A Chinese news app is quietly referring millions of pageviews — here’s how global publishers can take advantage

Referral traffic to your most engaging content can come from unexpected places. Case in point—Chartbeat’s data science team recently found that TopBuzz, a China-based news aggregation app from ByteDance, was responsible for a multi-million spike in pageviews among our publishers late last year.

In December alone, TopBuzz referred almost 34 million pageviews across Chartbeat publishers throughout the world. This is a 36x increase from January 2017. We also found that about half of the traffic referred by this app comes from the U.S. However, we increasingly see a significant share from countries such as Brazil, France, Germany, Italy and the UK.

Here’s a closer look at TopBuzz referral traffic since 2017 through February, peaking around December of last year:

line chart of topbuzz traffic in 2018 and early 2019

This significant traffic spike piqued interest among our publishing partners and, in turn, Chartbeat’s data science team. Therefore, we thought it would be worthwhile to analyze this referrer with the potential to drive engaged readership to publishers.

(For more on reader engagement trends, see: Global audience engagement insights: Third quarter 2019)

Here’s why TopBuzz is driving pageviews

So what is TopBuzz and, more importantly, why is it driving so many pageviews? TopBuzz is one of several digital properties owned by ByteDance, a Chinese startup reportedly valued at $30 billion.

screen shot of topbuzz app on iphone

ByteDance has already made its mark in the media landscape with well-known news aggregator app TouTiao, which aptly translates to “HeadLines”. To date, TouTiao was thought to be the primary source of referral traffic to our publishers.

TopBuzz currently sits at number 11 in the free News & Magazines apps on the Android Play Store (as of the time of writing). It’s also ranked 16 in News on the Apple App Store.

What is the impact of this TopBuzz referral discovery?

We’re updating our Real-time Dashboard referrer classifications to more accurately reflect TopBuzz as the true source of external link traffic flowing to publishers, as shown here:

screenshot of topbuzz as a referrer in Chartbeat dashboard

We’ll also surface traffic from other apps owned by ByteDance, which will appear as “News Republic”, “BuzzVideo”, and “Buzz Up!” referrers. This should resolve any confusion surrounding the source of this traffic previously classified as TouTiao.

What publishers should do next

Our data science team will continue analyzing TopBuzz to understand its long-term impact on referral traffic to global publishers. In the meantime, the more accurate referrer classification is intended to better inform your global audience development strategy, similar to knowing traffic is actually coming from “Google News” rather than just “Google”.

If you were previously unfamiliar with TopBuzz, you’ll now be able to clearly see it on our Real-Time Dashboard. We hope this gives you an opportunity for more internal discussions on positioning your engaging content for this referral source.

Here are a couple of other key takeaways for publishers:

Get to know the ByteDance model

While TopBuzz may be largely unknown in the U.S., TouTiao has been massively popular abroad. As an article in TechNode notes, ByteDance’s core competency is its AI-based system for content creation, curation, and dissemination, which forms the architecture behind all of its apps. This can incentivize content creators through financial rewards often based on clicks, curating content according to the preferences of each individual reader.

However, this may come into conflict publishers’ efforts to resist click-centric content. Therefore, be sure to assess your long-term audience development goals before exclusively tailoring content for TopBuzz.

Keep an eye out for other emerging platforms

Take a lesson from our TopBuzz discovery—we’re in a global media landscape. Couple that with our increasing app usage, and there are potential revenue opportunities for publishers all over the world.

This means that even if optimizing content for TopBuzz isn’t right for you, there are and will be many more opportunities to offer engaging content to new, diverse audiences. And don’t worry, we’re keeping a close eye on new sources of referral traffic every day to make sure you get the first heads up.

We think that this knowledge, coupled with our homepage optimization tools, gives your team everything it needs to get in front of global audiences.


Su Hang of Chartbeat’s Data Science team contributed research to this article.

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