Audience Engagement Digital Publishing Top Stories
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“Catering to your most engaged readers is worth the investment”: How publishers are doubling down on engagement

TL;DR: Engagement metrics are considerably more valuable for publishers compared to page views and bounce rates. A new whitepaper by Poool looks into the most useful engagement metrics and also provides tips on building engagement backed by examples from a variety of publishers.

Although vanity metrics like page views and bounce rates have long been accepted as useful KPIs to track for online subscription businesses, they provide little value to a publisher, notes a new whitepaper by subscription solutions company Poool. “High page views and good bounce rates don’t necessarily relate to propensity to subscribe and they, unfortunately, give little insight into what your audience actually finds valuable.” Conversion rates, another important KPI, is also not sufficient as it “doesn’t cover the entire funnel, particularly not pre or post-subscription.”

“Moves a user through each step of the funnel on your site”

The most important metric according to the whitepaper, How To Increase Engagement: Convert, Retain and Monetize, is engagement. It enables publishers to understand where users find value in their site (pre and post-subscription) and how they can continue to serve them better to ensure high conversion and retention. “It’s engagement and this constant provision of value that moves a user through each step of the funnel on your site,” writes Madeleine White author of the paper. She refers to INMA’s idea that we look at it as an engagement loop rather than a funnel to have a better picture of how it works.

While there are a variety of engagement metrics available for publishers to track like MAU/DAU, White recommends RFV, which is short for recency, frequency, and volume. It refers to the recency and frequency of visits to a website by a user during a time period, and the number of articles read. The metric is effective at indicating which users are most likely to become digital subscribers. It can also help identify less engaged subscribers, this information can be used to take preventative measures to reduce churn.

Additionally, she recommends Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) as another valuable metric for publishers. It refers to the total net revenue that a subscriber will bring to your business throughout their entire lifetime as a paying customer. It can be calculated by multiplying the average recurring revenue by the total length of subscription. “A high CLV implies that your subscribers are engaged and continue to see value in your content. Therefore, by increasing engagement, you increase CLV and ultimately revenues,” explains White. 

She outlines 4 areas publishers need to work on to improve engagement. These are: 

  • Soft conversions 
  • Content 
  • Personalization 
  • Interaction 

She suggests, nurturing readers gradually towards becoming subscribers rather than blocking them with paywalls at the beginning of their journey.

Registered users are up to 200% more likely to convert

Newsletters and registration walls are the most effective tools for soft conversions. Getting readers to register themselves gives publishers access to first-party data which they can use to understand them better and offer a personalized experience. Registered users are up to 200% more likely to convert to a subscriber than anonymous readers, adds White. 

Newsletters help increase engagement by encouraging users to visit the site. A Spiegel study found that subscribers who received emails promoting relevant, quality news content had significantly higher retention rates than those who didn’t.

Readers can be prompted to sign up for newsletters via content blocks which ask them to enter their emails to access the story. Publishers can also follow the example of Spanish news outlet El Diario which has a newsletter panel by the side of articles. Users can simply click on their preferred topic and enter their email addresses to receive newsletters. The New York Times displays the newsletters available to them after they have signed up. This serves as an attractive teaser for the variety of content the publisher produces. 

“Being an essential part of their reader’s day”

Content is at the core of the publisher-subscriber relationship. Identifying and producing more of what engages their readers most is the beginning. It’s vital that readers consume content as a matter of habit. The author refers to the pre-digital era habits of readers with respect to newspapers and magazines. Newspapers would generally be read daily in the morning. Things are different with readers getting updates throughout the day.

Publishers should seek to go back to being an essential part of their reader’s day, forming a habit that creates repeated and ritualized engagement.  

Madeleine White, How To Increase Engagement: Convert, Retain and Monetize

Some ways to do this:

  • Establish a content ‘theme’ to be released at a certain time of day (e.g. morning newsletter).
  • Produce content series where users will wait for the next ‘episode’ to be released.
  • Send push notifications or email newsletters to remind users of content.
  • Reward engagement on a regular basis. It could be something as simple as giving them virtual badges for completing a series or scoring them for continued consumption streaks. 
  • Publish entertaining interactive content, like puzzles and crosswords.

“One of the greatest ways to boost engagement”

Personalizing content and tailoring experiences for readers “is one of the greatest ways to boost engagement,” writes White. Data is at the core of effective personalization. Collecting and analyzing user data enables publishers to understand their audience better. They can also be segmented into smaller groups and targeted with a more customized experience. 

“By promoting relevant and personalized content to each individual user they are highly more likely to engage – for any content they consume,” she adds. “They’ll be recommended something similar, encouraging continued engagement.” 

Users can also be given options that help them personalize their own experience. This includes the ability to follow chosen authors and topics and receive notifications for the same. The Globe and Mail gives registered users the option to follow the author and related topic at the end of every article. Messaging solutions provider Powerinbox has seen a 22% increase in revenue amongst publishers who implemented automated and personalized push notifications. 

Getting users to interact whether it’s through games likes crosswords and puzzles or by commenting on stories also contributes to engagement. While these users, especially those who comment, account for a small percentage, they “punch far above their weight in terms of driving traffic and revenue to your site,” according to tech and media journalist Simon Owens. “Those are your chief evangelists, your repeat customers, your paying subscribers,” he adds. 

“When you’re dealing with the scale of the internet, catering to your most engaged readers is worth the investment.”

Simon Owens, Tech and Media Journalist 

The full whitepaper can be downloaded here:
How To Increase Engagement: Convert, Retain and Monetize