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Readers coming to a news site's homepage direct are the most likely to return, according to a study by real-time analytics platform Chartbeat.

Around 80 per cent of those who come to a site direct will come back within one week, the study finds, compared to a return rate of about 30 per cent overall.

People accessing a news site via 'dark social', where links are shared in private networks such as via emails or instant messenger, are the second most likely category to return, with almost 50 per cent visiting a second time in the same week.

The statistics are from a new study by real-time analytics platform Chartbeat for When we approached Chartbeat for data on homepage and social referrer traffic they ran a study for us – analysing 60 billion page views over the course of a month.

Chartbeat report return rate

In this study, Chartbeat, which is used by publishers in 27 countries, looked at "two audiences that publishers care about most – social and homepage audiences – to understand the engagement and return-rate behaviours of these discrete groups".


"Editors often look to social media sources like Twitter and Facebook as their first target channel for acquiring a new audience. So we took a look at how this audience behaves once they hit the page," Chartbeat explained in the report.

Readers coming to a news site via Facebook stayed there for an average of 70 seconds, the study found, and 28 per cent returned to the site within one week.

Those coming to a news site via Twitter stayed on site for an average of 40 seconds, and 33 per cent returned the same week.

Chartbeat report social

The key takeaway described by Chartbeat is that Facebook provides "engaged readers" who "return less often", while Twitter readers are "quick skimmers" but "more frequent visitors".

"Your social audience is loyal to Twitter or Facebook, but not necessarily to your site," Chartbeat said in the report. "They like and trust the content you put out on these channels and are likely to come back via that same channel versus another."

The content you put out on Twitter should be positioned specifically for that audience," is the advice from Chartbeat.

Referrals and engaged time

Readers coming via Google News spent longest on the site, with an average time of 80 seconds. The next most engaged audience was found to come from Facebook, with readers spending an average of 70 seconds on site.

Chartbeat report engaged tie

Homepage traffic

"Direct homepage traffic is often seen as the holy grail for publishers," the report states. "And while it’s not a silver bullet, getting people to come to you directly is a strong sign of successful content that’s building your brand, as this audience spends more time with your content and comes back more often."

The study found that the average audience typically spends "10 to 30 per cent more time on each visit to homepages than those who come through other means".

"The size of a site’s direct traffic varies," the report says. "On average we see about 50 per cent of audience is direct – ranging from 5 per cent to 90 per cent direct."

Chartbeat report direct traffic

"Sites with the highest percentage direct traffic have the lowest percentage new traffic, which means they’re not actively building their audience," the study concludes.

"The best way to measure homepage audience health is by looking at daily active visitors –  the total number of visits per person per week and total number of stories viewed by your homepage audience."

The study looked at 60 billion pageviews to news sites which use Chartbeat for real-time analytics during a one-month period. Chartbeat's analysts included only sites that permit them to use data for research purposes. Data is anonymised.

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