Why Full Text Feeds Actually Increase Page Views (The Freakonomics Explanation)

from the why-full-feeds-make-sense dept

Last week, the Freakonomics blog got some extra attention by moving the blog to the NY Times. Of course, the blog had been in support of the immensely popular Freakonomics book, but the blog has taken on a life of its own. What was interesting was how people reacted to the news. While there were a few congratulations thrown in, the vast majority of the comments on the blog when the news broke was to complain about the NY Times’ decision to switch the RSS feed from full text to partial text, where anyone who wanted to read the whole thing would have to click through. This has kicked off yet another round in the debate with some thoughtful discussions about full vs. partial feeds. Techdirt, of course, offers full feeds and always has. This means that plenty of people who read this site absolutely never visit the site. We’re fine with that for a variety of reasons (one of which being that our business model isn’t dependent on page views or ad impressions).

However, in our experience, full text feeds actually does lead to more page views, though understanding why is a little more involved. Full text feeds makes the reading process much easier. It means it’s that much more likely that someone reads the full piece and actually understands what’s being said — which makes it much, much, much more likely that they’ll then forward it on to someone else, or blog about it themselves, or post it to Digg or Reddit or Slashdot or Fark or any other such thing — and that generates more traffic and interest and page views from new readers, who we hope subscribe to the RSS feed and become regular readers as well. The whole idea is that by making it easier and easier for anyone to read and fully grasp our content, the more likely they are to spread it via word of mouth, and that tends to lead to much greater adoption than by limiting what we give to our readers and begging them to come to our site if they want to read more than a sentence or two. So, while many people claim that partial feeds are needed to increase page views where ads are hosted, our experience has shown that full text feeds actually do a great deal to increase actual page views on the site by encouraging more usage. It’s the same thing that we’ve talked about in other areas of the content industry. Taking value away from users to try to force a specific action is almost always going to be less desirable than providing people what they want. So while Dubner and Levitt may have to argue with the NYTimes beancounters who will claim that partial feeds will increase revenue, they may want to use the lessons they learned from their own book to recognize that the opposite may be true. Full feeds can actually drive more traffic overall.

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Comments on “Why Full Text Feeds Actually Increase Page Views (The Freakonomics Explanation)”

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C.G. (user link) says:

More Likely to Comment

I don’t even subscribe to sites that use partial feeds. I even read the full ad supported feeds. I can’t enjoy an article that is spaced out or one that I have to click on a link just to finish reading it. I’m also more likely to comment on the article having just read the entire thing – I’m sure that helps promote page views as other people may want to read or add comments themselves.

Now as for the NYTimes… When have they ever been smart about their on-line content?

Buzz (profile) says:


I am extremely grateful for full feeds! I use Google Reader Mobile on my cell phone, so I love being able to read whole Techdirt articles from wherever I am. It definitely increases the value, and I am a far more loyal reader simply knowing that Techdirt places the focus on customer satisfaction. I am 1000x more likely to come to this site one day with cash in hand (er… on my debit card) ready to spend. ^_^

jon says:

“However, in our experience, full text feeds actually does lead to more page views”

How could you possibly know this if you’ve always used full feeds?

“Techdirt, of course, offers full feeds and always has”

Don’t get me wrong; as a user, I’m all for full text feeds, but I’m wondering how you can claim this if you’ve never tested partial feeds out.

Macartan Cassidy (user link) says:

Right on the money!

I think you’ve got it right in your analysis – full text feeds make the reading experience easier and more pleasurable. The redaer is the much more likely to assimilate and interact with the content.
An example is my reaction to this post – in Google Reader I hit “Share”, and then came here to comment. Would I have done these things for a partial feed? Probably not.

db0 (user link) says:

Absolutely true

I stopped reading The Register once I switched to an aggregator for my news needs because it just delivered snippets and I couldn’t be bothered to visit every link I wanted to read.

I almost stopped reading p2pnet.net but fortunately it moved to full text.

Especially in Technet, it’s quite frequent for me to read a news story and click on various links contained within which in turn become page hits.

Stephen D says:

Not sure I believe you

On the one hand you say:

“Techdirt, of course, offers full feeds and always has”

…and on the other, you say:

“However in our experience, full text feeds actually does lead to more page views.”

More page views than what? You haven’t ever tried partial feeds so you don’t know.
It doesn’t sound like an argument that would convince Dubner and Levitt.

Or, at least your experience with running Techdirt can’t have provided any real evidence that full text is better for page views than partial, can it?

I would love to see some tangible evidence for the bean counters, because full text clearly it does provide a better user experience. A handwavy “halo effect” argument is not concrete enough for them.

Anonymous Coward says:

I do not read The New York Times or the Washington Post or ABC or MSNBC, or CBS on line; to difficult.

In the case of The New York times one is required to log in and have one name recorded just to read a News Paper.

Thanks but NO THANKS.

In the case of ABC, MSNBC and CBS they apparently believe that current day desktop computers are equivalent to TV sets so everything is streamed video which does not play on my computers.

This leaves news sources like BBC, International Harold Tribune, Slashdot and Techdirt. For comics there is Dilbert and UserFrendly.

CNN is half and half. Half way between readable and non playing streamed video.

Assuming that my experience is typical that means that old line news papers in order to protect their paper business model are fast becoming irrelevant given that even though the news is better one can not access their site by business decision design.

On the other side the likes of ABC, MSNBC and CBS are not relevant either with another business model that is failing due to the Dan Rather effect; the assumption that they are the only game in town so people and equipment will just have to do what they demand that you do to access their content.

The failure in all this is the Nollywood business model.

Nollywood, Nigeria’s booming film industry, is the world’s third largest producer of feature films. Unlike Hollywood and Bollywood, however, Nollywood movies are made on shoe-string budgets of time and money. An average production takes just 10 days and costs approximately $15,000.
Yet in just 13 years, Nollywood has grown from nothing into a $250 million dollar-a-year industry that employs thousands of people. The Nollywood phenomenon was made possible by two main ingredients: Nigerian entrepreneurship and digital technology.

Note at the bottom of the posting page is this note:
Plain Text: A CRLF will be replaced by break
tag, all other allowable HTML is intact
HTML: No formatting of any kind is done without explicitly being written in
Allowed HTML Tags:

Could some computer type translate this form goobie gock to English.

Anonymous Coward says:

I completely agree – in my (admittedly anecdotal) experience, I’m much less likely to read the partial feeds that I subscribe to. Even when I really enjoy a blog, if they only offer partial feeds I tend to skip them with the intention of going to the site to read them at a later time. This somehow never actually happens. But the full feeds I subscribe to get read. And then I go to the page to comment, and I send links to my friends, etc, etc.

Improbulus (user link) says:

Give readers a choice of full text feeds or partia

I’ve always believed in offering subscribers full control – it should be up to the individual subscriber to decide whether they’d personally prefer full text or excerpts only, or indeed just headlines. I feel strongly that the consumer should be given the power to choose exactly what they want.

Feedburner Buzz recently linked to a post I wrote a while back which explains step by step how to provide readers with a choice of full feed, partial feed or headlines only. (For an example of this in action, see the dropdown in my blog‘s sidebar.) I have about 50% more subscribers picking full feeds than partial, and just a handful wanting headlines only.

Rich Pearson (user link) says:

Measurement is great - what about re-use / splogge

This seems like a very testable concept, and Improbulus’s numbers support the hypothesis put forward in the article.

Full feeds are where every publisher should be driving towards for the reasons stated above; however, given how easy it is for sploggers to monetize content with ad sense, I can understand why content creators and publishers are reluctant to do this.

Until content creators have visibility of re-use and a means to come to a negotiated outcome (not litigation!), we will continue to see full feed reluctance . . .

Improbulus (user link) says:

Re: Measurement is great - what about re-use / spl

Rich, if you’re suggesting that publishers generally should offer a choice of feeds and then look at the relative numbers that’s a great idea. It would be very helpful to have aggregate stats from lots of blogs and sites to see where the demand lies. Like you, I suspect it would be very much in favour of full feeds (from the subscriber side anyway – I fully realise why from the publisher’s side there would be a reluctance to put out full feeds).

Rich Pearson (user link) says:

Measurement is great - what about re-use / splogge

This seems like a very testable concept, and Improbulus’s numbers support the hypothesis put forward in the article.

Full feeds are where every publisher should be driving towards for the reasons stated above; however, given how easy it is for sploggers to monetize content with ad sense, I can understand why content creators and publishers are reluctant to do this.

Until content creators have visibility of re-use and a means to come to a negotiated outcome (not litigation!), we will continue to see full feed reluctance . . .

Tom (user link) says:

I've got a workaround

For those interested in getting the full feed, see here:


Here’s a direct link to the feed after being passed through the service:


I understand the position that Mr. Dubner’s in, but the advertisers are flat out wrong — they’re fighting a war that will inevitably be lost. The sooner they realize this and adapt to the way readers want to consume content, the better.

Anurag Bansal (user link) says:

Full Feed is the way to go...

As others also mentioned, if your content is good, the people will always come back to the site and visit you frequently. But if you force them at the very first place to visit your page, at least I won’t go that way. Feed is made to be read in feed readers, then why the hell there should be an option for partial feeds.
I am always for Full Feed.
Below are my personal feeds…



Steve Pinches says:

Full feeds vs short feeds

It’s true full feeds might help out a blog such as yours which is not a large brand leader like Freakonomics (it’s the ‘any publicity is good’ principle). However for a major, respected brand, giving away full text feeds in this way is absolutely ridiculous. It’s the equivalent of giving away free papers in the street but with no ads in them, or indeed any branding. Anyone who objects to having to move their mouse a few centimetres to click on a headline a read the article in context on the site it was published on (where they are also exposed to related stories and tools, and can get the proper context that was intended for the article) is lazier than Mr Lazy and should be taken out and boxed round the ears with a copy of the New York Times’ Sunday edition.

Michael Pereckas says:

partial feed means click for really, really, reall

Naturally, the sites that provide only short feeds are especially likely to be really slow to load, with blinking animated stuff everywhere (don’t you love it when the blinking thing keeps covering up the text?) and weird hard to read colors and browser compatibility issues. Usually just not worth it. Also, a partial feed where you’re not quite sure if it’s partial is extra annoying, where rather than being obvious about it you get a few sentences. Is there more, or is that it? Have to load the blinking malfunctioning flash to be sure…

Warren Whitlock (user link) says:

Full feeds not always best

I’m sure your test results are valid, but I would not assume that full feeds are always best.

Big world out there.. lot’s of agendas. Lot’s of reason to use RSS. Souund marketing reasons to include mini feeds on other sites.

I use full feeds a most sites (http://dailywarren.com) but for maketing and promotion have used mini-feed too.

More specific to the big media sites and their own feeds.. one has to assume that they are more interested in cramming in content than providing quality writing. With that mindset, easy to see why they believe that full articles get in the way.

The uproar today come from quality content switching to a model that is made for thoughful readers.

Your results here prove that your readers like the content. The comment support that too.

Some mass market media types with a lot more capitalization than me will probably say that the masses don’t read. Which is why I presonally prefer full feeds.

Becktemba (user link) says:

Partial Feeds Must Go

Partial feeds have to go unless you are trying to protect your commercial content or limit access to information.

The FEEDBURNER automatically truncates feeds from EVERYBODY thats just killing the service.

Why does a Auntie Ann’s Baby Blog need have a partial feed?

Want to print your blog out like a newspaper or magazine? A new application I’m excited about is the FEEDJOURNAL.

Check it out at: http://www.Feedjournal.com

Tell em Becktemba sent you.

BidLessTravel (user link) says:

Full-Text "Scrapping"

I pull some RSS feeds from the main news sources to one of my sites, but actually rather have the truncated version and I link the ‘read more’ to theirs as payback, so not ‘scrapping’ all their content. Many have complained and want me to display the full text, as they do not feel like visiting all the sites from which I pull the news…rather have a one-stop-shop.

So are there any lists out there with full text AP-type of news feeds that people are welcome to pull?

Chase says:

Full RSS Feeds From Any Website

It really doesn’t matter if websites display full RSS feeds or not. With WizardRSS.com you can type in the URL of the partial feeds and they will forward you to a new URL where you can get the link to the full RSS feeds.

I have seen a ton of people using their service. Plus, I have never run across a website like WizardRSS.com that actually lets you get the full feed from any website on the Internet.

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