How Mobile Readers Engage With Long- and Short-Form Content
In early May Pew Research Center published an eye-opening study that explored how mobile readers engage with long- and short-form content. The results surprised many in the industry. Pew reports that out of the 30 news sites it tracked over the course of September 2015, long-form content earned twice as much engagement from mobile readers as short-form content. Long-form content — defined as articles exceeding 1,000 words — averaged 123 seconds per interaction compared to the 57 seconds spent on average with short-form content. Pew also reported that there didn’t seem to be a limit to how much mobile users were willing to read as average time spent gradually increased as word length increased. That challenges an assumption that many in the media industry hold — that the mobile platform is used for brief interactions with content.
The study dissected anonymized Parse.ly web analytics data to learn what time of day mobile users engage most with long-form content, whether long-form content is read more during the week versus weekend, what platforms refer the most readers to long-form content, and more. The full report, titled “Long-Form Reading Shows Signs of Life in Our Mobile News World,” can be downloaded as a PDF here. Following are 6 points publishers should note:
1. Although short-form articles are more numerous on mobile platforms, long-form articles earn just as many visits. Pew reports that on average a long-form article earns 1,530 interactions from mobile users compared to 1,576 interactions with short-form content, despite long-form content accounting for only 24% of the total article sample size. “This does not necessarily mean audiences are asking for more long-form content as there is a strong likelihood that most users are not aware of story length when they click a link,” reports Pew. “Still, long-form articles do, whether through shares, bookmarks, or other means, find their way to as many initial visitors as short-form.”
2. Readers spend more time with long-form content on the weekends, particularly in the morning. On weekend mornings long-form content attracts 137 seconds of engaged time on average, compared to 123 seconds of engaged time during weekday mornings.
3. Social referrals drive the most mobile traffic (40% of total traffic) to long-form content, but internal referrals drive the most reader engagement. Mobile readers who click an internal link (a link within the same website) to a long-form piece on average spend 148 seconds on the article. Direct referrals drive the second longest engagements with long-form content at 132 engaged seconds. Social platforms drive the shortest average engagement at 111 seconds. Short-form content follows a similar pattern, though direct referrals spend slightly more time with content at 62 seconds than internal referrals at 59 seconds. Like long-form, social refers the least engaged group of readers to short-form content, averaging 52 seconds of engaged time.
4. Facebook drives the most readers to long-form content, but Twitter drives the most engaged readers. “For longer content, users that arrive from Facebook spend an average of 107 seconds, compared with 133 seconds when they come from Twitter, a 24% difference. In shorter content, the same pattern emerges,” reports Pew.
5. The majority of interactions with content on mobile occur within the first two days of publication. 90% of all interactions with short-form content on mobile occurred by the fourth day after publication. For long-form content, 90% of all interactions occurred by the fifth day after publication. Pew notes that exceptionally long pieces of content that exceed 5,000 words tended to have a longer lifespan and longer periods of engagement even several days after publication. “For these news stories, average engaged time increases from 199 seconds the day of publication to 373 seconds 8 days later, an increase of 87%.” Pew theorizes that readers who visit an article much later after publication may be more interested in the article’s topic, thus spending more time with that piece.
6. Few mobile visitors read other articles on the same site. According to Pew, “an overwhelming majority of both long-form readers (72%) and short-form readers (79%) view just one article on a given site over the course of a month on their cellphone.” Only 28% of long-form readers view multiple articles on a site after reading the long-form piece. Only 21% of short-form readers go on to read multiple articles on the same site.