FinText research: The investment world’s reading habits
Ask investment marketers what website analytics they’d like to improve, and they’ll likely tell you they want more traffic, longer page visits, and lower bounce rates.
But what’s a realistic target to aim for?
Mostly, marketers are comparing their data to opaque Google Analytics benchmarks. None of that data reveals much about how readers of financial content typically behave.
When browsing investment manager’s website, users come with pre-set expectations on content, shaped by where they regularly consume financial information. This research reveals the habits of the financial reader.
To understand these habits, we collected a sample of twenty-eight leading financial publications, and analysed their traffic data, over the December 2022-January 2023 period. (Traffic data was provided by Similarweb.)
Collectively, this data covers over 1.3 billion visits. However wide, our sample is by no means exhaustive. Rather, it’s designed to uncover trends in reader behaviour.
The research period smooths out monthly idiosyncrasies (December being a quiet month, January showing an upswing in activity). As the figure below shows, sources’ traffic did vary between months, but not by much.
The answer is: depending how financial.
As expected, financial-media traffic aligns with the short-head-long-tail model: the short head is captured by very few publishers, whose remit is anything broadly market related. These see hundreds of millions of visits a month.
In the long tail there are multitude specialist financial publications (many of which not covered in this study), with monthly traffic in the low hundred-thousands. These may target retail investors, financial advisers, or institutional and corporate investors.
Traffic to English-written websites tends to come mostly from either the UK or the US. Short-head financial publications are mostly US based, though they have a global reach. Within the long tail of specialist publications, traffic typically skews towards a specific market.
In a nutshell: when it comes to financial content, expect your average time on page to be between 30 seconds to a little over a minute.
To be sure, these are an order of magnitude apart. Nonetheless, this specific band of average time on page reflects the habits financial readers have become accustomed to.
As the chart shows, the outliers in our sample are few. City AM and Forbes are miles apart when it comes to their overall traffic, but their average-time-on-page is almost the same.
Of course, averages can be deceiving, which is why we need to talk about bounce rates – and traffic quality.
Bounce rate is defined as the average percentage of visitors who view only one page before leaving the website. Almost every marketer wants it lower.
But it only takes a minute’s thought to realise this can’t be true:
If someone reached a page from Google search, it means they’re after an answer to a question. The page either answers it or it doesn’t. Either way, they’ll likely go back to whatever they were doing that instigated their query.
Same for referrals! If a link appears in the context of other information the user is reading, they may click to see the page, but they were just in the middle of something! They’re unlikely to circulate.
This tells us there’s probably at least some correlation between the bounce rates and the percentage of traffic that comes from search or referrals. Indeed, our sample reveals one exists, and is statistically significant.
By improving SEO, one expected side effect is likely an increase in bounce rate. Increasing traffic from search while also lowering the bounce rate is an uphill battle.
When optimising for pages per session, it makes sense to factor average non-bounce pageviews.
To see how this changes the picture, in our sample we ranked the publishers twice: once based on their non-bounce average-page-per-session, and once on their regular average-page-per-session. We then looked at how these rankings changed.
Only for six sites, it made no difference. Nine others only moved one place on the list (either up or down). But for thirteen – nearly half our sample – their relative place in the ranking showed stark shifts.
With that in mind, to set good targets for a circulation strategy, we can look at how many pages, on average, those non-bouncers click on during their visits. The chart below shows that most financial-media websites average more than three pages per non-bounced session.
A user checking their emails might be intrigued enough to open a newsletter. Whether they read it carefully or just scroll through, they’re doing so within an existing context – reading email.
Changing user intent is hard. To get a user to click through on a link, they need to decide to switch their context: park their focus on the current topic; move to a different digital location; one with a new set of barriers (popups, ads, confusing layout).
That link has to be wildly attractive! It’s probably not, so they’re unlikely to click it.
The chart below shows this in action. Traffic from newsletters back to the website is abysmal even for top media properties. On last count, the Financial Times offers nearly fifty different newsletters (subscriber only), which deliver only 1.5% of its traffic. Bloomberg offers about the same number (but free to anyone), and still they deliver just 2.6% of total traffic.
Are They misplacing their efforts? Not at all. That emails are unlikely to deliver web traffic simply means they should be viewed as a separate channel. A highly valuable one, at that:
Marketers have little control over direct traffic, can somewhat influence search, and are at the mercy of social media algorithms. But email is an owned channel.
What’s more, here’s how we see AI-assisted content increasing email’s value:
On social media, users don’t get much choice on what they see. From the user’s perspective, the outcome of exponentially more content is simply a worse experience.
Email, on the other hand, gives users control. When content is dull or spammy, clients simply block it or unsubscribe. Generative AI increases the value of email, because its signal-to-noise ratio goes up.
Online publishers and social media platforms used to be best buddies – but this was long ago. Today, media properties don’t actually get that much traffic from social media. Chartbeat reports that, on a sweeping average across many journalism websites, traffic from social tends to hover at around 17%.
For financial content, it seems to be even less. As the chart above shows, regularly attracting 8-10% of traffic from social is considered good for these media sites. Niche websites see even less, likely reflecting their lower investment in social.
But there’s that word again – intent. One thing we know for sure about a financially aware reader who clicks a link on social media is that they’re in scrolling mode. At this particular moment, they are seeking distraction and acting on their curiosity.
The 30 seconds they spend on your page are a golden opportunity to offer value and strengthen their positive trace.
This research reveals some key behaviours of readers of financial content. On some key digital metrics it offers clear benchmarks for the typical behaviour of the financial reader:
What’s the Next step?
The days of “financial content is just boring” are gone:
Financial websites are scoring millions and millions of sessions every month. If you need help creating more content, and seeing it succeed – we’re here to help.