Facebook recently announced it has once again changed its algorithm to make content from users’ friends and family more prominent in the news feed.

As a result, content from publishers (like news media sites that have come to lean on Facebook for traffic) will take a back seat–and this change will have a major impact on Facebook-generated traffic. Considering that research from Parse.ly indicates as much as 40% of publisher traffic comes from Facebook, this change is one that can’t be ignored.

Let’s look at what the Facebook algorithm change means for publishers, how it will impact referral traffic, and what realistic options publishers have for alternative content distribution.

What the Facebook algorithm change means

Content publishing sites like BuzzFeed and The Washington Post have historically seen success using Facebook to direct traffic to their websites, as well as with increasing shares and extending the reach of their stories.

However, the latest Facebook algorithm change has some major implications for content distribution moving forward. Let’s look at a few key things to know.

Decrease in referral traffic

In the past, Facebook has been a key source of referral traffic to publishers’ sites. In fact, data from Pew Research shows that as many as 44% of US adults regularly read news content found on Facebook.

But the early impact of this new algorithm change is already being felt by publishers: SocialFlow data indicated that the organic reach of stories from publishers had already dropped by a staggering 42%. Publishers’ content shared in May only reached an average of 68,000 people, compared to 117,000 back in January.

Publishers can expect to see these numbers continue to decrease–which means they’ll need to look for other ways to send traffic to their websites.

Publishers and marketers realize that publishing their content on social sites like Facebook is like building a house on rented land.

More and more publishers are using email marketing to grow their audience and share highly relevant and targeted content. Publishers and marketers are using email marketing as the core of their digital strategy as they own the message and all the touchpoints. For example, you can create customized, branded emails that make it easy to plug in your best content like Reddit does. They hand-pick content to drive their audience to subreddit threads not found on the Front Page with their curated newsletter, Upvoted Weekly.

All content types impacted

The Facebook algorithm change affects all types of content that publishers have shared in the past–video, live video, photos, links, and text. It appears that even Instant Articles will be impacted, which allows news sites to publish original content directly on Facebook.

As Facebook makes publishers’ interests less of a priority, it wouldn’t be surprising to see publishers put less focus on publishing here, too.

Publishers know that email marketing is a long-term bedrock that they can build their audience development strategy on top of. Social, search, affiliates – these channels will all change over time.

Paid promotion required

Just like many other businesses have learned, organic exposure of content is extremely limited on Facebook–and if publishers want their content to be seen–they’re going to have to pay for it.

The good news is that Facebook allows businesses to target a relevant audience…but the bad news is that it’s going to cost (and maybe more than it has in the past.) As more and more publishers increase the demand for ads, Econ 101 tells us that costs will likely increase as well.

Added hurdles for Facebook publishing

The reality is: Since Facebook has an ever-moving stream of content displaying in the user’s news feed, reaching an audience here has been, and likely always will be, an uphill battle.

There are several hurdles a publisher has to overcome on this platform each and every time they share content:

  1. Reaching the target audience through strategic paid promotion, as organic exposure is extremely limited.
  2. Getting content seen by the target audience, because the passage of time pushes published content further down in the feed.
  3. Getting the audience to click-through on the post and visit or engage with the content that’s been posted externally on the publisher’s website.

So what’s a publisher to do when facing the existing hurdles in tandem with the algorithm changes?

Email marketing delivers for publishers

Despite the changes to Facebook’s algorithm, email marketing still offers a way for publishers to continue to reach their audiences, drive traffic to their websites, and to increase ROI for their marketing efforts.

Let’s look at the numbers on this:

  • There are 3x more email accounts than there are Facebook and Twitter accounts combined.
  • Email marketing messages are 5x more likely to be seen through email than Facebook.
  • Organic reach on Facebook is only about 6%, whereas the average open rates for email marketing messages are in the 20-30% range.

The email inbox remains a sacred space for the nearly 5 billion email account owners around the world, and because exposure in this arena isn’t limited by algorithms and paid promotion, it’s an equal playing field in which many publishers are consistently seeing ROI.

In fact, publishers like BuzzFeed report that email has consistently been a top referrer of website traffic and that it is steadily increasing referral traffic on a month over month basis.

Through segmented email campaigns that show subscribers relevant, personalized content, publishers can leverage email to overcome the challenges presented by the Facebook algorithm change.

The bottom line: If there’s ever been a time for publishers to consider amping up their email efforts, it’s now.

Wrap up

While publishers might be feeling anxious about the Facebook algorithm changes, other mediums like email present realistic avenues for supplementation–and even growth–of referral traffic to their websites.

Now is the time to discuss how email marketing can bridge the gap this algorithm change will create–and how you can grow your audience and deliver the right content at the right time.