Direct Visitors More Engaged with News Sites than those Coming via Facebook and Search

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"Pew study assesses loyalty of digital news consumers" by Jonathan Sotsky on Knight Blog 

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- (March 13, 2014) – The way people arrive at news organization websites speaks to the level of engagement and loyalty they have for the site and its content, according to a new Pew Research Center report, conducted in collaboration with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The study examined three major pathways to digital news—through social media referrals, search engine referrals and direct visits.

The study, which analyzed internet traffic to 26 of the most popular news websites, finds that direct visitors—those who type in the news outlet’s specific address (URL) or have the address bookmarked—are highly engaged with digital news content. Direct visitors spend, on average, about three times as long as those who wind up on a news website through a search engine or from Facebook. They view roughly five times as many pages per month and visit three times as often as those coming from Facebook and search.

Direct visitors also provide the highest percentage of traffic to online news content, accounting for at least 20% of the total visitors to more than half (15) of the 26 sites studied. In contrast, search visitors accounted for at least 20% of the traffic to 11 of the sites. Facebook accounted for 20% or more of the visitors to only four sites.

“These findings encapsulate some of the key challenges facing digital news,” said Amy Mitchell, Pew Research Center’s Director of Journalism Research. “Facebook and search are critical for bringing added views to individual stories, but, the data suggest it is hard to build relationships with those users. For news outlets operating under the traditional model and hoping to build a loyal, paying audience, it is critical for users to think of that outlet as the first place they should turn.”

“News organizations can use this study to better understand how people find their content and what attracts and sustains audiences,” said Michael Maness, Knight Foundation vice president of journalism and media innovation.  ““The findings show that cultivating relationships is central to developing a loyal following— this highlights the need for organizations to constantly experiment with new engagement opportunities, get to know their audience and create content that resonates.”

These are among the key findings from the study which details how one million people enrolled in one of the nation’s most popular commercial internet panels have been connecting through their desktop and laptop computers with the most heavily trafficked or shared news sites. The analysis of three months of comScore data (April through June 2013) also includes, where the data allow, an examination of mobile behavior around these news sites. This report is a component of a multi-part research project by the Pew Research Center, in collaboration with Knight Foundation, examining the role of news on Facebook and other social media platforms.

Other key findings:

·       The higher level of engagement from direct visitors holds true across the full mix of sites studied.  Whether they visit sites that rank among the most shared on Facebook (such as brieitbart.com); those whose traffic is heavily driven by search engines, (such as abcnews.go.com); or those with smaller audiences (mrconservative.com) direct visitors are more highly engaged than visitors who come to the sites in other ways. Even buzzfeed.com and npr.org, which have an unusually high level of Facebook traffic, saw greater engagement from those who came in directly.

·       Converting social and search referrals to direct visitors is hard to do. Most consumers tend to access a news site by just one of the three main pathways studied. Of the sites examined, the percentage of direct visitors who also came to the site via Facebook was extremely small—ranging from 0.9% to 2.3%, (with the exception of Buzzfeed at 11.3%). Similarly, the percentage of direct visitors who also came to a site through a search engine ranged from 1.3% to 4.1%—again with one exception, examiner.com at 8.6%.

 

·       Even among the top news sites, some see higher engagement levels than others. The average visitor to Foxnews.com (a site operated by the Fox News Channel), spent almost eight minutes per visit. By comparison, the average visitor to CNN spent 1 minute and 30 seconds on the site while visitors to nbcnews.com stayed about four minutes on average.

·       In the growing mobile area, the mobile browser is more popular than the mobile app. At the time of the study, only half of the news sites studied had a mobile app in either the iTunes or Google Play store. Among those with measurable data in the comScore panel, there were far more visits to the mobile web browser than to the mobile application. This trend is in line with past reports by the Pew Research Center. A Fall 2012 report found that on a smartphone, 61% of mobile news users got news “mostly” from their mobile browsers vs. 28% “mostly” from apps (11% said both equally.) Tablet owners reported a similar pattern with 60% saying they “mostly” got news from their browser and 23% “mostly” from apps (16% said both equally). 

·       For the majority of sites studied, visitors coming from Facebook were younger than visitors coming to the site directly or through search. For example, of the total audience to the bbc.co.uk site, 23% are in the 25-34 age group. Among Facebook visitors to that site, however, that number is 41%, the highest of any site studied. NYTimes.com saw a similar pattern with 22% of its overall audience in that age group, but a much larger percentage of its Facebook audience (35%) in that 25-34 cohort.

Read the report: link to come

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About Pew Research Center

Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. It does not take policy positions. Its Journalism Project assesses the state of news and information in a changing society. For more, visit www.pewresearch.org.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.

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