Last updated: May 9, 2011 - 8:33am
An in-depth study of detailed audience statistics from the Nielsen Company. The study examines the top 25 news Websites in popularity in the United States, delving deeply into four main areas of audience behavior: how users get to the top news sites; how long they stay during each visit; how deep they go into a site; and where they go when they leave.
Overall, the findings suggest that there is not one group of news consumers online but several, each of which behaves differently. These differences call for news organizations to develop separate strategies to serve and make money from each audience. The findings also reveal that while search aggregators remain the most popular way users find news, the universe of referring sites is diverse. Social media is rapidly becoming a competing driver of traffic. And far from obsolete, home pages are usually the most popular page for most of the top news sites. What users do with news content, the study also suggests, could significantly influence the economics of the news industry. Understanding not only what content users will want to consume but also what content they are likely to pass along may be a key to how stories are put together and even what stories get covered in the first place.
Among the findings:
- Even the top brand news sites depend greatly on “casual users,” people who visit just a few times per month and spend only a few minutes at a site over that time span. USAToday.com was typical of most of these popular news sites: 85% of its users visited USAToday.com between one and three times per month. Three quarters came only once or twice. Time spent was even more daunting: When all the visits were added together, fully a third of users, 34%, spent between one and five minutes on the paper’s Website each month. Even if, as some suggest, online data tend to count some users multiple times, inflating the number of casual users and undercounting repeat visits, casual users till would be the largest single group.
- There is, however, a smaller core of loyal and frequent visitors to news sites, who might be called “power users.” These people return more than 10 times per month to a given site and spend more than an hour there over that time. Among the top 25 sites, power users visiting at least 10 times make up an average of just 7% of total users, but that number ranged markedly, from as high as 18% (at CNN.com) to as low as 1% (at BingNews.com).
- Even among the top nationally recognized news site brands, Google remains the primary entry point. The search engine accounts on average for 30% of the traffic to these sites.
- Social media, however, and Facebook in particular, are emerging as a powerful news referring source. At five of the top sites, Facebook is the second or third most important driver of traffic. Twitter, on the other hand, barely registers as a referring source. In the same vein, when users leave a site, “share” tools that appear alongside most news stories rank among the most clicked-on links.
- When it comes to the age, news consumers to the top news websites are on par with Internet users overall. This stands apart from news consumption on traditional platforms, which tends to skew older, and may bode well for the industry.
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