Using data for top news sites, Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism presents a sobering view for news sites of obtaining and retaining customers.
Journalists don’t think of their readers as customers, but there is competition for time. Reading news, watching a video or commenting on a news items is time. Users measure that use of their time with other things which could include watching popular YouTube video, playing a game, doing work or going to the bathroom.
Highlights of Where people Go, How They Get There and What Lures Them Away
Casual users dominate news sites. Even in the busiest news sites, less than 15 percent visit the site less than once a month. Anything below once a month is considered a casual user. The small percentage of people visiting more than once a month should sober journalists and news publishers. With so many few regular users, it’s logical that the average time on the site is less than 5 minutes.
The source of traffic to news sites. Facebook, Google, Drudge and Twitter are the primary sources. The top news sites received about 40% of their traffic from outside referrals.
The definition of “outside referrals” needs better attention. Many news organizations view referring traffic from Google or Bing as a different engagement from a link from Facebook or Twitter. Links from Facebook or Twitter are considered more important because they more often come from a more trusted network of friends or people being followed than search from Google, which would include Google Search or Google News. Many Google or search readers are considered “one and done”.
The PEJ data doesn’t given any greater weight from a recommended link than an unrecommended link. But if I’m having CNN.com stories in my Twitter feed or on my Facebook page, I’m more engaged with that site, than searching for something and then choosing the CNN.com link.
Traffic goals for other news sites. The top news sites typically receive between 60 percent and 80 percent from direct traffic, which means users typing in a URL, clicking an email or some other way of going direct to a web site. The remain is traffic from links. Again there’s a debatable issue between the source of the link.
The importance of the homepage. The range for the top 25 varied from 79 percent for Reuters to 7 percent for Topix.com, but it was the most-viewed page for all but four sites.
Demographics of top news sites. Most advertisers and marketers should like demographics: well-educated, better than average income. Interesting that women outnumber men on general news sites, by a greater percentage than the overall population.
Little impact of ads. The audience may be desirable, but the audience don’t like ads.
Not a single consumer product site appears in the mix of destination pages for these news sites. That means that in no case did five people click on the same ad on a news site in the months studied.
The article is creating a lot of cross talk, such as the study’s shortcoming, and it’s reliance on incomplete Nielsen data. One interesting part of the study is how difficult it is to measure a site’s audience. Even using industry standard tools such as Omnitue, Nielsen, or Compete, there are assumptions about users that make tracking difficult — such as one user who visits a web site through multiple computers or browsers a day.