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Why publishers should optimize for loyalty: Loyal readers consume 5x more content, and stay subscribers

How often do you hear the line “I’m your regular/loyal reader”, after meeting someone and saying that you work for a certain newspaper? Probably a lot, right? 

But, have you ever asked yourself how many of your readers are actually loyal to your media brand? Could as much as 20 or 30 percent of your audience really be loyal or is the percentage way smaller than you thought? 

Knowing the ‘share’ of your loyal audience doesn’t necessarily mean that much if you want to explore your audience and its habits. Still, it’s a starting point to get a sense of how important loyal readers are. 

So how many readers are, in fact ‘loyal’? Even the data-junkies, your friends here at Content Insights waded into the depths of data to find out how many loyal readers are out there in the online media world, and – critically – how valuable they are to publishers. 

And loyalty is…? 

What do publishers consider ‘loyal’, anyway? This is a question that’s been shaking the industry over the past few years, as the connection between a loyal readership and a paying one has been made. The most common answer you’ll find is that they’re those who are returning visitors. Those people who’ve made a step forward in content and audience analytics have typically combined frequency of site visits with things such as recency to measure loyalty. 

But, it seems something is wrong with the above-mentioned ways to calculate loyalty.

Could defining loyalty really be as simple as looking at how recently someone consumed your content and how frequently they do that?  We at Content Insights believe that it isn’t. We don’t think it’s possible to distill complex human behavior this way: it’s too simple and not accurate enough, especially in times when publishers are fighting for each one of their readers. 

That’s why we spent years perfecting our definition of reader loyalty. Our starting point was that loyalty is human behavior and that it can’t – and shouldn’t – be evaluated on the level of a web browser event. 

Sticking to that important premise, we managed to define loyal readers as ‘habitually highly engaged readers’. This was the first time in the content analytics industry that one platform has crossed the line of recency and frequency and came up with something more complex and accurate than simple metrics. 

So, now we’ve got that clear, let’s jump to the data (and if you would like to read more about the way we calculate loyalty, check out the article at the end of this link).

The findings

We wanted to know how much publishers can benefit from their loyal readers by comparing loyal readers’ data to non-loyal readers’ data. 

Our dataset is based on 10 different publications within the Content Insights network. We’ve kept in mind that they have different business models and come from different parts of the world. We looked into data for May 2019. 

 Here are some of the key findings.

  • On average, a media outlet has only 3.8 percent of loyal readers
  • Those 3.8 percent of readers read five times more content in a single month compared to non-loyal readers
  • Loyal readers come to your website almost four times more often in a single month compared to non-loyal readers
  • On average, loyal people consume almost 29 percent more articles within a single session
  • Loyal audiences read 14.6 percent more text within a single article

Loyal people read more deeply, more, and come more often 

Is it hard to believe that only 3.8 percent of readers are loyal if we look at loyalty beyond returning users, recency and frequency? While it’s certainly not a bombastic percentage, it’s very significant. According to our study, those 3.8 percent generated 16.2 percent of traffic across 10 websites we’ve looked at. That’s exactly why loyal readers matter: loyal readers read.

Number of articles that loyal and non-loyal readers consume

By now, hopefully, you’re starting to get a sense – if you hadn’t already – of how invaluable your loyal reader base is. But these findings are not enough to truly tell their story. We looked into how many articles loyal readers consume compared to readers our platform recognizes as non-loyal. The result? Loyal people read almost 15 articles in one month on average while non-loyal read only 2.6 articles. That’s more than five times more reads coming from loyal readers. 

Loyal readers, of course, come to a certain website more often, but the question is, just how often? On average we recorded almost 8.2 sessions per loyal reader in one month. That’s almost four times more compared to non-loyal ones, who came to websites 2.2 times on average. 

Number of sessions by loyal and non-loyal readers in a single month

One of the most important metrics, when we talk about audience engagement, is certainly Attention Time. But how do loyal and non-loyal people compare in this analysis? Well, loyal people spend way more time reading. To be precise, they stick around for 15 seconds longer on average.

Average Attention Time for loyal and non-loyal readers

Of course, this could be influenced by the length of the piece and each individual’s reading speed, so that’s why we look at Read Depth as well, just to make sure if the loyal audience do actually read more deeply and more attentively.

And they do. Loyal readers read more text within the single article, and to be precise, on average they read 59.5 percent of a single article, compared to 44.9 percent that we recorded on non-loyal reader sessions.

Read Depth for loyal and non-loyal readers

Obviously, it’s not just about article length. It’s not even about how readers consume a single article: publishers nowadays should be paying attention to how many articles people read within one session. Why? You guessed right, loyal people read more. On average loyal readers consumed 2.4 articles within the single reading session, while non-loyal readers consumed 1.7 articles. 

Page Depth for loyal and non-loyal readers

So, why do loyal readers matter?

Do you remember the famous ‘7 percent rule’? It basically says that 50 percent of a website’s traffic is generated by only seven percent of the readers. One of the names in circulation for this group of people is ‘super readers’. Whatever their name, these people are a core audience for any media outlet, and further goes to show how important even a small part of the audience can be. 

So all this tells us a little more about volume, but how about user engagement? 

A couple of months ago we published a study comparing reader engagement levels between subscribers and non-subscribers. It turned out that subscribers were 34.5 percent more engaged. But the thing is, with our approach to loyalty, not all subscribers have to be your loyal readers, and with different kinds of paywalls, there could be a lot of loyal readers among your non-subscribers. 

The data we’ve obtained clearly identifies these loyal readers and is another reminder that they should remain firmly in the publisher’s focus – whether or not they’ve hit that ‘subscribe’ button. Apart from getting constant traffic and obviously much higher levels of reader engagement, what else could be in the game for publishers who want to optimize for loyalty? 

The simple answer is – more revenue.

Why you might ask? Well, because your loyal readers are more likely to become your subscribers, but even more crucial than that, your loyal subscribers are more likely to stay subscribers

This is no easy claim, but this is something our users mention when we talk to them about how they use Content Insights. Your loyal readers are your highly engaged readers who have developed a habit of coming to your website and reading attentively. Could you find an audience that’s more hooked on your website than them? Not really. 

by Milos Stanic

Republished with kind permission of Content Insights, the next generation content analytics solution that translates complex editorial data into actionable insights.

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