Digital Publishing Platforms
4 mins read

SmartNews, growing 145% yearly, drives more traffic to publishers than Apple News

SmartNews is a leading Japanese news aggregator app which launched in the US in 2014. It has quadrupled its US audience over the past two years, according to Parse.ly, and now drives more traffic to publishers than Apple News

“The most reliably growing external referrer”

Kelsey Arendt, Senior Data Analyst at Parse.ly says, “SmartNews is the most reliably growing external referrer.” She adds, it’s “up by 145% YoY, and growing at an average of 9% MoM, with a steady trajectory upward.”

SmartNews is similar to Apple News in that it selects traffic distribution partners to work with. It helps them set up channels that users can follow. But when it comes to most traffic referrals, the app relies on machine learning to elevate news from vetted publishers in its feed. 

15 million monthly active users globally

The app currently has 15 million monthly active users globally. It considers users’ likes and clicks, and other behavior to generate suggestions. SmartNews also applies political balancing algorithms to ensure multiple viewpoints are expressed on important topics.

The app has diversification algorithms to help break the filter bubble. It is designed to present a diversity of content, including things readers didn’t necessarily know they might be interested in.

Rich Jaroslovsky, SmartNews’ VP of Content and Chief Journalist told Inc., “At a basic level, we analyze about 10 million pieces of content every day and look for a number of different signals.

“We look at how widely and rapidly an article is being shared. We use machine learning to analyze and classify the content. We rank stories for importance and interest.”

How do we stretch them beyond that interest to surface hidden gems and also really break out of their filter bubble?

Jeannie Yang, SmartNews’ SVP of Product

Yang adds, “We hope users return because they are discovering something new. At the core is what we call personalized discovery, which is different from personalization or personalized recommendation.

“How do we understand what the user’s comfort zone is? How do we stretch them beyond that interest to surface hidden gems and also really break out of their filter bubble?”

16.92% growth, month over month

Further, readers go to the publisher’s mobile site when consuming news via SmartNews. They also have the option of reading articles in SmartView which is like the “reader mode” on Safari. 

Publishers that partner with SmartNews can run their own ads in SmartView and keep all the revenue. SmartNews makes money through inline advertising that appears within preset channels (not inside individual stories).

Setting up SmartNews is simple. Publishers only need to give their RSS feed. They are then given access to an analytics dashboard. MIT Technology Review signed up with SmartNews earlier this year. It’s Head of Audience Development, Rosemary Kelly told NiemanLab, “We’ve since seen 16.92% growth, month over month, coming from SmartNews. 

“We have a very broad international audience at Tech Review, we want to continue to grow that, and so this seems like an easy thing to test. The hope is that SmartNews readers will subscribe to our newsletter and that the most engaged of those will then become subscribers.”

“Our fastest-growing referrals on mobile”

Recently, SmartNews opened its pitching process. This allows partners to suggest stories for promotion, like when they have exclusives or stories that are doing particularly well.

The company worked with E! News around the Met Gala to create a featured content set in their channel and scheduled relevant in-app promotions around the event. 

The coordinated promotion resulted in a large increase of pageviews for E! News (promotion ran from 5/6 – 5/7):

Source: SmartNews

Ally Holt, Sr. Manager, Audience Strategy, E! News & Online says about the event, “During the first week of May, we received [a significant increase in] page views on our site from SmartNews, which is awesome! It’s now one of our fastest-growing referrals on mobile.”

What publishers may find valuable apart from the fact that SmartNews is growing fast as a traffic referrer, is that it can help build user habits. By maintaining a diverse and high-quality source of news, it can keep users interested and coming back. 

As Jaroslovsky says, “When all you see is stuff you already know or already think you’re interested in… news gets boring. There’s no serendipity. You don’t get to learn anything new. You don’t get to discover.”

He emphasizes that their product is really about personalized discovery. And seeing the engagement levels that users have with the app he thinks its working. 

We are deliberately optimized for news discovery, as opposed to excessive personalization. 

Rich Jaroslovsky, SmartNews’ VP of Content and Chief Journalist.

News aggregators popular with young readers 

Clare Carr, Vice President of Marketing at Parse.ly wrote in a column late last year, “Given that U.S. adults are spending an average of 3 hours, 25 minutes a day on mobile devices in 2018, according to eMarketer, it may be no surprise that more and more readers are finding news through mobile news aggregators.”

She added, “What does this mean for publishers? It might be worthwhile to keep your eye on growing news aggregator referrers, especially if you’re trying to reach a younger demographic. According to Reuters, aggregators are most popular among 25 to 34-year-olds and 18 to 24-year-olds. Compare that to email and direct access, which are most popular among 45 to 54-year-olds and people aged 55+.”

According to Arendt, publishers “might worry the users of these apps (news aggregators) are brand agnostic. Fear not, they rank well on returning visitors. Flipboard, SmartNews, and Google News all have over an average of over 20% of returning visitors.”

Download WNIP’s comprehensive new report—50 Ways to Make Media Pay—an essential read for publishers looking at the multiple revenue opportunities available, whether it’s to reach new audiences or double down on existing super-users. The report is free and can be downloaded here.

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