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How many readers actually scroll once they load an article?

We live in the age of skimming

Editors note: We are republishing an article by What’s New In Publishing that looks into readers’ habit of scrolling articles. This piece was originally published on WNIP.

A key indicator of engagement and loyalty is whether a reader scrolled at all during the visit, or bounced after viewing only the first window of a page. 

Publishers want to improve how they engage audiences so they can reap the rewards (i.e., more subscriptions, ad revenue) that can result from more loyal readers of their content.

The conventional wisdom has been to use traditional analytics such as pageviews to inform these decisions. However, pageviews prioritize clicks over quality. And clicks do not equate to consumption.

An earlier analysis by Chartbeat, the content intelligence platform for publishers, found that 45% of readers don’t stick around to go in-depth once they load an article.

Based on their global publishing data:

  • The most viewed area of the page is just above the fold, the line where about 50% of readers will drop off.
  • The portion of the page below the fold is viewed for nearly 3x as long as the top of the page.
  • Readers who do scroll down past the fold engage much more towards the bottom of the page than they do at the top.

But this analysis was done a couple of years ago. Have things changed since then?

Chartbeat analyzed the percentage of readers who scrolled by region and compared 2018 data to 2021 data. This is what they found:

In Asia / Pacific and North America, more readers showed scroll behavior in 2021 compared to 2018. In the rest of the world, fewer readers showed scroll behavior in 2021.

So, taking a global aggregate, not much has changed.

“Maybe this is just our cultural lot: We live in the age of skimming.”

Farhad Manjoo, Journalist, in Slate

Chartbeat reader data shows 35% of desktop users leave a page before scrolling down at all. The company shared a few other remarkable statistics about page interactions:

  • The most viewed area of the page is just above the fold. Viewership peaks (just over 80%) at about 550 pixels.
  • The portion of the page below the fold is viewed for nearly three times as long as the top of the page. Pixels at the top of the page are in view for the shortest amount of time — about 4 seconds — and the amount of time in view steadily rises as we move down the page, peaking at around 1200 pixels.
  • Readers who do scroll down past the fold engage much more towards the bottom of the page than they do at the top. We see this represented in the figure below, where we show the amount of time each area of the page was actively viewed by those who scrolled to view it at all.

“What does this mean? Don’t just structure your content like every other article out there.

Since there’s a large drop-off of readers once you get past the fold, you should touch on your main point early on to speak to all of your readers.

When finalizing layout, however, keep in mind how readers typically read and scroll through pages. By setting up your articles to suit these behaviors, you’ll see much more engagement with your content.”

Katie Stuart, Chartbeat

Reader scroll patterns on mobile devices differ from their desktop counterparts. The scroll depth is even more shallow for smartphones and tablets. 

How you show the depth of your content is critical to keeping them engaged in these experiences. Publishers can encourage more readers to scroll by optimizing their on-page experience.

So, which portions of the page have the potential for the highest impact on your audience? That depends on your goals, of course. Two goals we hear frequently are maximizing reach and maximizing exposure time.

If the former, it appears that placing it just above the fold is the best possible bet. On the other hand, if you want to maximize the amount of time that viewers spend with it in view — a good goal for brand advertisements and site modules that take time to consume — a placement around 1200px may be better.

And, if you want to maximize the tradeoff between the two, positions slightly below the fold between 600 and 1000 pixels typically have both high viewership and high engagement.

Josh Schwartz, Chartbeat

Of course, it goes without saying that all of this data is presented in aggregate, and the scroll patterns of individual publisher sites’ audiences may be quite different.

More from The Fix: Put readers at the center of everything

Photo by Maria Teneva on Unsplash

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