The presence of a “double-jeopardy effect” for website traffic should inform digital media plans and online publishers’ strategies for growth, according to a study published in the Journal of Advertising Research (JAR).

Harsh Taneja, an assistant professor in the Department of Advertising and the Institute of Communications Research at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, discussed this subject in a paper entitled, The myth of targeting small, but loyal niche audiences: Double-jeopardy effects in digital-media consumption.

Drawing on reports about media exposure and web traffic estimates from comScore Media Metrix, the study looked at monthly desktop usage data, across an entire year, for the 2,000 most-popular domains in the US in terms of unique users.

And the study’s result found overall support for the “double-jeopardy effect”, which “predicts that small audiences are generally disloyal and proposes that to grow engagement, brands need to grow their reach”.

It thus refuted “the myth of small but loyal audiences” and served as “a cautionary tale for advertisers who may look to dissociate completely from traditional big media” in favour of niche outlets.

More specifically, the “double-jeopardy effects” outlined by the research were found to be stronger for the most popular websites, but still observable – albeit in much weaker form – among the long-tail of digital properties.

“The drop in the reach of websites was far more dramatic than the corresponding drop in time spent once one moves past the handful of extremely popular sites,” Taneja wrote.

Alongside a “popularity bias” for larger websites, Taneja argued that focusing on topics and stories with mass appeal (from sports to national news) and frequently updating content all helps the large sites secure return traffic.

The “niche loyalties” of consumers, by contrast, may currently be served on major platforms with “customizable” elements allowing them to get immersed in granular topics, like Reddit, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.

For media planners, “the presence of double-jeopardy effects suggests that websites that have high reach, owing to higher time spent per user and higher average visits, also provide a higher frequency as a bonus”.

Media brands seeking to grow their audience and advertising base should, equally, attempt to enhance their reach and boost loyalty, whether measured by repeat visits or “in terms of attitudes”.

Sourced from Journal of Advertising Research; additional content by WARC staff