Who's winning at business news on the Web

Business news is changing fast. Social media has become the default homepage, which has forced sites into a constant game of catch-up to find audiences. Old-school publications are being disrupted by faster upstarts. Take Business Insider, which jumped to second place in audience among business/finance news sites in the past year. Among established players, Bloomberg Business is about to announce that it just passed rival The Wall Street Journal in traffic.

But traffic is only part of the story. Here’s how five top sites stack up (for simplicity’s sake, we focused on the top handful, as defined by comScore, which doesn’t include notable but smaller brands like Quartz, the Financial Times and Fortune):

Traffic
Yahoo Finance was the overall leader in comScore’s business/finance news category, with 52.3 million uniques in April. But its traffic fell 27 percent year-over-year, while other sites have pulled ahead. Growing the fastest in the past year were No. 2 site Business Insider, up 81 percent to 40.8 million uniques; IBT Media, up 74 percent to 28 million; and CNBC, up 49 percent to 19.3 million.

CPMs
Size isn’t everything, though. Ad rates vary widely depending on what inventory you buy (display, video) and how you buy it (direct, programmatic). But anecdotally, buyers said Yahoo Finance and Business Insider command lower ad rates than do Bloomberg and the Journal.

One media buyer told Digiday that BI quoted prices of $15 for desktop and tablet banner ad CPMs (BI said the price is actually $20-$30), while the Journal charges $48-$50 for the same. At Bloomberg, the price quoted was $30-$50.

Video
Media companies are ploughing money into video, one of the few areas of digital advertising that still commands high CPMs. Publishers’ video viewership can vary widely, depending on how much video they distribute, video length and how it is promoted. Bloomberg distributes 150 videos a day to the Journal’s 30 to 40, which may help explain why Bloomberg has more unique views than the Journal. In terms of viewership on their own sites, which are valuable to publishers because they can sell ads against them and keep all the revenue, Yahoo Finance had the most unique viewers as of April, at 11.5 million. (ComScore measures desktop viewership only.) IBTimes Media was second in unique viewers, followed closely by Bloomberg and CNBC. BI was No. 8, the Journal (included in Dow Jones) was No. 9 and Forbes, No. 13.

CPMs vary widely for pre-roll video ads, too. The Journal charges the most, at $90 for desktop, according to the buyer. BI charges around a $50 CPM and Bloomberg, $75. Quality of content and audience factor into the rates publishers charge, but so does supply. As another buyer noted, “The Journal claims video inventory is expensive because there’s scarcity of inventory and they’re sold out.”

Demographics
Business publishers like to pitch advertisers the ability to deliver the most influential, wealthy readers, and median household income is one proxy for that. By that measure, the Journal has the richest audience.

Income is often, but not always, inversely correlated with age, so while BI’s readership isn’t the richest, it is the youngest, with nearly half of its audience aged 18-34. The Journal and Bloomberg’s readers are higher income readers but older (the Journal’s audience is 36 percent millennials; Bloomberg’s, 28.6 percent.) Here’s how those same sites stack up in terms of their reach with millennials.

User experience
The most recent extensive relaunches were by Bloomberg and the Journal, which redesigned to vastly different effect. Bloomberg adopted a brash new look as it aims for a broader audience, but was criticized for being too loud at the expense of familiarity and utility. The site also adopted infinite scrolling, a technique designed to pump up pageviews but which has some buyers questioning the value of those views. (Forbes has moved away from endless scroll after finding that people weren’t reading much past the first article.) The Journal kept its staid look, but its once-hard-to-navigate site is now much less cluttered.

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