast media sites posted a 77 percent returning rate for Facebook, compared to 64 percent for Google News.
HitWise analyst Heather Hopkins looked at the percentage of visits by source that were new versus returning, counting new visitors as those that haven't visited the site within the past 30 days.
This March 18 chart shows the average returning rate among the top 5 news print Websites and the top 5 news broadcast Websites.
For example, Hopkins said 81 percent of visits to CNN.com in the week to March 6 were returning visitors while 84 percent of visitors to CNN.com that came from Facebook were returning visitors and 72 percent from Google News were returning visitors.
While Google.com is the No. 1 source of traffic to these sites, visitors from Google are less likely to be returning visitors than for either Google News or Facebook. "This reinforces the long-term value to News and Media organizations of working with the likes of Google News and Facebook," Hopkins said.
These statistics don't mean Facebook is going to suck inordinate amounts of traffic from Google. What it does mean is that the social network of 400 million-plus users is a viable advertising touchstone for advertisers and retailers.
If readers keep coming back, they will see more ads. This is good for Facebook, good for the advertiser, and obviously good for the publisher that is trying to compete for eyeballs and page views in the cutthroat online news business.
HitWise and its research rival comScore have calculated some interesting stat about Facebook's growth in popularity and search queries of late.
Hopkins' HitWise colleague Heather Dougherty found that Facebook surpassed Google in the United States to become the most visited Website for the week ending March 13.
Dougherty also found that Facebook accounted for the most traffic to location-based social network Foursquare.com.
Facebook accounted for 33 percent of the upstream visits last week. Google and Twitter accounted for 22 percent and 8 percent, respectively. This means Facebook has become a genuine referral clearinghouse.
Facebook has also become a popular place for search. comScore said search queries on Facebook grew from 395 million in January 2010 to 436 million in February 2010, a growth of 10 percent.
Again, Facebook's current growth post no immediate threat to Google, Microsoft Bing or Yahoo, but it's a trend that bears watching as the Internet companies slug it out for traffic.