News Apps 3x More Engaging than News Websites

Pew Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism released their 2012 State of the News Media report this week. One of the findings, based on data from Localytics, was that people are much more loyal to news apps than to news websites. While news websites thrive on new inbound users, a news app’s user base is the organization’s most valuable, and success should be measured by retention and loyalty.

Pew Research Center’s 2011 study showed how prevalent casual users are on news websites. Their data, provided in part by Nielsen, showed that nearly 70% of users went to a given news site only once or twice per month, and less than 10% visited 10 or more times. By comparison, our latest research show that just 29% of users launch a news app only once a month, and an impressive 24% launch it 10+ times.

Loyal users: News apps vs news websites


News app and news website usage are very different

Much of the research by Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) focused on the “casual users,” or users who come to read a news site because of inbound traffic generation techniques - SEO, social shared links, etc. - rather than the brand. While they may be reading a story about a particular topic on the New York Times website, it’s often the case that what brought them to the site was a Google search for the topic, not their desire to read the New York Times.

With mobile apps, a user has self-identified as a fan of a particular news brand by downloading the app. Rather than coming to the news brand based on its search rankings they find stories based on the brand’s app. The nature of the app means that users have placed the power of choosing what news to display in the news organization’s hands, which means that if the app succeeds in creating a great news experience the user will return often.


Web vs. app boils down to inbound vs. retention

This does point to a very fundamental difference in analyzing the success of an online news property vs. a news app: while an online news property depends more on bringing in more traffic via SEO and social media, news app marketers should be setting user retention and loyalty goals.

An app download is a good start, but as this research shows, it’s only the beginning of an app’s success. Marketers of news apps should set goals of high sessions-per-user, long session lengths, number of articles read, optimized subscription funnels, and overall engagement time.