Readers More Engaged With News When They Directly Access A News Site
March 14, 2014

Direct Visitors To News Sites More Engaged Than Social Network Referrals

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

People who directly access news websites are more engaged than those referred by search engines or social media like Google and Facebook, according to an analysis by the Pew Research Center.

The study relied on three months of data from analytics firm Comscore to examine the US Internet traffic to 26 of the most popular news websites.

The analysis revealed that direct visitors to news websites – those who typed in the outlet’s specific address (URL) or had the address bookmarked – spend significantly more time on the site, view many more pages of content and return far more often than visitors who arrived from a search engine or Facebook.

According to the report, direct visitors spend about 4 minutes and 36 seconds per visit, compared with about 100 seconds for those coming from search engines or Facebook. Meanwhile, direct visitors read 24.8 pages of content per month, compared with just 4.2 for Facebook users and 4.9 for search engine readers, Pew said.

Social media referrals, search engine results and direct visits represent the three main sources of web traffic. The Pew analysis found that direct visitors account for at least 20 percent of the total visitors to more than half (15) of the 26 sites studied. By comparison, eleven sites had at least 20 percent of their traffic from search engine referrals, while Facebook accounted for 20 percent or more of the traffic to just four sites.

The higher level of engagement from direct visitors held true throughout the entire range of news sites examined in the study, from those that rank among the most shared on Facebook, such as, to those whose traffic is heavily driven from search engines, such as, and from those with a small overall audience to aggregators such as Even sites such as Public Radio’s, which has a particularly high level of Facebook traffic, saw much greater engagement from direct visitors, Pew said.

"It's important [for news content providers] to understand the different parts of the digital realm in terms of how content and audiences function and how they interact with each other," said Amy Mitchell, Pew's director of journalism research, in an interview with USA Today.

"One digital strategy may not cut it."

With respect to mobile news readers, the Pew study found that despite the growth in mobile phone and tablet use, desktop still dominates the traffic to news sites. Indeed, none of the 26 sites studied had more traffic come from a mobile device than from desktop. These results are in line with a previous Pew Research report that showed the desktop is still the primary device for web access, even among mobile news users.

The current study also found that mobile readers prefer visiting news websites through their phone’s browser, rather than through an application. These findings reinforce a 2012 Pew report that found 61 percent of mobile users read news "mostly" from their phone’s browser, compared with just 28 percent who read news "mostly" via apps (11 percent use both equally.)

Tablet owners reported a similar pattern, with 60 percent saying they “mostly” read news from their browser, while 23 percent “mostly” read news from apps (16 percent said both equally).

At the time of the current study, just half of the news sites examined in the analysis had a mobile app available for download in either the iTunes store or the Google Play Store, suggesting that many of the most popular sites have opted out of the app world so far, Pew said.