How Promotion Impacts Pageviews

For better or worse, total pageviews are the most important metric for publishers and it’s often perplexing why some articles go viral and others don’t. A journalist’s idea of quality just doesn’t seem to correlate with pageviews.

Brian Abelson, a data scientist at the New York Times, has published a must-read on the relationship between content promotion and pageviews.

Abelson analyzed 21,000 articles published on between July and August. He looked at both original staff articles and wire articles from Reuters and AP. The other factors were both internal and external promotion, as measured by time the articles spent on the New York Times’ homepage and whether articles were tweeted out to the @NYTimes 10 million followers.

Abelson found a clear and predictable correlation between the degree of promotion and the number of pageviews for an article:

Articles that received no homepage promotion had a wide variance of pageviews, with original articles generally performing better than wire pieces. But if articles were given time on the homepage and they received promotion on Twitter, they also tended to have the most pageviews.

“Surprisingly, I found that the three factors… whether or not an article was from the wire, whether it was tweeted by @NYTimes, and how long it spent on the homepage  —  accounted for over 70% of the variance in pageviews within my dataset,” Abelson wrote.

Of the variables included in the model, ten proved to have the highest predictive value:

  • Time on all section fronts (+)
  • Number of unique section fronts reached (+)
  • Was the article in the paper? (+)
  • Was the article tweeted by @NYTimes? (+)
  • Time on homepage (+)
  • Number of NYT-tweets (+)
  • Max rank on homepage (+)
  • Word count (+)
  • Is the article from Reuters? (-)
  • Is the article from the AP? (-)

+/- symbols signify the direction of correlation

As Abelson noted, articles that editors think are the best are also most likely to be promoted. Nonetheless, as more visitors come to sites via backdoor channels (i.e. social media) and every publisher is trying to optimize internal landing pages, this data analysis is a good reminder that the homepage still matters.

Editor’s have an eye for the most important stories and news sites can legitimize certain events more than any other media form. There’s a lot of unlocked value there for both the editorial and ad sales sides of the house.


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