How has both consumer consumption of news and traffic patterns changed year-over-year? What about the role of platforms? Every October, media analytics platform Chartbeat identifies macro trends in audience behavior and news consumption to help publishers understand major shifts and discover new growth opportunities. These just released trends, rolled up from Chartbeat’s network level data from 2016 to 2017, sum up the key findings:
1. It’s not a mobile first-world, it’s mobile-only.
In looking at platform-referred traffic by device type, we see that mobile has made stunning gains year-over-year. Last year, traffic from Google had just tipped over the 50% mark for mobile for the first time ever, showing a 51% mobile vs 42% desktop split. But from 2016 to 2017, Google mobile traffic grew from 51% to 60%, and Facebook’s grew from 78% to 87%. For publishers with high dependencies on platform-referred traffic, it is significant to note that most visitors are now coming via mobile. At least for platform-referred visitors, it is practically a mobile-only world.
2. It’s not that Facebook traffic is down, it’s that Google is up.
Traffic that was referred from Facebook and Google to premium sites has been fairly steady over time, with Google driving roughly 1.25 billion visits per week and Facebook around 1 billion. The ebbs and flows in their traffic have stayed pretty consistent each month—until now.
Due to recent major news events including the solar eclipse and hurricane Irma, we saw traffic coming from Google escalate in unprecedented ways in September. Recent reports have described a decline in Facebook traffic, but in looking very closely at multiple data sources, we see a different picture: While it is true that Facebook’s share of total traffic is down, the missing piece is that, in fact, the pie is much larger, and Google is up.
So what does this mean for publishers? Newsworthy events, particularly those that are unfolding over time, are huge moments for search activity leading to direct traffic. Social traffic does not spike until afterwards, mainly around more emotional, reactionary content.
3. Demand for video is not constant; it spikes around breaking news.
In looking at consumer engagement with video content, we see that it’s much more dependent on what’s in the news than text is. Below we’re looking at how much time visitors spend watching video, relative to the time they spend with text. The first notable thing is that this line isn’t at all constant — demand for video content really changes across the year. When we look closer, we see that spikes in video watching correlate with a few highly visual stories in the news (like hurricane Irma). And that makes sense: for highly visual news, readers look for a highly visual news medium.
It is noteworthy for publishers that video demand is variable, and deeper insights here should lead to a better content strategy and smarter monetization.
4. Longer time reading content drives higher loyalty.
How can media companies build and grow a loyal audience? Focus on engagement.
Why is engagement as a metric so important? Chartbeat research shows that half of visitors who click through to an article hardly read what they land on: 45% spend less than 15 seconds on the page. As you can see in the graph below, a new reader who engages for a longer amount of time during their visit is more likely to return. And the more they return, the more pages they consume and the longer they read on the page. This in turn, means they also view more ads on the page. Overall, optimizing for engagement can drive loyalty, and revenue.
5. The homepage is not dead– it’s the place for your most vital audience.
Is the homepage really dead? Not at all. Yes, Facebook and Google are prime sources to target new readers, and those first time visitors are more likely to land on an article than a homepage. However, to our surprise, in looking at how article and homepage consumption changes by loyalty (based on the fraction of days a user visits in a two-week period), our data shows that frequently returning visitors build strong homepage habits.
- As readers become more loyal, they use front pages more actively.
- Visitors who come more than every other day (hitting the 50% threshold), visit more front pages than articles
- Subscribers (see dotted lined below in contrast to the solid lines) demonstrate higher overall engagement, at first with articles, but as they become more frequent users, their homepage consumption then begins to spike
The lesson for publishers? It is becoming increasingly clear that there are different tools in the publisher toolbox as it relates to building and growing a loyal audience. While platforms are for acquisition of new visitors, driving direct traffic on your owned and operated properties is critical to retention. The homepage is more important than you might think–it’s where you’ll lose or retain your most loyal readers.