The Web offers many options for people to find and read news. Anyone looking for information can find what they need by visiting a trusted site, scrolling through their Facebook feed or doing a simple Google search. All three options can be equally fruitful for them.
On the other end of the exchange, though, it’s good for news organizations to know how their visitors are coming in, because visitors’ method of entry can influence how they behave on the site.
According to a report from the Pew Research Journalism Project, direct visitors — people who come in through bookmarks or typing in the site’s URL — spend about three times as long on the site as people who come in through a search engine or through Facebook. They also view about five times as many pages per month as those visitors and visit the site three times as often.
Facebook and search are critical for bringing added eyeballs to individual stories, and they do so in droves. But the connection a news organization has with any individual coming to their website via search or Facebook seems quite limited. For news outlets operating under the traditional model of building a loyal, perhaps paying audience, obtaining referrals so that users think of the outlet as the first place to turn is critical. — Pew Research Center report
The findings of the study can have different meanings for different organizations, depending on their business model or how they want to attract traffic. For an organization like Buzzfeed, which develops buzz-worthy content for people to share, it might be fine to build a base of Facebook-driven users who only visit one page every day. For an organization like the New York Times, which visitors who come back regularly and read a day’s worth of news, direct visitors would be more attractive.
In terms of business, a site that runs on page views and advertising might be okay with short-visit Facebook visitors; one that wants paid subscribers should aim for direct visitors.
To me, this article also indicates that most news organizations shouldn’t be married to the idea of always having SEO-driven, share-bait content, because the visitors who come for that won’t do much or stay long. It seems like a far better idea to focus on always creating quality content that will win people’s respect and trust and earn you a spot in their bookmarks page.
Of course, having a balance of visitors is important — if you have no people coming in through Facebook, you’re not making share-worthy content, and if you have none coming in through search, you’re doing something wrong with your SEO. But I think it’s important for news organization leaders to decide where their priorities are and to decide what kind of visitors they most want to pull in, then adjust their strategies accordingly. That will ensure that their content gets where they want it, how they want it, and that’s always a good thing.