Pew Research released an interesting yet somewhat predictable report this week about how much time users spend on news sites as a function of how they reached the site. Pew found out that “…among users coming to these news sites through a desktop or laptop computer, direct visitors spend, on average, 4 minutes and 36 seconds per visit. That is roughly three times as long as those who wind up on a news media website through a search engine (1 minute 42 seconds) or from Facebook (1 minute 41 seconds)”
The not-surprising conclusion that people who type in a URL are more loyal than people who click to a specific article makes sense. Users who come directly to a site are already “loyal” in the sense that they know the name of the site and may even have it bookmarked.
Users coming in from search results or a Facebook post are coming for a particular story. Their interest is in the story itself, not the news site that published it. In fact, they probably don’t care at all about the news organization behind the item.
What surprised me, though, is that news sites are not able to “hang on” to these referrals and garner significant additional engagement on the first visit that could make the user decide that this is their news site of choice. By coming to the site, the user has already declared an interest in news and in a particular news topic. Why can’t they be enticed to stay on the site and read some more?
Here are a few areas to look at:
1. What other articles are you presenting the user after they are done reading the article? What percentage of those articles are clicked? What topics are discussed? Do they extend the current topic or are they just additional articles on unrelated topics in the same section?
2. How are additional articles presented? As text links below the comments? As image links? What works best?
3. How user-friendly is the experience? Does the page load immediately or is there always an interstitial ad? Is the article split up on numerous pages (extremely irritating) or is it all on one long page? Are sound-on ads being played the moment you load the page?
4. How many ad impressions are on the page? Yes, we know newspapers have to make a living but there needs to be a logical balance between advertising and readability. So many sites have popover ads that move text around continuously making the article impossible to read.
5. What media types generate the most post-article engagement for a particular user? Does the user prefer video or text? Slideshows or podcasts? Find out and offer more.
6. Finally, we don’t all care about celebrity plastic surgery gone wrong. Personalize the user experience and optimize it constantly.