Archive for September, 2013

It goes without saying that thoroughly understanding how traffic arrives at your site is critical for audience development efforts – certain traffic sources are ideal for reaching new readers, others may put your content in front of your existing audience and encourage them to visit more often, and still others may send traffic that will never be seen again.

Today, we’re kicking off a five-part series that takes a detailed look at how your audience’s behavior differs across traffic sources. Over the coming posts, we’ll go through homepage/direct traffic, traffic from external links and social sources, and search traffic. To start, though, I want to talk about how we classify referrers and define some basic metrics through which we compare their traffic.

Know your referrer types

At Chartbeat, we divide visitors’ traffic sources into four buckets:

  • Direct: people who get to your site by entering your site’s name in a browser, typically landing on your homepage

  • Social: people who arrive at your site from links provided by friends or others they follow on social media (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest) or on email/IM

  • External: those who arrive via links from external sites (e.g. Drudge Report, Google News)

  • Search: visitors who come from search engines

The distribution of traffic across these buckets varies widely between sites – we see some sites with over 90% of traffic coming direct and others with over 90% of traffic from search. There’s no correct breakdown, but it’s important to keep your goals in mind when considering where to optimize: external sources typically send the most new visitors, while your most loyal audience is likely to come directly to your homepage.

Measuring audience engagement

As we’ve talked about before, Engaged Time is a good measure of fit between your content and your audience. So, one of the first questions we ask when trying to assess the quality of a given traffic source for a site is: how visitors are engaging with the pages they land on?

Below we see visitors’ Average Engaged Time on article pages when coming from seven of the most common referrers:





Notably, visitors from Facebook and Google News spend more than 50% more time than those who come from other sources (Tweet this fact). One possible explanation, which we’ll delve into more in Part 3, is that these are the only two sources on the list that typically show the first lines of a story when they present a link, so visitors from these sources are more likely to be committed to actually reading the story they end up on.

Understanding audience retention

Of course, we don’t simply care about how people behave when they land on your site — we want to know whether people who come to a site will choose to come back again. This turns out to be a question whose answer varies dramatically by traffic source. Below is a figure showing the fraction of visitors from a given referrer (the seven referrers from above, plus those who come direct to a site’s homepage) who come back sometime in the next week.


While the vast majority of people who come directly do come back, less than 50% of people from all other sources return. Amongst the set of non-direct traffic sources there’s also wide variance, with visitors from Twitter, Google search, and “dark social” almost 50% more likely to return than those from Google News and twice as likely to return as those from Reddit.

Amongst those visitors who do come back, how do they return the next time? That is, do people who come to your site from Twitter — for instance — always come from Twitter, or do they also come from other referrers or directly? The graphic below shows how frequently visitors who come from one source also come from another.


Rows of this figure represent a visitor’s traffic source on one visit and columns represent where they come from the next time. Redder cells in each row represent combinations that occur more frequently, while whiter cells represent less frequent combinations.

The thing that stands out most in this figure is that people who visit your site from a given referrer are far more likely to come to your site again from the same referrer than they are to come from any other source. We term this phenomenon referrer loyalty, and it tells us that we can’t rely on traffic from an outside source returning without a steady stream of links on that source.

Cells in the direct column that are bright represent what is perhaps an ideal traffic relationship — referrers that send traffic that is likely to come directly to your site the next time they visit.

More to come

This post, I hope, raised more questions than it answered. Why do rates of engagement and retention vary so much by traffic source? And, more importantly, what can we do to affect these rates over time? We’ll start answering these questions next time by looking at your most core audience, your homepage direct traffic.

If you have questions about this data or things you’d like to see in the posts to come, I’d love to see your comments below. And please share this blog series with friends and coworkers.




Update: Check out what makes Chartbeat Publishing Different these days

First things first: Let’s talk about roots.

Similar to the blazers+jeans career look, Chartbeat Publishing was born and bred in the newsroom. (Tweet this) While several peers offer great options to cover a wide range of clients, these tools are often developed to be one-size-fits-all analytics solutions. In our case, we’ve collaborated with our editorial partners to offer products and features designed to surface data specific to the online publishing workflow.

Beyond-the-basics data

Like any service, Chartbeat does give you standard, bread-and-butter insights on traffic sources and top pages. But it’s our additional data, researched and curated by our data science team, that’s specifically relevant to digital publishers. We integrate this data into many products and features so that you have what you need at your fingertips 24/7, such as social data on trending content or customized data science power tools like Spike Alerts that identify your potential viral content.

We’re always iterating on tools that integrate into the various roles within your team, like the Chartbeat app, the Heads Up Display and all the useful stuff you can access on the Chartbeat Labs site. However you work and no matter what your responsibilities are, there’s data-driven feature or tool that can help you out.

Real-time measuring that matters

We’ve always shirked popular conventions around click or view-based metrics. Instead, we focus on measuring the data that truly gives you a sense of your live, real-time audience. Chartbeat, like an obsessive host, is constantly checking in – pinging your site every fifteen seconds to be exact – taking attendance and tracking how long, on average, your users tend to stick around. This means our metrics typically aren’t going to match what your other analytics are saying. To see specifically how our numbers vary from Google Analytics figures, go to this infographic.


Measuring your audience’s interest, not their clicks

From what we understand, working in online publishing is sort of like running as fast as you can whilst juggling, i.e., tons to do in a very short time frame. Thus you need the most accurate stats on real-time traffic moment to moment, quantitatively and qualitatively. It’s not enough to show you how many folks are visiting a page –  those stats need life and context. (Tweet this) Enter, Engaged Time. We measure engaged visitor activity by tracking scrolling, mouse movements or keystrokes –  so you know how many people are actively consuming your content and for how long.

Because a reader’s Engaged Time correlates with his or her likelihood to return to your site, you need engagement insights no matter what you’re working on. Thus, we’ve integrated our signature metric Engaged Time into many of our features and products.

Get the whole story

Overall, we see value in using Chartbeat as a complementary product with other analytics services. You should always to take a 360-degree view of your site. A bunch of publishers – big and small – find our metrics and tools pretty damn useful for informing a significant part of that 360-degree view when it comes to taking action and making decisions.

No need to memorize – here’s a cheat sheet

Cheat Sheet


Fidgeting in the waiting room of the Brazilian Consulate in NYC, I could barely contain my excitement for my upcoming trip. After discussing my outlook on the future of publishing in South America (on this very blog) I was challenged by Chart-leadership to put my projections to the test.

It made sense – while my beliefs were grounded in a largely myopic view of the region based on our local partners and my own research, I had little experience on the ground. Meeting with the folks creating content, talking to the people who were building their brand around a specific, local audience – this was what I needed. So off I went.

My first stop was in Lima, Peru – for a publisher’s conference hosted by INMA. INMA is an organization built for news media organizations around the world – established to share ideas and sustain growth in the uncertain publishing market. Nearly all major local publishers were in attendance for two days of seminars, lunches, and a couple cocktails here and there.

At a very high-level, the conference focused on how publishers can build a brand targeted at a specific audience and develop that brand through print, digital and e-comm verticals. Yes, I said print. Print circulation is actually growing in Latin America. There were a wide range of stimulating talks, but two that stood out to me were:

  • Carlos Ruiz of Reset: Agencia de Medios spoke about “los nuevos paradigmas” or the different mediums through which a publisher can capture the attention of their audience. Yet the various mediums, according to him, made no difference. Creating content based on how readers consume your content, he reasoned, is more important than focusing on print over digital, or vice versa.

  • Maria Eugenia Castaneda, a consultant from Guatemala talked about intelligent market analysis and the increased importance of understanding who your audience is and how they consume your content. Once you understand the audience and have your “message” the task at hand is to figure out which product or medium you use to deliver that message.

The importance of connecting with an audience and building content around that audience became abundantly clear – an issue I focus on in American and European markets today.

Yet digital in South America is a candle in the sun (when it comes to revenue) compared with print (Tweet this) – meaning that editors and product managers can take more risks. Digital can showcase what might work in print (as it’s not core to the business) making it the perfect breeding ground for radical innovation when it comes to online publishing.

Editors and PM’s can find new ways to reach their audience and to create their content, experimenting with different mediums and hyper-targeted branding. As digital moves into the H1 position (see what I did there?) audience-focused workflows will be longstanding, sustaining the growth beget by print. Whoa.

After Lima, I went to Sao Paulo for a few meetings with local publishers. The conversations I had there only furthered signs of encouragement for future market growth in the years to come. I picked up some interesting facts along the way, namely that the country-wide ad spend on Facebook Advertising is equivalent to that of Google Adwords. After working as an Adwords consultant a few years ago, I was blown away by that stat.

40% of people in Brazil share news stories on Facebook (Tweet this) , making it ever-more important for publishers to understand how those readers coming over from Facebook are consuming their content in the hopes of converting those users into long-term and returning readers. The amount of activity on Facebook, in general, is outstanding. The growth in new Brazilian Facebook users is nearly double that of the next leading country, India. With more people coming through Facebook to these news sites, it’s going to become even more important to understand that audience and how to build upon it – something we at Chartbeat might be able to help out with!

Over the next few years we’ll see a multitude of innovations in the publishing space as more people come online around South America. The sustainable growth of print will buoy this innovation and allow people to experiment widely and often. Would love to get some of your feedback – hit me up!



Hello and welcome back to another fun roundup of new trends and technologies in the world of frontend development!

In this fast-paced field things are always in motion. I’m here to help you stay on top of what’s new and what you need to know.

To start things off let’s jump into a nice article that explores the what are the top languages used on GitHub in 2013 (so far). Compiled using Google BigQuery the results are in line with what you would expect of GitHub developers: JavaScript and Ruby take the top spots (first and second respective). What does surprise me is that Java is way up on the list at number 3. I suppose that should be expected given Android is built in Java.

Taking a detour into more tech-heavy articles, I came across this article which shared a tip on how to ignore library code while debugging in Chrome. Why is this cool? Well if you’ve ever been neck-deep in a call-stack trying to figure out a bug’s origin you can sometimes get lost in the libraries you’re using on the page (e.g. jQuery, Backbone, Angular). What this trick allows you to do is have these libraries excluded when debugging, allowing you to focus only on your code! Pretty handy!

Another handy trick is this break-on-access repository on GitHub. If you want to spy on when a property of an object is accessed or modified this library will allow you to enter the debugger at that point. Very handy for situations where you may not know when an object is being modified, but you know that it is being modified.

A fun Tumblr blog popped up over the past week, highlighting what applications could look like if they were designed for iOS 7. With iOS 7 released on September 18th you can bet you’ll see its design ethos echoed across the internet. This is a nice way to prepare yourself.

Along with finding inspiration for how to design for iOS 7, take a look at this very comprehensive post about how to create a web app that looks like an iOS 7 native app. Especially useful if you’re looking to create a Phonegap hybrid application. There are many tips, tricks, and nuanced details in this blog post that will prepare you for developing iOS 7-like web apps.

And there you have it! This week’s roundup of what’s new and what’s being talked about on the world wide web. As you can tell, Apple still has quite the influence – punditry aside. The release of iOS 7 is only the start of ripples that will grow.

As always, keep learning and looking for what’s new. I’ll be here doing the same.


Harry also maintains a personal blog at

A couple weeks ago, we kicked off our experiment in loyalty conversion with our good friends at WNYC’s On the Media. Inarguably, the show is one of WNYC’s crown jewels; the Peabody Award-winning program is broadcasted weekly on more than 300 stations across the country, and its podcast receives more than a half-million downloads every month. But WNYC producers have only recently started rounding out the show’s online content.

Where On the Media’s website was previously a repository for just-aired episodes, it now also hosts a newly launched blog called TLDR, which is helmed by producer PJ Vogt. The blog stays true to its moniker, providing readers with short and sweet takes on the day’s journalism and technology news. And clearly by design, Vogt’s epigrammatic tone and point of view are well-suited to connect with an audience that values added perspective.

tldr-screenshot, wnyc, on the media

Though TLDR has only been up for a couple weeks, its impact is already clear: In TLDR’s first week of existence, September 3 to 9, saw a whopping 73% increase in visits. That’s compared to the previous week, from August 27 to September 2. It was hardly surprising to learn that the huge increase was largely driven by two excellent TLDR blog posts: “The Hilarious Face of Canadian Propaganda” and “Why is Syria Flummoxing American Satirists?

Satisfying Audience Appetite

So what can we learn from the successful debut of On the Media’s TLDR blog? If your audience has an appetite for additional content, look for any way to deliver it to them. (Tweet this) If you have a great brand with a highly engaged audience, as is the case with On the Media, extend your reach by developing supplementary content and tapping into new channels. TLDR may be riding coattails, but the blog is adding real value to the WNYC ecosystem.

There’s something else worth noting, too: The September 6 episode of On the Media took a look at “the media’s cautious coverage of Syria,” and the start of the episode features a clip from Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show.” It’s meant to give lighthearted introductory context to a serious topic. But what’s interesting is that PJ’s blog post (“Why is Syria Flummoxing American Satirists?”) was able to extend the segment in a way that was complementary.

If you think about it, it makes perfect sense. The audience listening to an episode about Syria will likely have some propensity to engage with other contextually relevant content about Syria. It’s basically the editorial equivalent of Amazon’s “If you like this, you might also like…”. Now, the idea is hardly revolutionary, but it’s low-hanging fruit that not every publisher reaches for. But by doing so, you can keep visitors on your website for longer.

Why is that important? Well, as we outlined in a blog post a few months ago, high levels of visitor engagement correlate strongly with visitors’ propensity to return in the near future. In our research, we found that visitors who read an article for three minutes returned twice as often as those who read for one minute. So, if you’re a publisher looking to build a loyal and returning audience, time is one of the best metrics and leading indicators out there.


The Big Mobile Question

So, now that we know TLDR has the capacity to engage On the Media’s listenership in a different format, producers now want to understand how their audience interacts with content using different devices. At any given moment, roughly 80% of’s visitors are using desktop computers—and 20% of visitors are using mobile devices. From our observations of other publishing sites, that’s a fairly typical desktop-to-mobile split.


Essentially, we want to find out: What’s the average Engaged Time for users who visit TLDR on a desktop computer versus a mobile device? How do visitors using different devices interact with content? Are scrolling patterns notably different? How do visitors move from page to page? If there are significant differences in average Engaged Time between desktop and mobile users, we might deduce that WNYC needs to optimize for mobile.

Josh Schwartz, one of Chartbeat’s data scientists, is digging into the data to find out. I’ll report back with the answers and other findings in our next post, due in a couple weeks. Things are starting to get interesting…