Ky Hardin, a data analyst at BuzzFeed, Inc., has just posted an interesting article on when content is read vs. when content is generally published that opens a new way to think about when to publish.
The article, How Time of Day Affects Content Performance, offers some empirical proof that some of those 6 AM emails sent out each day may be better read if sent in the late afternoon.
The BuzzFeed research team noticed that well-read articles in terms of the amount of views received in a single hour over the past year saw the biggest spikes in traffic within the same two-hour period of the day, even when the topics were very dissimilar. That’s not to say that content that is not interesting and sharable will get read more – good content gets read more than bad at any time of day. But their research illustrates the pivotal role that time of day can play in readability.
BuzzFeed research identified a clear pattern that people browse the web more frequently during certain hours of the day.
As Mr. Hardin points out, we all know that web traffic fluctuates at certain times of the day. Traditional wisdom for email and other outbound web marketing has been to release information at the start of the day to optimize opens and click throughs. It is interesting to note that based on their analysis of over 300 million monthly visitors to BuzzFeed and their partner networks, page views start building early, but continue to rise steadily until late afternoon before they begin to decline.
The shape of the time of day page views curve is similar, regardless of
the the day you're looking at. The peaks and troughs shift slightly
depending on other factors, but the overall shape remains the same.
The chart below plots the total number of page views during each hour of the day.
This pattern was very predictable over the 1,700 days that were reviewed
for this study – 86% of the days followed the above pattern. The data
gets interesting when you plot the time of day articles are published
against that viewership pattern. As you can see in the second chart
below, article publishing increases at a more accelerated rate until
mid-morning and falls off, despite a brief rebound in the early
The conclusion of this study is that there is a lot of content that isn’t given a chance to reach its full reader potential based on this publishing pattern.
Marketers need to recognize that content performance based on page views may not match their pre-conceived ideas or “traditional wisdom”. This study indicates that the rules have changed. Other studies have drawn different conclusions on best day of the week and best times, so every marketer should carefully assess the times of day that people most frequently visit their sites or open their emails and adjust their publishing schedule accordingly.
Use your analytics software to identify when your content is read by time zones and adjust accordingly. If your customer base is focused on the east coast, where the majority of the country lives, your publishing strategy could be quite different than if you focus on the west coast or Europe.
You might also want to consider how they find your content. Do they click from Facebook, or do they subscribe via email? These answers will affect how this data applies to you.
When in doubt, you should test to see what works best for you. Importantly, this study reinforces that while general tendencies can be useful in initial planning, the best programs tailor their strategies to the individual patterns of their demographic target(s).
-- Don Morgan
Don Morgan is VP Communications for PSAMA and Head Rainmaker at Raindance Consulting, a business development and social media consultant in Seattle.
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