Key Industry Trends & Tactics to Grow Your Audience
Online news consumption has grown incredibly in the past year and continues to climb in 2017. This is largely due to major political events which have dominated the headlines. Americans are not only consuming more news across several sources, they are also thinking about the role that news providers play in their lives and society.
In this report, we look at key online trends that all publishers should know in 2017. We go back to basics, such as deciding what to write about, when to publish and who to target, and provide essential tactics for publishers to increase and retain their online market share.
Sizing Up the Market
To put the size of the industry into context, 1 in every 12 visits online were made to News & Media sites in 2016. This has grown by 17%, from 1 in every 15 visits, compared to 2015.
CNN remains the industry leader in online visits, while Huffington Post, New York Times and Fox News compete for second place. Americans spent an average 5:56 minutes per session on News & Media sites in 2016, although times varied by publication. Out of the top 20 publishers, visit time ranged from 13:09 minutes per session for Drudge Report to 3:23 for Forbes.
1. What Do People Read and When?
In this section, we look at how news topics change, depending on the day of the week and hour of the day. We use the inauguration as an example of how breaking news disrupts typical hourly patterns, and why this matters to publishers.
When determining the best time to publish articles, the day of the week, hour of the day and subject matter should all be considered. To illustrate this, we analyzed the peak hours and top content topics consumed on Fox News, which has seen a meteoric rise in readership since the election.
During the weekday, the top 2 most-read topics on Fox News are politics and entertainment, which peak from 9am to 1pm. Meanwhile on the weekend, these topics are consumed fairly consistently from 9am onwards. Based on this information, Fox might decide to promote and surface more political and entertainment content during work hours.
Hourly news consumption can also shift with breaking stories. For instance, news patterns changed dramatically on the day of Trump’s inauguration (January 20th, 2017). On inauguration day, visit share shifted significantly every hour, with CNN gaining the highest share thanks to their “inauguration live coverage” article, which pushed CNN ahead of other publishers through most of the day.
As you can see below, CNN’s successful coverage won a whopping 17% visit share of inauguration articles between noon and 1pm on inauguration day. The Guardian also attracted visits for their live video feed and inauguration updates, although they didn’t come close to CNN. Buzzfeed’s playful commentary on Michelle Obama’s face after receiving a gift from Melania Trump gained some traffic, as did Fox News’ coverage of rioting protesters, which they were the first to cover.
Track hourly patterns across your key competitors, and drill down to top viewed articles to inform your own content strategy. Be agile and responsive to breaking news in order to capture market share by the hour.
2. What Should You Write About?
Search terms provide a rich source of inspiration for publishers, representing people’s “top of mind” thoughts and queries. News providers need to keep a close pulse on fast-moving terms to get the first mover advantage. We look at the searches around the Nintendo NES Classic, a revival of the popular gaming console from the 1980’s, to demonstrate this.
The Nintendo Classic burst into the scene just weeks before Black Friday 2016, with an official US release scheduled for November 11th. But online buzz around the classic console first surfaced the week of July 16th, thanks to Nintendo’s official announcement. Coveted as one of the must-have products of 2016 (to the point where it created stock issues immediately after its release), the Nintendo Classic drove quite a lot of searches during the second half of the year.
Let’s look at the publishers who were able to capitalize on these Nintendo searches. When we break down traffic to News & Media sites coming from Nintendo-related search variations, it’s clear that The Verge won the lion’s share of clicks. With early articles hailing the “glorious revival” of Nintendo (“We just saw Nintendo’s NES Classic in person and it is glorious”), The Verge was able to capture this early buzz and excitement.
The Verge was also able to maintain top spot during the week of the product’s actual release (Nov 12th), although it was met with higher competition across tech specialist and news providers who caught on to the craze.
The Verge is not a top technology publication — they sit several hundred rankings below sites like CNET according to the Alexa website ranking. So what was the secret behind The Verge’s success?
During the week of Nintendo’s release, The Verge expertly matched their content keywords with high organic search terms. Compared to generic searches that had higher paid rates (such as “nes classic” or “mini nes”), terms that specified “sold out” and “amazon” had higher organic rates. Articles such as “already sold out” and “how to buy (on Amazon)” directly answered consumer needs while boosting their organic traffic.
Use fast-moving organic terms as a source of inspiration to get the first mover advantage. Replicate key organic terms to optimize click share against your competitors.
3. Who Reads Your News Now?
Key events, such as Trump’s election, have blurred the lines between audiences of right and left-leaning publications, as more Americans (particularly young, liberal readers) seek out news from multiple sources. In this section, we measure the impact of key political events on the audience composition of major publications, and explore how this may affect their strategy moving forward.
Online news readers tend to be more variable than offline audiences. For example, people who associate with liberal politics are not likely to purchase The Weekly Standard or watch Fox News, but might still read online news from a range of right and left sources. This audience cross-over appears to have intensified since the inauguration.
Key political events, particularly the election and public discourse surrounding Donald Trump, have lifted news consumption across the political spectrum. Comparing the two months before and two months after Trump’s inauguration, we see an increase in audience size across the top 10 news publications (except for The BBC and The Drudge Report, which dipped slightly).
Since the inauguration, the three largest news publications (which traditionally pull both left and right audiences) have received the greatest traffic increase from young, liberal readers. Interestingly, Fox News experienced the most growth in young and liberal visitors when compared to NY Times and CNN.
Besides Fox news, the growth in liberal readership amongst right-leaning publications seems to intensify for more conservative publications. For example, alt-right publication Breitbart saw roughly twice as much growth in young and progressive segments compared to major news outlets.
Breitbart has also seen a 25% jump in shared readership with Buzzfeed and 17% increase in readers from the Huffington Post, both of which are known for their young, liberal readership. Whether this shift is driven by a genuine desire to see multiple perspectives or sheer curiosity of what the other side is saying, it shows that progressive Millennials are deeply invested in exposing themselves to content across the political spectrum.
The profile of a publication’s online audience is constantly shifting, especially with the current political climate. Keep track of your audience crossover with other media sources. Analyze content consumption by audience to attract new segments.
Key Takeaways for Publishers
Track hourly patterns across your key competitors, and drill down to most-viewed articles to inform your own content strategy. Be agile and responsive to breaking news in order to capture market share by the hour.
Use fast-moving organic terms as a source of inspiration to get the first mover advantage. Incorporate rising organic terms to optimize clicks against your competitors.
Keep track of your audience composition and crossover with other publications, especially as the political climate intensifies. Analyze content consumption by audience to attract new segments.