Why do newspapers hide the article behind "continue reading" buttons?
November 30, 2016 9:37 AM   Subscribe

Buttons like this from the Boston Globe. I have several guesses as to why they're there, but none are satisfying and I have no particular confirming evidence.

I'm seeing this user-hostile pattern pop up more and more. You read a paragraph or two of the article, scroll down, and then are faced with a "continue reading" button to display the rest of the article. Why? I imagine it has something to do with ads, but what? I tried asking on Twitter why sites are doing this and got some plausible theories without evidence. Also most don't stand up to investigation.
  • Helps measure whether people read the whole article. Sort of? But couldn't you just check if the user scrolled the viewport down? Why require a specific click / tap?
  • Make screen scraping harder. But it doesn't really, if a scraper can do any Javascript at all it can fake this button press. Also in the Boston Globe example specifically the whole article text was loaded before the button was ever pressed, so it's not like content was hidden from the scraper.
  • A tap / mouse click enables the page to show more ads to the user. Maybe, but is there specific evidence for it? In the bad old days clicks like this would sometimes have popups attached, but that's fallen out of favor. Mobile Safari will only play audio on a page after the user taps something, so that's a reason to require a tap. But the Boston Globe example isn't playing audio.
I'm looking for sourced information here, not just speculation.
posted by Nelson to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Quote from someone who actually designed such a button:
[Website] only shows the read full button when you navigate directly to an article from an outside source (i.e. facebook or twitter). This is because you most likely only know the title and maybe a tiny bit more about the article. Once you arrive you are shown the first couple paragraphs and given the option to keep reading. If however you decided you aren't interested in reading the rest of it you can keep scrolling and get to other content that may be of interest. If you were to visit the home page then click an article you won't see that button.
[second answer down, I don't know how to permalink it]
posted by AFABulous at 9:45 AM on November 30, 2016 [4 favorites]

On mobile It has to be ad related. Some of the mobile ad networks are so awfully slow that they are trying to give them more time to load.

salon is the biggest offender i've seen here, with their wonky setup i can usually get most of the article read before it shrinks up for a continue reading button with the ads loaded and performance gets terrible. If i can't finish the article in that time it usually gets closed without being finished.
posted by TheAdamist at 9:45 AM on November 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

I built sites for a magazine publisher. "Viewability" is the hot new metric in online advertising. It measures that amount of time various ad placements spend within the visitor's viewport. Advertisers are no longer willing to pay for ads that get loaded but never actually seen and it has sent publishers scrambling to save their revenue. Getting ads seen is especially hard to on mobile because the viewport is so small. This "continue reading" is one more way to get your eyeballs on an ad (which includes the sponsored related content that you often see down there).
posted by scottatdrake at 9:51 AM on November 30, 2016 [16 favorites]

I don't know enough about javascript to know if this is directly related, but from a marketing blog:
Javascript files can load after the rest of your page, but if you put them all before your content—as many sites do—they will load before your content does.

This means your visitors must wait until your Javascript files load before they see your page, and we know how much they like waiting.

The simplest solution is to place your external Javascript files at the bottom of your page, just before the close of your body tag. Now more of your site can load before your scripts.
posted by AFABulous at 9:51 AM on November 30, 2016

What scottatdrake said. It's an ad viewability thing.
posted by jourman2 at 10:32 AM on November 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

Agree strongly with AFABulous' first point about other material (as an analyst who has worked for several web publishers) - most people are not reading a whole article - they're only reading the first few paragraphs. If you put your "related articles" or whatever at the bottom of the whole article, not very many people will see them and therefore not very many people will click on them. Right below the "continue reading" on that link you posted is "Most Popular In Ideas" and a list of articles. They don't care if you click that continue reading button (it looks like one more ad unit loads in there but it's like a run of site 300x250 - not valuable inventory). They care if you click on more articles and rack up the PVs and get more high-value (top of the page, sponsorship/takeover etc) ad views, as well as pushing up their engagement (time spent & pages per visit or per user) numbers.
posted by brainmouse at 10:33 AM on November 30, 2016 [5 favorites]

Scan first couple of paragraphs and then click elsewhere easily if you're not interested.
posted by xammerboy at 11:35 AM on November 30, 2016

I've worked on multiple implementations of this now for publishers. It's both of the things mentioned: 1. show an ad sooner to people who might not get all the way down the page ("ad viewability") and 2. give people a selection of related links to give them options for other things they might be interested in, to keep them engaged with the site when they might otherwise bounce.
posted by limeonaire at 2:56 PM on November 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

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