I’ve been developing an idea for the last couple of years around a fun sideline project.
I was thinking of going down the satirical path and wondered what this would mean for SEO.
How would my content be indexed and would I even be able to rank organically? Would I have to place less focus on SEO and more on social media for traffic?
I started doing some research and discovered satirical content is considered by search engines to be ‘fake news.’
This would make sense since satire isn’t entirely factual (sometimes not at all).
On a side note, I think it’s sad intellectual comedic content is lumped in with fake news garbage.
Anyway, moving on…
The truth is, most satirical sites rely on clickbait tactics to get traffic. No matter how funny or ridiculous they may be, satirical headlines are almost always untrue, silly, funny or shocking.
It’s rare the headline or content is factual. So, you can see why search engines would choose not to rank these stories among accurate, trustworthy sources. Even when the articles cover the same subject matter.
So, how do factual and satirical websites acquire traffic?
The Test Cases
For this research, I looked at ten high-traffic news sources. Five satirical and five factual.
ladbible.com — social media and entertainment website based in the UK.
buzzfeed.com — media, news, and entertainment website based in the USA.
theonion.com — satirical digital media company and newspaper organization based in the USA.
clickhole.com — satirical website based in the USA.
thedailymash.co.uk — satirical website based in the UK.
Ignore whether or not you dislike any of these factual sources of information, for the purposes of this exercise, that’s irrelevant.
What is relevant is the factual websites listed above are considered by search engines to be trusted newsworthy sources while the satirical sites are often deemed false or misleading.
I used SimilarWeb to gain insights into each website.
When I looked at the performance overview for satirical vs factual websites, the most significant differences were in the average visit duration and bounce rate.
Average visit duration:
Satirical: 1 minute and 56 seconds
Factual: 3 minutes and 26 seconds
It’s interesting to note Buzzfeed actually has the second highest average visit duration of all ten sites at 4 minutes and 17 seconds. Without Buzzfeed, the average drops to 1 minute 19 seconds.
Average bounce rates:
On the other two performance metrics I compared, the websites were pretty closely matched.
Pages Per Visit:
Desktop vs Mobile:
Satirical: Desktop 47.66% vs 52.34% Mobile
Factual: Desktop 41.33% vs 58.67% Mobile
Comparing traffic sources is where things get interesting.
Satirical websites rely more on social media for their traffic while factual sites rank better in search results.
Often these sites are covering similar content about what’s happening in the world; however, search engines are programmed to rank the more credible source.
Domain authority doesn’t seem to help these satirical sites who, according to Ubersuggest, all have DA in the 80s or 90s.
If a satirical website wants to cash in on the latest news stories, they have to rely on social media to acquire traffic whereas trusted news sources will rank almost immediately with breaking news stories.
When we look at the social media breakdown, most satirical sites rely on Facebook for their social media traffic.
From these results, we can see Facebook is the highest traffic source for satirical websites.
A dangerous position for satirical content.
With Facebook actively “working to stop misinformation and false news”, it must be nerve-racking for satirical websites posting on platform wondering if they’re going to be next!
Facebook has been on the warpath towards the end of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019 taking down what it deems to be fake news accounts.
Furthermore, misleading content is hidden from newsfeeds in algorithms.
Ranking Improvements: We’re always looking to improve News Feed by listening to what the community tells us. We’ve found opportunities like the fact that if reading an article makes people significantly less likely to share it, that may be a sign that a story has misled people in some way. We’re continuing to test this signal and others in News Feed ranking in order to reduce the prevalence of false news content.
cite: Facebook for Media
If a satirical website loses its Facebook account or, encounters an unfriendly algorithm update, the consequences could be disastrous!
Top Ranking Keywords From Search Engines
When we look at the top ranking keywords for each group set, we see satirical websites get a lot of branded keyword traffic whereas factual sites get a lot more non-branded keyword traffic around current events.
Branded vs Non-Branded Organic Keyword Traffic
Note: Branded keywords include the brand or website’s name in the title. For example, keywords linked to cnn.com with CNN in the search query would be recorded as a branded keyword. This includes spelling errors.
Using SimilarWeb, I was able to look at organic branded vs non-branded keyword traffic. The results somewhat correlate to the two top 5 keyword tables above.
Satirical: Branded 54% vs 46% Non-Branded
Factual: Branded 33% vs 67% Non-Branded
The only anomaly in the stats above seems to be ladbibile.com. If we remove ladbible.com from the dataset, the results are exactly opposite to each other.
Satirical: Branded 67% vs 33% Non-Branded
Factual: Branded 33% vs 67% Non-Branded
The key takeaway here is to create content around facts.
If you’re looking to create satirical content, you’ll have to focus on social media over SEO. Even then, diversify your social reach to avoid losing out to algorithm updates.
Clickbait traffic is fast becoming obsolete. This is going to force content creators to be more creative in their approach to subject matter and headlines.
The big question is, in the fight against fake news, are we going to potentially lose some amazing satirical writing?
If social media platforms and search engines don’t find the right solution to this issue, they could be making it harder to find some of the internet’s best creative writers.