Data Highlights Key Drivers of Reader Retention

A major priority for publishers is not just audience growth, but audience retention and ultimately conversions. But do we really know what the driving factors are behind this level of reader loyalty?

Recent analysis by content analytics company found that habitual readers, measured as returning visitors, is the most important metric for driving conversions. Based on a month of its network data from 2018, also found that the referral source of visitors was a significant factor in determining retention: A user is more likely to revisit a site if referred via direct and social channels than from search referral, with direct producing almost twice as many sessions per visitor as the other two categories.

While the loyalty of direct visitors may not come as a surprise — many have opted in to email newsletters or bookmarked your site — the behavior of social users might. Though they visit few pages per session, “it seems that those that come from social networks are just as likely to return as visitors who come directly,” says senior market analyst Kelsey Arendt in a blog post summarizing the findings. also points to research from Northwestern Medill School that shows page views per session are actually negatively correlated with retention, meaning publishers shouldn’t over-prioritize pushing up this metric. Based on the data, says sessions per visitor are a better metric for measuring audience retention than page views per session. Across all referral categories, users stopped reading after an article or two: “Even for the most loyal readers of a site, their ‘attention span,’ on average, maxes out at around three page views per session.”

In the following Q&A, Arendt shares more takeaways from the data — and how media companies can use it to their advantage.

There was a lot of focus on single-session visitors and bounce rates for a long time, and so I think the fact that across the board, visitors have a pretty even amount of pages per session regardless of source was surprising.

Leah Wynalek is editor-in-chief of BRAND United. She is passionate about creating content that engages audiences across channels – and delivering insights that help others do the same.

Publish date: May 9, 2019 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT