Longer-Form Articles Work on Smartphones (Study)

Good news for publishers dabbling in Facebook Instant Articles: A new study from Pew Research Center found that long-form news articles are more effective among smartphone users.

Good news for publishers dabbling in Facebook Instant Articles: A new study from Pew Research Center found that long-form news articles are more effective among smartphone users.

The study was conducted by Pew in association with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, using audience behavior metrics from web analytics provider Parse.ly.

According to Pew, total engaged time (time spent scrolling, clicking or tapping) with news stories 1,000 words and longer averaged about twice that with stories of 101 to 999 words—123 seconds, compared with 57 seconds.

Pew added that while 76 percent of the articles it studied were of the shorter variety, long-form stories attracted visitors at nearly the same rate as short-form stories—1,530 complete interactions (URL to definition) versus 1,576.

Other findings included:

  • 36 percent of interactions with long-form news lasted more than two minutes, compared with 10 percent for short-form news.
  • 66 percent of complete interactions with short-form stories were one minute or shorter, compared with 42 percent for long-form news.
  • Long-form news readers spent an average of 148 seconds on new articles arrived at via internal links, dropping to: 132 seconds for those visiting articles directly or vie email links; 125 seconds for those arriving from external websites; 119 seconds from search; and 111 seconds from social media, However, social media sites drive the most traffic overall, roughly 40 percent for stories of both lengths.
  • While Facebook delivers more readers—accounting for some eight out of 10 initial visits from social networks, compared with around 15 percent for Twitter—users who arrive from Facebook spend an average of 107 seconds in longer-form stories, rising to 133 seconds when they come via Twitter. Those figures are 51 percent and 58 percent, respectively, for shorter-form stories.
  • Late-night and morning are the times of the day with the highest engagement: Readers spend 128 seconds on stories 1,000 words or longer and 60 seconds on those shorter than 1,000 words late at night, and the morning figures are 126 seconds and 59 seconds, respectively.
  • Only 4 percent of readers of long-form stories and 3 percent of readers of short-form stories return to those stories on their smartphones, but when they do, they stick around: Return visitors to long-form articles spend an average of 277 seconds, compared with 123 seconds for overall visitors, and those figures for short-form stories are 110 seconds and 57 seconds, respectively.
  • Stories of both lengths have short life spans, as 82 percent of interactions with short-form articles occur within two days after publication, as do 74 percent of interactions with long-form stories. By day three, those figures are 89 percent and 83 percent, respectively.
  • 72 percent of long-form readers and 79 percent of short-form readers view just one article from a given site on their smartphones over the course of one month. Long-form readers are more likely to view multiple articles on their smartphones than short-form readers, but those figures are just 28 percent and 21 percent, respectively.

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Pew director of journalism research Amy Mitchell said in a release introducing the study:

These findings suggest that on small, phone-sized screens, the public does not automatically turn away from an article at a certain point in time or reject digging into a longer-length news article. Instead, the average user tends to stay engaged past the point of where short-form reading would end, suggesting that readers may be willing to commit more time to a longer piece of work.

Readers: How do your reading habits on your smartphones match up with the findings by Pew?