Am I the last website editor on Earth to have found out what scrolldown rate means… and that scrolldown rates are apparently very low… and that this is terrible news for anyone publishing a site?
I don’t know if it was a big techie secret that few if any journalists were let in on, but the light dawned for me when I attended (virtually) a recent webinar put on by my friend Birgit Pauli-Haack, who runs Pauli Systems, LC in Naples, Fla.
Birgit demonstrated it via Google Analytics on two attractive real-life sites. I was jolted, and appalled, to discover that one site had a scrolldown rate of 5 percent, the other 6 percent.
This means that of the readers who call up the first site, only 5 percent bother to scroll down from the first screenful they see.
Too much hard work, apparently, to click that down arrow!
I was petrified to discover what the rate would be on my own site, www.ourblook.com, as we have amassed a tremendous amount of material: 320-plus interviews of academics, journalists, business leaders and top professionals on various issue topics. You have to scroll down or move around the site to see a lot of this.
Our rate turned out to be 16 percent – gratifyingly higher than the samples, but still, this means that just one of six readers on our site scrolls down. Of course I don’t have the faintest idea what the rate would be for other sites, as this is locked into their own Google Analytics codes.
But it also means that our site, and probably lots of other sites, needs a redesign. The lesson I took away is that you have one shot – AND ONLY ONE SHOT – to get prospective readers to read, and that’s by what you offer on the first screenful that pops up when the site gets opened. The more elements (promos or items), the better. We have several elements but a Joomla template I’ve seen has 20. That’s the direction I’d like to go in.
Let’s take a look at Politico, which I think is a terrific news and discussion site. When I call it up as I write this, I see one dominant element with large photo (“GOP finds governing isn’t easy”) and parts of three video buttons. That’s all. When I scroll down another screenful, all of a sudden I see 12 promos, and many of them I’d love to open up. If Politico has a good scrolldown rate, and I hope it does, and maybe it does because its loyal readers would know they have to look around, these stories would be read. But if it has a low scrolldown rate like (I guess) many others, these stories would be largely wasted.
This reminds me of my newspaper days when we poor hacks vaguely were aware that lots of readers stopped reading when a story jumped. We didn’t think this applied to us because our efforts, ha-ha, were so brilliantly written that how could anyone not follow the jump?
Then I became a Gannettoid working in the same headquarters building with (though not for) USA Today, and while it was fashionable for the journalism industry to look down on USAT, if not sneer, in fact it was brilliantly proactive. In a revolutionary move for papers, it limited jumps to one per section front – the so-called cover story – as it attempted to get people to like the product, find it easy to navigate and read more of it.
So now we find ourselves in a similar situation: the people who can’t summon up the effort to follow a jump are the same ones who can’t summon up the effort to scroll down. It’s appalling to me, this lack of desire and effort. I frankly don’t understand it. But it is what it is, and editors who deal with it and try to beat it will probably be better off.
Oh yes, how to find that perhaps humiliating scrolldown rate:
1) Start on your Analytics Report Dashboard,
2) On the left side click on Content,
3) Then click on the expanding sub-navigation In-Page Analytics,
4) And there will be a readout at bottom saying X% clicks below.
P.S. I will respond to any reader comments (even the inevitable ones telling me how dumb I am.)
Gerry Storch is editor and administrator of OurBlook – “blook” meaning a cross between a blog and a book. He was a feature writer with the Detroit News and Miami Herald, Accent section editor and newsroom investigative team leader for the News, and sports editor/business editor for Gannett News Service. He has a B.A. in political science and M.A. in journalism, both from the University of Michigan. This is his third article for OJR.