Digital Publishing Top Stories
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“Turning a one-click reader into a 10-click reader”: Why publishers need to focus on reader retention, and other growth insights

Publishers that have less than 1M readers are 59% more likely to rely upon content quality as their main strategy for growth. As their audience size grows, they move on to focusing on creating a better experience (1-10M readers), and experiment with revenue diversification strategies (10-100M readers). 

These are among the key findings from The Big Publisher Survey of 2020 by publishing platform Marfeel. The survey report gathers responses from 129 executives representing publishers from all verticals and types, with some of them having up to 100M monthly readers. 

The strategies for growth revealed in the survey tended to follow a common three-phase pattern for all participating publishers: First, you write great content to build an audience; next, you optimize your online experience to keep that audience. Only then can you really start to work on diversifying revenue.

Alexian Chiavegato, Chief Marketing Officer at Marfeel

However, most publishers, irrespective of their audience size, continue to prioritize reader acquisition which can affect their growth. The report suggests that it’s the returning readers who “view more pages, click more content, and bring more value.”

“Race for attention, eyeballs, and the next generation of social audiences”

Publishers with less than 1M monthly readers are also more dependent on social media for traffic. “These publishers focus on the need to write stories that hook people in an instant, the report states. “Because the better the content they produce, the more equipped they are to improve their reputation and acquire new and returning readers.”

However, the authors comment, “focusing too much on optimizing the revenue generation machine from a potentially fickle audience, or over-investing in the online experience for one-time traffic just might push these publishers back in a race for attention, eyeballs, and the next generation of social audiences.”

The next segment of publishers, i.e., those that have 1-10M monthly readers are 59% more likely to focus on improving their website experience and other technical enhancements. The importance of social media as a traffic generator starts declining at this stage. 

“Targeting that exponential growth”

57% publishers in this segment are less likely to list social media as their main traffic. At the same time, 50% say that Google is their main traffic source.

At this point traffic switches from mainly social to mainly organic. These readers are hard to acquire. So rather than scare them off with an over-aggressive ad stack, publishers are targeting that exponential growth by turning a one-click reader into a 10-click reader. 

The Big Publisher Survey of 2020

“Growth that goes beyond the usual 1-2-3 evolution”

Publishers that have amassed between 10-100M readers are more likely to begin using strategies for optimizing revenue from every reader profile. Publishers in this segment are 138% more likely to list direct traffic as their main source. 

These publishers are confident about their readers’ loyalty and that they will keep returning. This allows them to try revenue diversification strategies to increase the margin from each visit.

However, reader acquisition continues to be a priority for the majority of publishers. 67% audience specialists say they will emphasize new users acquisition over nurturing their audience. And the most popular way to attract these readers still seems to be social media, which means more short-form content and more video. 

Returning readers have been shown to view more pages, click more content, and bring more value. Yet, despite the value of reader retention, audience specialists are still focused on growing new readers. 

The Big Publisher Survey of 2020

In conclusion the report suggests, “every publishing success starts with a great story. But, today, a great story alone is not enough.

“Successful strategies that work one day, can fail the next due to the volume of moving parts involved in each. For growth that goes beyond the usual 1-2-3 evolution, publishers have to utilize technology that can adapt to changes in the ecosystem.”