News aggregators aren’t growing like they used to, but publishers still see their value

Three years ago, publishing analytics firm Chartbeat saw news aggregators become the fastest growing recommendation source of traffic. But with the declining share of traffic from aggregators, that’s not so much the case anymore.

“Everything’s off,” said Jill Nicholson, Chartbeat’s CMO. “Broadly speaking, people just aren’t reading as much as they are in 2020.”

Traffic driven by news aggregators — as a percentage of total traffic mediated through social media, search, and links — has declined from 18-20% in 2020 to about 14% in 2022, according to Chartbeat data, the aggregators as analyzed by Apple News. Google News, SmartNews, Yahoo News, News360, Newsbreak, Flipboard, Upday, MSN, Feedly, NewsNow, Newzit, Drudge Report, Press Explorer, Inoreader, Ground News and Pocket.

But compared to 2021, news aggregators’ share of referral traffic has been relatively flat, Nicholson said. “The proportional drop probably has more to do with the outsized growth of search than anything else,” she said. As a percentage of traffic, search grew three percentage points between January 2021 and September 2022.

While news aggregators aren’t as big a traffic driver as search and aren’t growing as they have in the past, news aggregators as a source of recommendations are arguably quite stable for some publishers – and still valuable. Such is the case with Trusted Media Brands: “Over the years, it’s really been pretty consistent how much traffic they’re generating in any given month,” said Vince Errico, President of Digital at TMB.

The aggregators with the most traffic are Apple News, which generally accounts for 35-40% of traffic share according to Chartbeat, followed by Google News at around 12-14% and SmartNews at 2-3.5%. Other aggregators account for less than 1%. (The data is based on Chartbeat customers, who allow the measurement company to aggregate and anonymize their data for research purposes, a Chartbeat spokesman said). From November 2021 to September 2022, SmartNews’ share of traffic increased from about 2.4% to about 3.2%, the spokesperson added.

“Aggregators are a great way to diversify your traffic sources,” Nicholson said. While traffic reference sources are dominated by search, “getting a significant amount of traffic from the aggregators can help you — and because it’s at least a little bit more stable as a whole, it can only be a great way to get that traffic.” to add if you run into issues on any of the platforms or there are changes that are out of your control,” she added.

Despite the stagnation, publishers are noticing some interesting trends in the traffic aggregators are driving to their sites:

  • An executive at a large digital women’s publisher, who asked to remain anonymous, said some smaller aggregators had seen “significantly reduced” traffic. For aggregators that encourage readers to stay in their apps instead of linking, traffic has dropped about 30% year over year. But Apple News — which encourages readers to stay on its app — has “remained consistently strong” and “continues to drive significant traffic,” the executive said.
  • Another media executive, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, said his local news content gets a lot of attention from news aggregators. But traffic from aggregators coming to its flagship political news site has declined, the news publisher’s executive said.
  • Errico saw similar trends as the second media executive, who said local stories and seasonal content, like the most popular pie recipes in each state, got more traffic from aggregators this year.

The four executives Digiday spoke to for this story weren’t sure if these shifts were due to changes in viewer consumption patterns since last year or something the aggregators changed on the backend, such as: B. their algorithms.

Measuring the value of audiences originating from aggregators

But how valuable are these audiences considering they’re consuming content through a third-party source?

For TMB, it varies by aggregator. For example, Microsoft’s MSN audience is particularly valuable, Errico said, with “equally high engagement” in terms of time spent on the site and number of pages viewed compared to other sources.

Apple News, in particular, could also be a “branding vehicle” as content in the app appears alongside other reliable news sources, the news executive said. “You hope you absorb something and we work them down [marketing] funnel,” they said.

Chartbeat’s Nicholson agreed: “One of the things these aggregators are actually doing for some sites is awareness. You don’t need Apple News to tell you what the New York Times is, but I also usually see smaller subway newspapers popping up on these aggregators… it might be a good way to start me on my loyalty journey.” , she said.

When it comes to monetizing an audience that comes from a traffic recommendation source, aggregators have a number of different revenue sharing models, from minimum guarantees with a flat fee to a reduction in advertising revenue based on content consumption. For example, Apple News allows publishers to sell their own ads for their content in the app, and for any inventory that isn’t sold, NBCUniversal (as an ad reseller for Apple News) can replenish that inventory and give publishers a cut.

While the three media executives declined to share how much money they make from the aggregators, they explained that the channel represents additional income. But since aggregators “are such an easy integration, there’s no reason we wouldn’t do it,” said the women’s publisher’s chief executive.

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