Short-form: Articles with a word count of 101 – 999 words. (Those with 100 or fewer words were removed due to their greater potential of containing anomalous data.)

Long-form: Articles with a word count of 1,000 words or more.

Cellphone: Defined by as a broad category encompassing mobile devices that are not desktop/laptop computers, tablets or other devices that can connect to the web. Cellphones are primarily comprised of smartphones, such as Apple’s iPhone, Samsung’s Galaxy S series or other manufacturers such as HTC, Motorola, Microsoft and Blackberry. All traffic analyzed in this study is based on visits to news websites via mobile browser apps on cellphones. It does not include interactions via “native” mobile news apps.

Unique visitors: Unique number of individuals visiting a web page on a cellphone. uses first-party cookies to track a user within a website on a particular device. Each individual is counted only once, though they may have visited the site more than once during September 2015.

Page activity: An individual’s interaction with the page, measured as screen movement such as scrolling, clicking or tapping.

Session: An individual’s page activity on an article over an indefinite time period, which expires when there has been no activity for 30 minutes. A session includes visits to multiple pages within the article, as well as instances when the user visits the page, leaves for another site or app, but returns within 30 minutes of his or her last activity. Thus, if a user visits one article, pauses for 10 minutes and then returns, that is still considered one session.

Complete interaction: All of a unique visitor’s sessions with one article on a cellphone. In some cases, such as time of the day, we looked at the combined sessions for that particular daypart. For example, if a user read an article over multiple sessions during the morning, we combined these sessions to analyze the activity that took place within that specific daypart.

Return visitors: Visitors who visit an article more than once on the same cellphone. This is tracked by using a web cookie, which uniquely identifies each user’s web browser. A visit is a return visit if it begins at least 60 minutes after the start of the preceding session.

Engaged time: An indicator of the time a user spends with content, as measured by page activity. In other words, this refers to any time that a user spends “engaged” – meaning scrolling, clicking or tapping – with a web page. In the current dataset, a pause in the accumulation of engaged time is set at 5.5 seconds of unengaged time on a page, with engaged time resuming if or when there is action again.

Mean (average) engaged time: An indicator of the overall time spent with a page, this is calculated by taking all visitors’ total engaged time, adding it together and then dividing by the number of visitors. Most analyses of engaged time use this metric.

Median engaged time: An indicator of the overall time spent with a page, this ranks all user activity with a page by engaged time and identifies the engaged time value that is the most typical or falls in the middle (the middle value).

Referral: The pathway a visitor takes to initially land upon a news article. In this study, there are five distinct types of referrals:

  • Direct: A visitor accesses an article by directly typing the URL address into the browser; selecting a bookmarked URL; or clicking on a URL in an email, instant message or other non-web based link.
  • Internal: A visitor accesses an article from an internal link, meaning a web page that has the same domain (i.e., a page that has the same base URL).
  • Search: A visitor follows a link from a search engine such as Google or Bing.
  • Social: A visitor follows a link from a social networking site such as Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, LinkedIn, Pinterest Reddit or others.
  • External website: A visitor follows a link from other websites that do not fall under any of the previous categories.

Daypart: Each visitor’s activity was classified into one of five dayparts – or periods of the day –based on their local time zone, if identifiable to the zip code level by the user IP address. These dayparts are:

  • Morning (4:00 a.m. – 9:59 a.m.)
  • Midday (10:00 a.m. – 3:59 p.m.)
  • Evening (4:00 p.m. – 7:59 p.m.)
  • Nighttime (8:00 p.m. – 11:59 p.m.)
  • Late night (12:00 a.m. – 3:59 a.m.)

Lifespan: This refers to the time between an article’s publication date and each visitor’s visits to an article. In this study, we looked at articles with visits in September 2015.

Articles: Online news stories published by a mix of 30 news organizations that are clients. The data include all articles of 101 words or more published between April 1 and Sept. 30, 2015, that met a minimum threshold of U.S.-based page views in the month of September 2015. For short-form articles, the minimum threshold was 100 views on any device and with at least one cellphone view; the respective number for long-form was 25 views. Stories 100 words or fewer were removed due to the high number of photos, headlines and slideshows, which introduced errors into the engaged time metric.

Video and audio news content could be included if it met the minimum word threshold of 101 words and the user somehow activated the screen through a touch or a scroll before the 5.5 second cutoff. It is likely, though, that in most cases a user would hit that 5.5 seconds of inactivity, therefore ending the session. Thus, most of the measures here tell us more about time reading than time spent watching or listening to news.