Graph depicting Article Lifespan of multiple news properties

Aligning Article Lifespan to your readers

This is a guest post by Alex, who is as interested in optimization for online news media as I am, enjoy! d. :-)

Publishers can gain additional insights into their operations by taking a second look at the average Article Lifespan of their news properties. Article Lifespan is the amount of time an article spends as a Current Article before moving into Archive. The average can be in hours for breaking news focused news properties, while it can be in days or even weeks for weekly and monthly magazines. Article Lifespan can be viewed as a coarse summary of ones operation. It reflects the staffing level,  processes, and strategy a news property has established to put out content at a particular rate.

I would argue that each news property has an optimal average Article Lifespan!

The chart below shows the Article Lifespan of three different online news media properties.  The red line represents a national, breaking news driven news property.  The blue line represents a local news property and the green line represents a magazine property.  We picked the same start time for all three news properties.  Every hour, certain amount of articles for each property move from current to archive.  The chart plots the percentage of articles remained current for the 100 hours since the start time.

Graph depicting Article Lifespan of multiple=

In a world where there is no hunger and everyone lives in harmony, the Article Lifespan should align perfectly with the news property’s readers’ reading habits. If the readers check the site five times a day, one could argue that the articles should be refreshed five times a day. On the other hand, if the readers only visit the site on weekends, churning out articles daily could be a waste of effort. Of course, most established news properties serve multiple segments with various reading habits and reading habit itself is a distribution, not a single point. Though from a top down point of view, analyzing whether your organization structure and processes are optimized toward producing the right amount of content for the majority of your readers is a worthwhile exercise and it should be done periodically. After all, both the competitive landscape and reading habits change over time. Who knows when the next Paywall, iPad, or Flipboard is going to come out?

Is Article Lifespan part of your strategic discussion?  How much alignment do you have with your core readers? Would love to hear your thoughts.


  • nic

    Hi Dennis,

    great article (I read your blog once a week, btw:-)

    If I had a news site, and even a small (but not insignificant) group of readers have a different bahviours than the majority, I would try to serve them all. Not possible to do it perfect, of course. But what about offering i.e. top rated or most read articles per category? That would serve the low frequency group (some editorial picks may be worth a thought, too).

    The other way around – majority is low frequency, minority is high frequency – this is much harder. But if these people are news junkies, maybe encouraging them by giving away awards for the first comment/review etc. could keep them content?

    so long

  • Bjoern Sjut

    Hi Alex, hi Dennis,

    I disagree with the approach. It seems non-actionable to me, because it doesn’t factor in the business model of the news site.

    Let’s assume we are talking advertising business here.

    Then the article lifespan in my opinion is the daily advertising revenue generated on that article. Note that the sources providing the revenue to the article will be shifting over time. While in the first days, revenue will come from traffic directly channeled from the homepage or news aggregators, the article will get, if relevant, over time more and more organic traffic from SERPs and generate revenue from there.

    From a business perspective, the article lifespan in terms of Advertising revenue should follow the strategy of the platform. A breaking news site needs to “out-earn” the production costs much, much faster than a longtail content platform, such as in encyclopedic or niche content.

    (that’s also one of the reasons, why so many breaking news sites struggle with their business model).

    Clearly some articles have then better lifespan models than others, and you can review them e.g. by content category to see, where you have the better chances of earning back your production costs through longtail traffic later on, and where you have to have really high immediate traffic numbers on premium CPM.

    Hope this is an interesting alternative approach!

  • Dennis R. Mortensen

    Hi Bjoern,

    I actually think we agree. :-)

    >>While in the first days, revenue will come from traffic directly channeled from the homepage or news aggregators, the article will get, if relevant, over time more and more organic traffic from SERPs and generate revenue from there.

    Spot on and couldn’t agree more. I believe it is of the utmost importance to publishers, news media publishers in particular, that they are armed with the information of their news property specific Article Lifespan (site- or section wide). The Lifespan representing the shift in state from Current to Archive. If one, as you so correctly say, have to create a positive return on the content production, faster than publishers writing for the Archive, I would demand to know exactly how much time that is. The answer for the most being is aligned to the Avg. Article Lifespan.

    In regards to whether you should align article lifespan with your readers. That is a good question. I subjectively believe that most the value should be in the Current Article segment and not in the archive. AND I am committed to solve that problem in particular. With that belief (that Archive is essentially icing on top) you would want to align the two (readers and article lifespan) to some degree. It keeps your cost at bay.

    Great comment, I really appreciate it.


  • Dennis R. Mortensen

    Hey Nic.

    >>great article (I read your blog once a week, btw..
    Thanks!! (to the once a week part, this article is to the credit of Alex) :-)

    I like you segmentation and potentially solutions.

    A) Majority of low frequency visitors, Minority of high frequency visitors.
    B) Majority of high frequency visitors, Minority of low frequency visitors.

    As a news media property or just general media property, I should probably go figure out whether I am A or B and act accordingly. OF COURSE armed with the Article Lifespan metric.

    d. :-)

  • Alex Poon

    Hi Bjoern,

    Just to add onto Dennis’ response, the post was focused mostly on the value of the Current articles. Not saying that there’s no value in the long tail. As Dennis mentioned, we believe that for most news media (excluding long tail players like Demand Media), most of the value is captured while the article is current. Hence, a publisher should have a good idea on how much effort is put into generating a piece of content and how much value is received while the article is current. That’s a good proxy for “if you are making your money back”.

    Thanks for the comment.


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