Identifying the content that drives the biggest share of audience engagement is crucial for publishers; knowing what works best can help fix overall content strategy and guide targeting for specific audiences.
The Data Science team at analytics firm Chartbeat recently looked at metrics from thousands of websites across more than 70 countries. They’re aim was to try to understand if the 80-20 Rule could be used to spotlight the types of content that deliver the best ROI for publishers in terms of audience engagement.
What is the 80-20 Rule?
The 80-20 Rule, or Pareto Principle, is the concept that roughly 80% of effects come from 20% of causes. Named after the 19th century Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, the suggestion is that a company will get the majority of its sales from a small percentage of its products or customers.
Although not a hard and fast rule in publishing or any other industry, the 80-20 rule is a useful tool for identifying the most important areas for publishers to focus their efforts to drive additional value.
The 80-20 Rule in audience metrics
Looking at data across its global network from January 2022 through September 2022, Chartbeat found that 80% of pageviews come from just 6% of articles. However, looking at individual publishers, most hosts got 80% of their pageviews from 20% or less of their articles. The average for individual hosts was 21%.
Comparing results for all sites against results for specific hosts, the team concluded that, as sites get larger, the percentage of articles that deliver the majority of pageviews gets smaller. This was also reflected in engagement, where Chartbeat saw from network-level data that 20% of articles accounted for over 90% of Engaged Time.
To understand the impact of audience size, data was divided into four categories.
- Tiny – less than 1,000 pageviews per day
- Small – 1,000-10,000 pageviews per day
- Medium – 10,000-100,000 pageviews per day
- Large – over 100,000 pageviews per day
Analysis showed that larger sites require fewer articles to drive the majority of their traffic, getting 80% of their pageviews from just 14% of articles published. This compares with 80% of traffic from 35% of articles for Tiny sites; 27% for Small sites; and 21% for Medium sites.
The suggestion is that larger sites can look to a limited number of viral articles for significant traffic, while smaller sites have to rely on a ‘wider breadth’ of content.
Content categories and audience location
The team also looked at the influence content categories had on performance percentages.
Across all categories in Chartbeat’s network, 80% of pageviews are generated by an average of 21% of articles. Data from specific content categories shows that fewer articles generated the majority of traffic. This suggests that, as site content gets more niche there is some concentration of traffic, but still broadly in line with the 80-20 Rule.
Articles contributing 80% of page views
- News and Media – 20%
- Sports and Finance – 19%
- Arts and Entertainment -18%
Using the 80-20 Rule
Where 80% of pageviews come from 20% of content, it might be possible to conclude that a publisher is generating too much content. That may be true at a network level, but for individual sites the right balance will vary from site to site.
Publishers could reduce the number of articles focused on less popular topics and concentrate more effort on ‘high impact’ articles. But it’s important to remember the 80-20 Rule can lead to an focus on short-term gains at the expense of long-term planning. Increasing effort on the underperforming content might bring more sustainable traffic gains.
In either case, identifying the 20% of content that delivers 80% of success is a useful starting point for optimizing content strategy.