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Are mobile news aggregators on the rise as referral traffic sources?

This post originally appeared on Digital Content Next.


Often top referrers to articles in our network include a mix of the usual suspects: Google search, Google News, Facebook, Twitter, Flipboard, Drudge Report. But one day at the beginning of October I was looking at a story in Currents and noticed another referrer in the mix: SmartNews.

SmartNews is an app that aggregates and serves “impartial, trending and trustworthy” news through machine learning algorithms. And for the story I was looking at, about the FDA and e-cigarettes, SmartNews was the second highest external traffic referrer, right after Google Search.

Then later this month, another colleague was keeping up with the Mega Millions lottery news (she didn’t win) and noticed another unusual referring domain: discover.google.com. We’ve written about trends in non-search Google referrers before, including non-search AMP traffic and Google Quick Search Box, but this was a whole other domain.

We couldn’t help but wonder what was going on with these mobile referrers, and how they affecting were traffic to publishers. I took a closer look at the traffic trends to find out.

SmartNews revs up traffic

My colleague who owns an Android phone said she’s used to seeing SmartNews alerts pop up. However, she didn’t realize how many people had the app pre-installed on their devices or were opting in to the same experience.

SmartNews has been growing as a referrer, with VentureBeat reporting 200% growth year-over-year in the U.S. and 10 million monthly active users. Looking at page views to articles since April, it’s clear that there’s an uptick:

traffic from SmartNews

Traffic referred by smartnews.com to Parse.ly’s network from April 1 to October 26, 2018.

The highest peak in referral traffic from SmartNews happened this month. In fact, SmartNews has even edged its way into the top fifteen overall referrers so far in October. Though it drove under 1% of traffic, SmartNews ranked 11th, right behind Yahoo and ahead of Apple News.

The percentage of all network views by referral source from October 1 – October 26, 2018.

The top stories with traffic from SmartNews this month are about Law, Government, and Politics, News, Business, Health & Fitness, and Science.

Google Discover makes an appearance

Though the referring domain discover.google.com didn’t make it into the top overall traffic sources in October, it appeared seemingly out-of-the blue. Traffic from the referrer to our network begins suddenly on October 18:

traffic from Google Discover

Traffic referred by discover.google.com to Parse.ly’s network from October 18 to October 26, 2018.

So where exactly is this mysterious traffic coming from? Turns out it’s coming from the artist formerly known as Google Feed. In September, Google Feed rebranded as Google Discover.

Google reports that more than 800 million people use Discover every day. From Google’s blog: “Think of it as your new mobile homepage where you can not only search, but also discover useful, relevant information and inspiration from across the web for the topics you care about most.”

So far according to our nine days of network data, the information Google Discover users cared about most included these top five categories: Law, Government, and Politics, Technology & Computing, Business, Sports, and Science.

News aggregators appeal to a younger demographic

Given that U.S. adults are spending an average of 3 hours, 25 minutes a day on mobile devices in 2018, according to eMarketer, it may be no surprise that more and more readers are finding news through mobile news aggregators.

In their 2018 digital news report, Reuters Institute found that over half of respondents got news through interfaces that use ranking algorithms, including search, social media, and news aggregators. The same amount of respondents (6%) treated email, mobile alerts, and news aggregators as their respective main gateways to news.

What does this mean for publishers? It might be worthwhile to keep your eye on growing news aggregator referrers, especially if you’re trying to reach a younger demographic. According to Reuters, aggregators are most popular among 25 – 34 year olds and 18 – 24 year olds. Compare that to email and direct access, which are most popular among 45 – 54 year olds and people aged 55+.

Have you noticed any mobile referrers take off lately? Let us know—we’re keeping our eyes peeled.