The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism has conducted some fascinating research on how people in the US consume news online. They took audience statistics from the Nielsen Company and examined the top 25 US news websites to identify four main areas of audience behaviour: 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.
The findings, unsurprisingly, reveal that there is no one answer, but that different groups consume online news in different ways. Pew recommends that news organisations look into these findings to put together new distribution strategies depending on the demographic(s) they are looking to target.
But there are plenty of learnings here for PR professionals as well. Here are the key points:
- Google still holds sway – Among these top news sites, Google remains the primary entry point, with the search engine accounting on average for 30% of their traffic
- Facebook’s on the up – But social media is making in roads with, surprisingly, Facebook in particular emerging as a powerful referrer. At five of the top US news sites, Facebook is the second or third most important driver of traffic. Twitter, on the other hand, barely registers.
- Sharing is caring – Also, when users leave a site, ‘share this’ links rank amongst the most clicked on links
There is a clear demarcation in the research between ‘casual’ readers and ‘power’ readers and the behaviours of each are clearly different. In this age of more readily available news content, publications need to work harder to keep these casual readers coming back. But PRs, on the other hand, stand only to win with news stories more than capable of reaching non-traditional readers due to the increasing power of Google and social media. This serves to encourage us all to read articles from publications we would never usually have considered.
So when it comes to mainstream news these days, increasingly it is less about targeting a publication based on known circulation or demographic data, but more about finding the publication with the widest potential reach depending on its search engine rankings and social media power. Research like this provides a powerful insight into where traditional and new media is going.