Syndicating NPR stories on your station site: What is the recipe for success?

Apr 27, 2018

Back in April of 2015, we shared some initial research on the impact of stations supplementing their local coverage with syndicated content from the NPR API. Last month, we revisited the initial question that prompted this research: What role does content syndication play in the performance of station sites? Our intention was to reevaluate our learnings from three years ago that guide our “recipe for content syndication success” and to dig deeper on questions around the interplay between station format and other levers you can control around content syndication, like topic selection and publication timing.

We started by looking at a cohort of 162 station websites that syndicated content in February 2018. Of those stations, 104 are purely news stations, 12 are purely music stations, and 46 are mixed format. Overall, we found that exposure to local stories on station sites is a better predictor of retention than exposure to NPR content on a station site, though some well-curated NPR stories or stories that are syndicated in the right moment can buck that trend.

Across the board -- regardless of station format -- we confirmed the pattern we saw back in 2015 still holds true. Despite the average station publishing NPR syndicated stories at a three-to-one ratio compared to local stories, those stories account for less than 10% of story page views across station sites. This means that individual station stories typically have pageviews in the hundreds or thousands, while the typical NPR syndicated story usually sees pageviews in the single or double digits only. Additionally, we revalidated the trend that station sites with a majority of their content published from syndicated sources see 15% fewer story pageviews per user in month compared to stations with a majority of local content.

Source: Google Analytics, February 2018 for 162 station sites

Beyond seeing weaker audience engagement on station sites that are heavily syndicated, we continue to see that exposure to local content on a station site is a much better predictor for long-term audience retention than exposure to NPR syndicated content. The Cohort Analysis reports in Google Analytics allow us to do this analysis by isolating data for a subset of users who visited a station site for the first time during a particular time period. Using the reports, you can see what percentage of a specific cohort returns to your site week after week.

In the chart below, we show this rate of return -- also referred to as the “retention rate” -- over a six week period. Here, the grey bars show the average percent of users that return to a station website one week following their first visit (3.3%), two weeks following (2.0%), and so on. Interestingly when we break these average out by exposure to local stories (the lines in blue) versus NPR syndicated stories (the lines in red) we can see that, compared to the average retention across all station sites, NPR content -- regardless of station format -- underperforms.

Source: Google Analytics, February 2018 for 162 station sites

The magnitude in retention rates for national versus local content is especially stark for Music stations (the solid blue and red lines), with 1.8% of the local-content exposed audience retained (versus 3.3% on average) and only 0.2% of the NPR-content exposed audience retained after a six week period (versus 1.0% on average).

But by no means does this indicate that syndicated NPR content should be scrapped from your station website strategy! We dug deeper to understand which types of syndicated content actually do bolster a station site’s performance if curated correctly to the right set of ingredients.

Among the cohort of stations we explored, there is strong evidence that thoughtful, well-curated syndication can lead to higher engagement with NPR syndicated content and a higher likelihood to return to the station site in the future. Somewhat obviously, stories in the Music and Arts & Culture categories perform two to three times better on Music format station sites than other types of syndicated content and is more likely than other syndicated content to bring visitors back. Interestingly, News format station sites see better engagement and retention for NPR stories in categories that are less “hard news” related -- like Health & Fitness, Science & Technology, and Sports.

Another way to think about content curation is related to the day of the week that you choose to syndicate particular content. We found that for News and mixed format stations, in particular, the proportion of pageviews from syndicated NPR stories account triples on weekends versus weekdays, suggesting that NPR content serves an important role in filling out a site’s real estate during periods when local news production slows down.

Additionally, the popularity of syndicated story topics varies based on whether it’s published on a weekend or a weekday. Among the cohort of sites we reviewed, NPR syndicated stories in topics like Politics & Government, Science & Technology, and Business & Economy tended to have a higher proportion of site pageviews on weekdays, while stories related to Sports, Health & Fitness, Education, and Arts & Culture tended to perform better on weekends.

Source: Google Analytics, February 2018 for 162 station sites

So what is the ultimate recipe for success with content syndication on your site? These two basic ingredients hold true for all stations, regardless of station format or size:

  • Syndicate NPR content in moderation
  • Curate content that complements your station’s core value

Beyond that, we recommend taking a look at the performance of syndicated content on your site today and comparing your results to the findings we’ve laid out here. Every station site has something unique to offer, and discovering what works best for you relative to all station sites can reveal new opportunities for success.

You can start that process today by using the Google Analytics Custom Report we’ve created for you here.

For more information on how to make the most of syndication through Core Publisher, check out our recent webinar.