There are lots of ways to draw users to news sites. The trick is figuring out how to keep them engaged enough to stay on your site once they land there.
Some news sites, including Forbes.com, The Huffington Post and DailyMe, have developed strategies to increase engagement and decrease bounce rates — a metric used to describe the percentage of single-page site visits, often traffic referred by search engines.
Here are a few examples of their strategies, along with some additional tips that could help keep people on your site. I hope you’ll share your ideas, too.
Collect data about what people are looking at on your site and show them more content like it. The folks at DailyMe, a site that provides a roundup of the day’s news from various media outlets, has created a new technology called Newstogram.
The cookie-based technology, which is being marketed to various news organizations, does a metadata analysis to identify keywords, names, places and other relevant information in the stories that users read. Based on the results, the technology finds stories that a user is likely to be interested in. Links to these stories appear in a module that news organizations can embed on their sites. The technology can also tell when a person already has read a particular story, so it offers new content.
Neil Budde, president and chief product officer of DailyMe, said that when DailyMe tested Newstogram on its own site using a personalized headline display versus a default set of top headlines, the personalized headlines had 25 to 35 percent more click-throughs. The Boston Globe and The Telegraph in Nashua, N.H., are testing the module, he said, and others have expressed interest in the analytics it provides.
“The reason that we think this is important is that basically the game online is a matter of real estate,” Budde said. “You have all these people who come once, twice, to visit news sites and don’t look at them much. How do you get them to look more and come back to your site? Offering them a more personalized, relevant experience will help you.”
Linking within stories to your own related content is another way to help lower your site’s bounce rate. (Bounce rates vary from site to site, though Anil Batra, a Web analytics consultant, has suggested that the average for news sites is about 55 percent.)
“I think the best way to prompt people to click through into other sections of the site is to have highly relevant, contextual links within a story,” said Eric Ulken, a former editor of interactive technology at the Los Angeles Times who has studied Web analytics. “I’m not talking about links to topic pages, but actually human-curated links in stories to previous stories on certain topics.”
TechCrunch, he said, does a particularly good job of promoting “stickiness,” or a reason for people to stay on your site. In this recent TechCrunch piece about Facebook, for instance, there is a link to another TechCrunch story in nearly every paragraph.
Link to relevant content at the bottom of a post. Many news sites place links to their “most e-mailed” or “most blogged” stories on one side of their pages. But placing relevant content or links to most e-mailed stories at the bottom of a story may be a more effective way to expose content to readers, said Ulken, who’s now a visiting professor in the graduate school of journalism at the University of British Columbia.
He noted that the Los Angeles Times used this strategy while he was there and found it to be effective. “We were focused on the bottom of the story because it was clear that’s where people were ending up and then not finding anything and leaving,” Ulken said. “We figured if they’d gotten to the point where they were at the bottom of the story, they were at least somewhat engaged.”
Mashable does this well. At the bottom of its recent “8 iPhone Apps for the Perfect Valentine’s Day” story, for instance, there are links to six other Mashable stories about iPhone apps.
Improve your headlines so that humans and search engines find what they’re looking for. Often, a high bounce rate means that people found content on your site via search, but it wasn’t really what they wanted. So they hit the “back” button and kept looking.
Ulken said a rise in inbound traffic from search engines and general-interest news sites such as the Drudge Report tended to increase the bounce rate at LATimes.com because casual visitors from these sites were less likely to be engaged in the content. Visits that originate through links in social networks or the home page tend to be stickier, bringing down the bounce rate.
You can attract people to your site and increase the likelihood that they’ll stay there by making sure your headlines are both SEO-friendly (so that search engines find those pages) and that they describe the content well (so people read it).
The Huffington Post, Ulken said, seems to do a good job of this. The site uses A/B testing on some of its headlines, offering users two versions and seeing which one gets the most clicks. Social Media Today reported that the Huffington Post’s chief technology officer, Paul Berry, said the constant tweaking of headlines has improved the site’s bounce rate.
Mario Ruiz, vice president of media relations at The Huffington Post, said employees don’t discuss specific strategies like this, but he noted, “Finding ways to surface related content near stories has been a very important part of the bounce rate picture for us. A key part of the process is to test features using both stats and user feedback to make decisions.”
Use the search terms that bring people to your site to mine for additional relevant content. When people end up on Forbes.com after searching for something on Google, they see a “Welcome Google User” overlay at the top of the Forbes.com article page. The box contains links to two Forbes.com stories that are related to the terms the person searched for, as well as a link to “all related stories.”
The feature, which has been used since January 2008, picks up the user’s search query from the referring URL. The query is passed into Autonomy, Forbes.com’s internal search engine, which generates additional results, explained Jeff Bauer, product and creative director for Forbes.com. Bauer would not give specifics about the site’s traffic, but said the fact that the search overlay is still in use after more than two years is a good indication that it’s working.
Forbes.com also uses its internal search engine to generate its “Related Stories” feature. Bauer said he’s found that providing people with related content tends to yield better results than directing them to “what people also read” features.
“We know that we get a lot of users from the search engines, so we wanted to help make their search experience better when they get here,” Bauer said. “Since they’re in the search mode already, they can continue with that on our site. … By delivering a better experience to that segment of users, they’ll come back more and they’ll dig more deeply into your Web site.”
What strategies does your site use to lower its bounce rate?