How The New York Times gets people to spend 5 minutes per visit on its site

People aren’t just subscribing to The New York Times in greater numbers; they’re also spending more time on its site.

In 2017, people spent about five minutes per visit on the Times’ site, which is up 35 percent from 2016, according to comScore reports pulled by an ad buyer. For the Times, getting users to spend more time on the site is part of a broader effort to drive subscriptions, which have become central to its business model.

“If we get people spending more time with us and reading more stories across our properties, it is good for our subscription business,” said Cynthia Collins, the Times’ social media editor.

Traffic for the Times was slightly up in 2017, averaging about 89 million unique visitors per month across mobile and desktop combined, which is up 9 percent from 2016, according to comScore. But unlike most digital publishers, the Times is not wholly dependent on ads for its revenue. What’s more pertinent is that the Times’ digital subscription revenue rose 46 percent year over year to $86 million in the third quarter.

To get people hooked on its content so they eventually subscribe, the Times loads articles with multimedia components. In Chartbeat’s list of articles from its digital publishing clients that users spent the most time on in 2017, the Times had 10 of the top 25 entries, many of which included embedded documentaries, podcasts, maps and interactive charts.

For example, in a report on the shooting in Las Vegas in October that left at least 59 dead, the Times complemented its reporting with maps and graphics that depicted the area where the shooting took place. With its coverage of the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment scandal, the Times embedded Weinstein’s full statement and a supplemental podcast into the article.

Citing timing constraints, a Times spokesperson declined to share what percentage of its articles contain multimedia elements but confirmed that the figure is in the double digits and growing. One factor driving multimedia usage at the Times is that it introduced a new content-management system this year, called Oak, which made it easier for editors to sequence and shape images, text and other media, she said. The Times also added about 25 people to its newsroom who focus on visual journalism, said a company spokesperson.

The amount of time that Times readers spent on its site is similar to The Washington Post, whose readers spent about 4.5 minutes per visit on the site throughout 2017, according to comScore reports pulled by an ad buyer. The Times’ increase in time spent comes as session length is becoming important for publishers as a selling point with advertisers. To keep users glued to their properties, publishers are experimenting with various tactics.

Bleacher Report got people to spend more than five minutes per day in its app by introducing a tab for Vine-like video loops. The USA Today Network reformatted its digital properties to give users more personalized Facebook-like webpages, which increased time spent per article by 75 percent. The Outline increased time spent per session by 30 percent by embedding 3-D objects into articles. Forbes increased its average session length nearly by 40 percent by redesigning its mobile site to include Snapchat-like cards.

Erin Yasgar, buyer strategy lead at Prohaska Consulting, said that when buyers are setting up large deals with publishers or buying custom units, high time spent on-site lets buyers “know that they are purchasing a more lasting impression.”

Photo courtesy of The New York Times

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