May 9, 2011

Navigating News Online

Where Users Go When They Leave

In addition to making it easy to find, consume and interact with news content once someone is on their site, it is also important for news organizations to understand where users go after they leave. Are they heading to another company-owned property promoted on that site? Are they sharing content by heading to a social network that the site pointed them to?  Are they clicking on an advertisement and moving to a retailer promoted on the page? Or have they left for other reasons?

If a large portion of users are going to Facebook after leaving a site, that may indicate the site’s content is easy to share and viewed as worth distributing to friends. On the other hand, if most users are leaving for Google or some other search engine, that could indicate that users either did not find what they were looking for on the site or got what they needed but were not drawn to any other content.

Nielsen collects data about departure sites in a way similar to how it counts sites that direct people to a news Web page.  The data represent the percent of all users to the Website. A “departure” occurs when someone clicks on a link that takes them away from the main website—a visitor to news.google.com who follows a link to NYtimes.com, for example, again with a minimum threshold. Clicks within a website—say from CNN.com to CNN.com/politics, for example—are not considered departures. But if the site one moves to has a different Web domain, even if it is related—a move say from CNN.com to money.cnn.com—Nielsen considers that a departure. [1]

What does the data tell us about consumer behavior? Four main findings stand out:

  • There are three types actions that tend to pull people away from a main news site. The first is a subdomain within the family of properties owned by the Website’s parent company. A move from AOL News for example to Aol.com. The second most prevalent place to go is a sharing site such as Facebook or Addthis (a tool or “widget” that many sites use through which users can share content to several different sharing sites). Third, is Google—though not the search engine or news aggregator that sent people to the site in the first place. The Google component accessed in these instances is Google the service provider. Users in these cases are accessing tools powered by Google such as a map attached to a piece of content or screener questions often attached to email sign-up pages. [2] Still, on 12 of the sites studied here, including the Nytimes.com and Washingtonpost.com, Google is the first or second departure destination, accounting for up to 7% of the departure links. This suggests, then that Google’s influence on digital news goes far beyond search and aggregation. 
  • The data also offers some suggestions about the impact of advertising.  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.  This comports with industry measurements of click-through-rate for ads (CTR) as well as with PEJ survey data from 2010 that found consumers quite adept at ignoring peripheral ads. In that survey, 79% said they never clicked on an ad on a news Website.
  • The addition of social networking “share” tools to the margins of nearly every news story seems to have paid off. Facebook shows up among the top destinations for every site studied. So do sharing tool widgets like Addthis.com, which allow users to share a story across a wide range of social network pages. And the share tools rank higher among the content producers on the list than aggregators, suggesting that people share actual news stories more than search results. While these are technically clicks away from the site, they are positive clicks away, likely multiplying additional traffic to that story. The extent of their use may even be under counted here as this figure measures when people click on a link or tool to share the story. It does not record instances when users copy and paste URL’s onto a share page.  
  • The largest sites that operate many subdomain properties also tend to succeed at keeping much of the “departing” traffic within the family.  On ChicagoTribune.com, for instance, the top seven destination sites are pages within Chicago Tribune itself, such as the ChicagoTribune.com sports page or breaking news section. On CNN.com, 13 of top fifteen destination sites are within the CNN family, including CNN subdomains like news.blogs.cnn.com and money.conn.com as, well as other Time Warner properties promoted on the site like sportsillustrated.com. Google and Facebook are the only external sites to make it in that mix.
  • There are three types actions that tend to pull people away from a main news site. The first is a subdomain within the family of properties owned by the Website’s parent company. A move from AOL News for example to Aol.com. The second most prevalent place to go is a sharing site such as Facebook or Addthis (a tool or “widget” that many sites use through which users can share content to several different sharing sites). Third, is Google—though not the search engine or news aggregator that sent people to the site in the first place. The Google component accessed in these instances is Google the service provider. Users in these cases are accessing tools powered by Google such as a map attached to a piece of content or screener questions often attached to email sign-up pages. [2] Still, on 12 of the sites studied here, including the Nytimes.com and Washingtonpost.com, Google is the first or second departure destination, accounting for up to 7% of the departure links. This suggests, then that Google’s influence on digital news goes far beyond search and aggregation. 
  • The data also offers some suggestions about the impact of advertising.  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.  This comports with industry measurements of click-through-rate for ads (CTR) as well as with PEJ survey data from 2010 that found consumers quite adept at ignoring peripheral ads. In that survey, 79% said they never clicked on an ad on a news Website.
  • The addition of social networking “share” tools to the margins of nearly every news story seems to have paid off. Facebook shows up among the top destinations for every site studied. So do sharing tool widgets like Addthis.com, which allow users to share a story across a wide range of social network pages. And the share tools rank higher among the content producers on the list than aggregators, suggesting that people share actual news stories more than search results. While these are technically clicks away from the site, they are positive clicks away, likely multiplying additional traffic to that story. The extent of their use may even be under counted here as this figure measures when people click on a link or tool to share the story. It does not record instances when users copy and paste URL’s onto a share page.  
  • The largest sites that operate many subdomain properties also tend to succeed at keeping much of the “departing” traffic within the family.  On ChicagoTribune.com, for instance, the top seven destination sites are pages within Chicago Tribune itself, such as the ChicagoTribune.com sports page or breaking news section. On CNN.com, 13 of top fifteen destination sites are within the CNN family, including CNN subdomains like news.blogs.cnn.com and money.conn.com as, well as other Time Warner properties promoted on the site like sportsillustrated.com. Google and Facebook are the only external sites to make it in that mix.


FOOTNOTES:

1.  These 21 news sites are organized in very different ways.  Nielsen reports where users go when they leave at the subdomain level, like cnn.com/politics rather than the main domain, such as cnn.com. Some sites like AOL have a wide range of subdomains with all different kinds of sites that are organized differently.  The result is that a more complex site like AOL.com, which actually encompasses dozens of different products from AOL News to AOL Weather, is slightly different than a site like The New York Times which only includes articles and other content from the New York Times.  And, though a user can link to more than one outside Website over the course of a month, these percentages are much smaller than those of referring sites.

2.  Google provides many different services that news sites could utilize such as powering the search function on the site itself. For example Google provides the CAPTCHA services for the NYtimes.com email sign up.