It has been frequently said, but it bears repeating: Consumer trust in media is alarmingly low. There is a great deal of speculation around why that might be the case. However, two new research studies — from Reuters Institute and The American Press Institute — dig into the topic. They explore dimensions of consumer trust, their impact on consumer engagement with digital news brands, and unexpected opportunities to engage.
Reuters Institute: What Trust in News Means to Users
The Reuters Institute study explores how consumers think about the attributes of trust for digital news brands. Reuters, spoke with 132 consumers in Brazil, India, the U.K., and the U.S. Focus groups were used to capture conversations and general impressions about trust in news brands.
The Reuters study identifies familiarity, reputation, and likeability as the top attributes driving the perceived trustworthiness of news brand. Interestingly, the findings suggest that familiarity with a given brand is closely linked to the consumer’s impression of a brand’s reputation.
Importantly, the researchers leveraged focus groups to provide insight into the context of each attribute. For example. a news brand’s reputation often develops over time. It can also be determined by a consumer’s historical relationship (i.e., “known in my youth” or “the brand my father respected”). However, consumers can mistakenly think longevity is the same as reputation. A brand’s standing over time does not necessarily equate to quality news reporting, however.
Additional values of trusted news brands include objectivity, impartiality, and balance. Significantly, Reuters’ analysis shows that “subjectivity” can also shape attributes of trust. Respondents note that personal differences frame how people interpret the news. They believe this can be true of journalists as well. Because they see a potential for bias, many consumers generally distrust news as a way to shield themselves from being misinformed.
Further, the research notes that consumers are confused by (or unfamiliar with) the news process. They do not fully understand the difference between hard news and editorial reporting, or (in some cases) even entertainment and opinion. This research reinforces the power of the brand. It also highlights an opportunity for news publishers to guide consumers in their content consumption and in understanding of the digital news process. Possibly, aligning these two in terms of marketing and messaging offers a way to increase understanding and build trust.
The American Press Institute: Studying Moral Values to Understand Trust in the News Media
The American Press Institute’s (API) study analyzes how consumers’ moral values align with journalism values to drive trust in digital news brands. API conducted this study across two surveys with over 5,000 U.S. consumers.
Journalism values represent ideas such as holding those in power accountable for their actions. The API research explores the relationship between consumers’ moral values and their views toward central principles of journalism. They found that not all Americans universally embrace many of the core values that guide journalistic inquiry.
Core journalism values:
Oversight: monitor powerful people and the public
Transparency: information is out in the open and the public knows what is happening
Factualism: facts bring us closer to the truth
Giving voice to the less powerful: amplify the voices of people who are not heard
Social criticism: placing a spotlight on a community’s problems
Among consumers, the two most popular values are factualism (67%) and giving a voice to the less powerful (50%). These are followed by oversight (46%), transparency (44%) and social criticism (29%). Interestingly, only one in 10 consumers (11%) support all five of the core values of journalism.
API found that stories resonate with individuals reflect moral values that align with their belief system. That said, API found that if a story is rewritten to include additional moral angles, it attracts a broader audience including those less trustful of news brands. Importantly, a broader appeal can help rebuild trust with skeptics.
Opportunities to rebuild trust
Both Reuters’ and API’s research add new dimensions to understanding attributes of trust in order to drive consumer engagement for digital news brands. Reuters’ qualitative assessment across several different countries and cultures (that share a reliance on digital media) adds additional scope to attribute definitions. The results are particularly telling in consumers’ subjective interpretation of accuracy. While most of those surveyed said information-accuracy was among the top factors determining whether an organization was worthy of trust, how they interpreted factual accuracy was highly subjective and variable.
API’s research makes it starkly clear that the things that journalism as a craft holds dear do not align with consumer priorities. This mismatch needs to be addressed in order to rebuild consumer trust. However, it is significant that the findings suggest potentially unexplored ways to garner broader public support without sacrificing core journalistic values.
As much as newspaper proprietors might wish otherwise, journalists are indivisible from the brand from which they write. Whether they’re a lifer at a particular title or flit between a number, each is both product and ambassador for that outlet.
But just as social media has allowed the public at large access to audiences as large as those of publishers, it’s allowed journalists to do that same. That’s caused problems. There’s a list of journalists fired for behavior unbecoming to their employer as long as your arm. And some major media brands have effectively made public dissent a firing offense for their journalists.
Recently both Channel 4 and Sky News in the UK have taken steps to prevent their journalists from sharing opinion on anything at all – especially if it’s not their specific beat.
Blurring the line
However, two giants of the newspaper world – Will Lewis, the former boss of Dow Jones and the Wall Street Journal, and ex-Financial Times editor Lionel Barber – have expressed a slightly different take on the issue. They, presumably having seen the horrific collapse in trust in journalism, have decided that the “blurring of fact and opinion” has contributed to the perception that newspapers are biased and therefore untrustworthy.
Barber said: “I would make a more general point. We’ve seen this particularly at the BBC: we have to be very careful in the way journalists are using social media. They are essentially seeing [their social media pages as] their own platforms, and it’s definitely comment. Therefore this blurring that Will rightly identifies has been massively accentuated by social media.
“And it’s not good enough for journalists to say: Oh, by the way, on my Twitter handle, these views are [my own]. Because they do work for an organization.”
They have a point. Bias is consistently cited as a reason for lack of trust. And the Digital News Report makes it clear that a vast array of newspapers’ target audiences value objectivity. That’s especially true for publicly-funded news organizations, But even as media marketing becomes more tribal, it’s true that the public does see pH-neutral news content as something to be striven for.
The issue is that we each have our own biases, whether we acknowledge them or not. Social media allows the public to see that journalists (being people too) do have biases and beliefs.
Warts and all
However Lewis, Barber and the rest are wrong about the solution. The answer is not telling journalists to “just stop it.” Instead, newspapers should lean harder into making their journalists the ambassadors for their brands, warts (and opinions) and all.
Firstly, despite cries of balanced reporting, it’s bleeding obvious that publications have a political bent. The polarization of the news media is readily apparent, and we do a disservice to our audiences if we say that journalists don’t have a political agenda when their parent publications do. We shouldn’t be trying to pretend we’re objective individually. Rather, we should aim for absolute transparency about why we make the decisions we do – even around theoretically impartial sources like data.
As The Financial Times’ senior data visualization journalism John Burn-Murdoch put it: “I think any data journalist who says that data is objective, and it’s the highest form or the purest form of journalism, I think they’re pulling your leg.
“And so the way you have to do it is you just have to put all of the politics of it aside. Think: what is the fairest, or just sort of straightest way of doing this stuff? And I think the nice thing for me in this process is that because I’ve been quite open and transparent in communicating the rationale for this stuff on on Twitter, for example, or in interviews. I’ve had to hold myself to that really.”
Secondly, you can’t trust what you can’t see. Having journalists simply vanish from the public conversation makes them faceless. It wouldn’t deflect criticisms of bias – we have to trust that our audiences are smart enough to know journalists are people too. But it would remove a key way to counter those accusations personally.
Many publications are making access to their journalists a core tenet of their membership and subscription models, for exactly that reason. Publications as diverse as The Athletic and The Atlantic offer direct contact with journalists as a major selling point. And as a byproduct, trust improves because we trust the people we communicate with directly.
Thirdly, there’s the issue of newspapers needing to get their own houses in order. Many pay their columnists specifically to be opinionated. And, while most label the distinction between reportage and columnists’ articles clearly, there is no clearer indication of a newspapers’ bias one way or another than the columnists they choose to employ.
Beyond the potential boost to trust of having visible journalists, there’s a financial incentive for boosting their visibility on social media. For one thing, journalists are the most ardent proponents of their own work. Typically that’s been played to the hilt by papers looking to drive traffic, but there’s evidence it works for driving subscriptions too. Membership-based publications like Tortoise gave its employees a specific discount code to pass onto potential new subscribers, and have seen significant success as a result.
Meanwhile, the Dallas Morning News is trialing a system that allows its journalists to give would-be subscribers a reporter-specific code for a month’s free access. Writing for Nieman Lab, Hanaa’ Tameez says: “The Dallas Morning News‘ latest experiment to boost digital subscriptions is something you’ve seen before. If you’ve ever been tempted to buy a lipstick off Instagram because an influencer gave you a discount code (guilty), this works in the same way.”
Influencers and Instagram
The concept of journalists as influencers is bound to raise hackles among some. Despite that, I’ve argued before that journalists have traditionally done a bad job of communicating the value of their own publications. And they could learn a lot about being ambassadors from influencers. As it looks like Instagram might become more vital for driving conversions than Twitter, that could become an even more apt comparison.
Beyond even that, allowing journalists to be more visible and outspoken on social media could help salve one of the biggest issues of the past few years. Journalism has a real problem in not accurately reflecting the public. That’s doubly true in the UK where graduates of two universities hold a disproportionately high number of senior roles in the industry, and BAME journalists are hardly represented at all. If journalism is to regain the trust of the public, better representation is paramount.
Papering over the cracks by hiding the opinions the public knows we hold anyway is a sop to an impossible ideal. Instead of obfuscating them and squirreling them away, we should be loud, proud – and completely transparent.
On September 25, Vox Media acquired New York
Media — the company behind my former employer, New York Magazine. Vice Media
acquired Refinery29 on October 2. And five days after that, news broke that
digital media company Group Nine had reached an agreement to acquire publisher
The long-expected digital consolidation is
finally upon us. Media companies, it’s clear, are looking to survive by getting
bigger in an effort to increase revenue and better compete by way of sheer
scale. By expanding their audiences, they hope they’ll be able to build a more
sustainable revenue model.
But is that necessarily true?
There’s nothing wrong with chasing scale or growing your business through intelligent mergers. (Piano recently took that route too, acquiring Cxense.) However, for media companies, growing overall audience doesn’t necessarily mean increased engagement or enhanced revenue. Not unless a critical percentage of that audience is made up of loyal users.
Identifying (and keeping) loyal users
At Piano, we often define “core audience” as those users who view at least 10 pages a month. If 5% of your audience or higher visits that often, that’s solid performance. However, if that number falls below 2%, there’s work to be done to drive deeper engagement and grow that share.
Building your core audience — and their engagement — is key to reaching your overall audience and revenue goals. And that starts with putting users at the center of your site experience. The media companies that Piano works with — companies that have made reader revenue the centerpiece of their businesses — understand that better than most. After all, they’ve realized that they need to build relationships if they expect users to pay.
So, what lessons can digital media companies
learn from leaders in subscriptions? And what other opportunity does a
user-first digital landscape present?
Understanding what your audience values
What do your most loyal users read or watch on
your site? Which topics resonate with them most? Are their preferences
different than those of mass, one-off users?
A successful user-first strategy starts with knowing how your site’s core audience behaves and understanding what users are looking for when they get there. Both are key factors that contribute to subscription conversion, and audience data like this plays a large part in driving strategy. However, while data explains a lot, our customers find that talking to users is just as important.
Asking users what they value about your content,
website and brand, either through surveys or one-on-one interviews (ideally
both) can give you an idea of unmet needs and what you could be doing that you
aren’t yet. It helps develop an understanding on how they see you compared to a
competitor and recognize the opportunity in those differences. And as you work
to understand your users, you may begin to identify different segments of your
core audience — along with the different content habits, demographics and
benefits they gain from your brand.
And that’s the kind of information that’s
critical to the next step of building a user-first strategy: defining the
Defining the customer journey
At Piano, we’ve developed a model for the
customer journey that can be applied to both media and other types of business.
It helps define the milestones of increasing user engagement and key
conversions you want to drive along the way. This is what it looks like:
Of course, these generalized milestones are applied differently from brand to brand. Business Insider and The Daily Beast, for example, both use registration as a sampling tool. They offer temporary access to premium articles in exchange for registration. In that case the Known stage of the customer journey becomes an important milestone, with a set of specific tactics employed to target active users who might not be ready to subscribe, encouraging them to register and experience paid features.
That highlights another essential element of
this approach: considering the “next best action” you want your users to take
to move them from one step of the customer journey to the next, then using
small nudges, “micro-experiences,” to move them along that path.
In a user-first world, building deeper user
engagement means considering the value exchange between the user and business.
What action do you want the user to take? What’s the benefit to them? What are
you asking in return? If you ask for permission to track them, for example,
does that enable you to improve their reading experience by only showing
articles they haven’t read yet? Are you making that benefit clear?
GDPR and the coming California privacy rules
require sites to ask permission for tracking, but few sites are doing more than
disclosing what’s being tracked. There’s a missed opportunity to use human
language instead of legalese and take it as a moment to build a relationship.
Lastly, the specific tactics also define the
metrics to focus on. In the case of the two sites I mentioned above, the
exposure rate (the proportion of users who see a registration offer) and the
conversion rate (of those exposed, how many register) are both key metrics to
measure and understand.
In the Piano database, there’s a pretty wide
range of exposure rates, but registration conversion rates are fairly stable —
2.2% for the bottom quartile and 3.4% for the top quartile. If you have enough
audience, even a 1% conversion rate can bring in a lot of registered users. If
subscriptions are a goal, then exposure rate, conversion rate, revenue per
user, retention and customer lifetime value are all crucial metrics to
Building user-first revenue
If you get the user journey and value exchange
right, you open up a world of opportunities to drive revenue. For
subscriptions, donations and memberships, certainly. But less obviously,
direct, trusted reader relationships become more valuable for advertising
That value hinges on publishers collecting first-party data and capturing user consent to track and display targeted advertising. Insider and Mediahuis in Belgium have each developed in-house solutions to create rich first-party profiles of users. Their approach primarily uses behavioral data on content consumption and extending their reach via lookalike modeling. They also allow advertisers to bring and match their first-party data to refine that targeting.
Diving a little deeper into the current ad landscape, increased privacy regulation and consumer awareness, plus changes in web browser cookie policies have made publisher-user relationships both valuable and essential. Valuable because publishers can build trust and encourage users to log in, allow tracking and even volunteer data in the right circumstances. Essential because without it, programmatic ad revenue drops, as browsers squeeze out third-party tracking.
Focusing on user relationships also opens up other product possibilities. Some other innovative examples we’ve seen: Austrian publisher Russmedia developed a gamified “Landlepunkte” points system to encourage user engagement, with points redeemed for swag, digital coupons and local event tickets. It dramatically increased user registrations, logged-in users and articles per user. Amedia in Norway turned 73 local newspapers and a national obsession with local professional soccer teams into a national live streaming sports network.
That’s the type of value a user-first strategy
can bring. That and the loyalty obtained from users who intuitively know they
live at the center of the experience you offer. No matter how big (or small)
your company is.
About the author
Michael Silberman, SVP Strategy, leads Piano’s Strategic Services team, helping clients develop reader revenue strategies and drive success and revenue on the Piano platform. He joined Piano in 2018 after 10 years building the digital media business at New York magazine, and earlier, as one of the top editors launching and growing MSNBC.com in the early days of the consumer Internet.
In a market where the cost to acquire an app user is rising through the roof, and the increase in app abandonment (the number of users who quit an app after one use) is alarming, it’s clear that the traditional focus on top-funnel metrics is fatally flawed. Our focus on a linear journey is completely out of line with user lifecycles. Mobile had forever altered the consumer path to purchase and funnel models no longer fit.
Architecting campaigns and strategies that prize acquisition over retention doesn’t just force marketers to burn considerable cash. It blinds them to the key engagement activities and metrics that are the sure-fire indicators of highly valuable and deeply loyal consumers who are primed to engage with content—and more.
It doesn’t matter whether the goal is to drive registrations,
encourage consumers to volunteer information such as personal preferences that
will allow you to deepen the customer relationship, or sell subscriptions: Ensuring
a predictable and sustainable cash flow quality trumps quantity every time. In
the App Economy, success isn’t a numbers game. It requires strategies that get
the right users into your app—and keep them coming back.
A strategy that harnesses AI and machine learning to connect
with customers in a relevant way based on an analysis of the millions of data
points and signals that communicate their context via mobile and in-app can be a
bonus. But even the best mix of analytics and analysis will miss the mark if
marketers segment their audience by static demographics, not dynamic actions.
Embracing the engagement pyramid
First and foremost, marketers need a firm grasp of the hard
data around the “who” of their customer base. However, they must also command
the soft skills around the “why.” They need to understand what motivates
their audience to take action in the first place. Effective app marketing
engages with users throughout the lifecycle based on these two inputs.
But an ongoing data investigation by Phiture, a leading mobile growth consultancy based in Berlin, and CleverTap, a full-stack customer retention platform, ads a third dimension. They’ve built a framework to measure and analyze the user engagement we observe.
Published for the first time last month, Phiture’s framework offers marketers a more nuanced view of user engagement and a roadmap to increase retention. The authors of this must-read resource (Andy Carvell, Kevin Bravo ,and Tessa Miskell) present the Engagement Pyramid, a model that breaks engagement down into three layers:
Acknowledgment, where users show an appreciation
for the app, but not high intent. (For example, opening the app or reading a push
Interest, where users deliberately
interact with the app and demonstrate a willingness to do more. (For example,
tapping on items in a feed, consuming content and initiating search queries.)
Conversion, where users follow through
and complete a core action that is aligned with the purpose and value
proposition offered by the app. (For example, booking a trip with a travel app
or managing money with a finance app.)
Maslow and measurement
The framework gets high marks on several counts. It bravely questions the practice of monitoring DAU (Daily Active Users) or MAU (Monthly Active Users), or employing performance metrics that simplify engagement into binary terms (counting users as engaged or not). It also gives the concept of a purchase funnel a rehaul, literally turning it on its head in a hat tip to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Maslow’s theory in psychology divides our human needs into
five levels, placing the most basic needs at the bottom of the pyramid and
elevating our most complex needs to the top of the pyramid, the Engagement
Pyramid inspires marketers to aim high—and be highly focused on outcomes.
Above all, the authors open our eyes to the model and the mindset marketers must embrace to increase meaningful engagement and stop churn before it starts. “It’s important to understand that engagement is a continuum, ranging from low-value to high-value actions,” they write on their latest blog. “A user may traverse this spectrum rapidly within the space of a few sessions, or remain stubbornly stuck in a low-engaged state for days, months, or years, without necessarily abandoning the app.”
Tracking events and asking questions
Applying the framework doesn’t just equip marketers to analyze
key user actions and assign them to the proper layer in the Engagement Pyramid.
It enables marketers to assess the value of user engagement and the potential
impact on the business. “Observing how layers grow or shrink over time gives
an indication of how well the app is performing,” the authors write.
Are more users performing actions that demonstrate Acknowledgement
at the bottom of the pyramid than are striving to complete events associated
with Conversion at the top? Review your app onboarding strategy and double-check
that your user acquisition campaigns are designed to attract the right
users from the get-go.
Is there a high correlation between the number of users who
belong to the Acknowledgement layer and the number of users who progress to
Conversion? Read that as a signal that you can scale campaigns, increase spend
and aim high—because you can.
Piecing together the retention puzzle
While the authors don’t specifically address it in their framework,
insights into how users engage and how much it’s worth also empower marketers
to enhance the user experience and—ultimately—increase customer lifetime value.
This was the focus during Cutting-Edge Retention Strategies,
a recent webinar and fireside chat where I was a guest along with Jessica
Osorio, Lead, Mobile Growth at Mozilla. While she doesn’t formally apply the AIC
framework (our discussion preceded its release by roughly two months), her analysis
of engagement metrics and their impact is just as rigorous.
“All apps face a really steep drop in retention on Day
1, just 24 hours after the app install,” she told me. To plug this “leaky
bucket” and deepen user engagement with the app, Mozilla has improved the onboarding
experience, adding what it calls the “welcome journey.” It’s during
this stage that Mozilla delivers a series of automated push notifications and
in-app messages to “walk users through all the things to do with the app that
we know will drive the most value for them.”
Osorio is also realistic about the “natural usage frequency”
and the importance of setting reachable targets for how (and how far) her
company can drive app engagement. “We want users to come back and enjoy
the app, but it’s not a target we miss if the users don’t come back on a daily
basis,” she said. “For us, it’s not DAU or WAU. It’s about building
products that meet users’ needs and journeys that surface that value from the
Audiences evolve, and marketers must keep the pace with app
messaging, ad creative and the value proposition tailored to match with the
needs of users as they move through the app journey. Whether companies embrace
new frameworks to assess engagement or architect customer journeys to boost loyalty,
the increased interest in retention marketing has profound implications. It
also demands marketers master the capabilities to reach and segment users based
on what users do (and don’t do) in-app with messaging that motivates them
throughout the customer lifecycle and the life span of the app.
Nielsen numbers released last month show media consumption continues to climb with more attention being diverted towards smartphones than ever before. The total percentage of time spent on mobile among 18 to 34-year-olds has reached a new high — 34% up from 29% the previous year — at the expense of more traditional TV viewing. It’s a dramatic development that turns up the pressure on companies to produce content that is digital, mobile and video first. However, it’s not enough to get the array of platforms right. The approach to storytelling has to reflect a broader range of emotions and appeal to the desire of digital natives for news that is as personal as it is pertinent. ABC Owned Television Station is doing both. They are focused on creating a consumer connection with hyperlocal stories, which drives revenue.
Peggy Anne Salz —mobile analyst and Content Marketing Strategist at MobileGroove — catches up with Jennifer Mitchell, SVP Content Development for the ABC Owned Television Stations. Mitchell is responsible for leading the content strategies and original, digital content production for non-linear platforms across the group. She works directly with the station content teams to fuel expansion of the digital footprint. She leads production teams in New York and Los Angeles to develop new content and revenue opportunities. The most recent is Localish, a digital-native media brand that brings out the good in America’s cities, which launched on ABC platforms in fall 2018. Mitchell discusses how Localish has combined local storytelling and a diversified distribution strategy to engage Millennials and enhance the value of branded content.
Salz: At ABC, which owns its local affiliate in six of the eight largest media markets, you are building a new type of local-nation brand through Localish. What is the motivation and distribution strategy behind it?
Mitchell: Our eight local television stations have strong connections to our communities. With our Localish brand, we tap into those existing strong connections to broaden the types of content we produce. We provide more diverse storytelling than what you might normally see in a traditional newscast or local news website. Drawing on the demand for authentic and relevant local storytelling, Localish launched with four series – “More In Common,” “Secretly Awesome,” “My Go-To,” and “Worth the Wait.” Each individual series helps viewers live like a local by sharing insider tips on hot trends, cool digs, and best-kept secrets around food, travel, and culture. We’ve since added six additional series under the brand.
Our view is that this
is a brand and a type of content, locally sourced yet nationally relevant, that
can be everywhere and discovered anywhere. To support this, we have a very
diversified distribution strategy. To start, you can find the Localish content on
our eight local stations, both digital and linear. Because our stories generate
interest across the country, and not just locally, as well as around the world,
they transcend geographic boundaries. To reach
and engage these audiences, we have built out a footprint across the major
social platforms, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and
Instagram. We also have a presence in Oath and
there are other distribution opportunities that we are currently pursuing. The
goal is to seed the content where viewers prefer to consume it; what we call
the next generation of news and information.
Salz: You have a presence on the abc.com platform, which is where localish.com lives, and you have chosen not to have a standalone mobile app at this point. Was this decision deliberate?
Mitchell: Our brand is a digital-native media brand, and we want to be discovered and enjoyed by our audience, where our audience is. Our research on our top target audience tells us that 50% actively consume content on their smartphone across the day. They are also increasingly interested in local content. This trend is mirrored in Mary Meeker’s 2018 Internet trends report, which showed a 900% increase in Google searches for things that are “happening near me” or just nearby.
Our goal is to bring
in the audience from wherever they are and familiarize them with the brand so
that they continue to come back no matter where we are. Mobile websites do
this. Social is also a big component of driving traffic and audience for us.
From the perspective of discoverability and growth, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have been strong
platforms for us.
Salz:Granted, social is critical for discoverability and virality. However, there can also be tension.
Mitchell: It’s a delicate balance. And we weigh each decision about every additional distribution point very carefully. Data and research tell us that consumers congregate in certain places, and Facebook is one of them. Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube are also important platforms. We will continue to play in that space and we are also pursuing other opportunities to diversify the portfolio.
Salz:Nationally, TV is experiencing a difficult shift in business models. But local news appears to be experiencing a comeback. At Localish you recently marked a milestone of 140 million video views. What do you think is driving this renewed interest in local?
Mitchell: There is a local renaissance. And this isn’t just about there being increased interest in local stories, although our research shows there is. It’s about trust. With the public concern about “fake news” it’s local that is emerging as the most trusted source. In some cases, local news is more trusted than national news brands. We have that trust, and we are leveraging it in our markets. So, trust—consumers wanting to believe in the news—is driving a lot of this.
Audiences also want to
connect with the people and places that are important to them, both locally and
nationally. Localish becomes the connection point, connecting dots for people
and introducing them to things that they might not otherwise have known about. And when we talk about local news and
information, we have to recognize that the definition of news has changed and
evolved. It is not just about the day’s top stories. It’s about things that are
happening near people, where they live, and they want to know about it. It’s
our goal to surface that type of information locally. But we also want to
introduce it to a wider audience, using the platforms and technology that can
bring these stories to national and
international audiences who have an interest or are just curious about these
“Secretly Awesome,” a
show uncovering the hidden gems in communities, is an example of this. We see
from the engagement, particularly on Facebook Twitter, and Instagram, that
people are sharing this content with others who don’t live in those cities
saying, “Hey, the next time you’re here, we must go to this place” or “we must
visit this business” or “we must buy this product.” So, what we’re seeing is
content locally sourced, resonating with national audiences. It’s conversion
and the activation of audiences through a new approach to storytelling that
focuses on communities and connection.
Salz:Local news has evolved. What’s different about storytelling at the local level?
Mitchell: In a word: everything. It starts with the categories and topics we’re covering and extends to how we’re shooting pieces and telling the stories. The content is the focus, and many of the shows don’t have presenters. We’re finding it’s resonating with audiences because we’re getting right into the story. Our rule of thumb is to make sure the first three to six seconds of every piece of video we produce is compelling so that we draw the viewer in right from the start. We are also focused on positive storytelling. In many ways, it goes back to our brand attributes. Authenticity, curiosity, optimism, connected, unconventional: These are the words that we associate with the Localish brand. And this is the lens we use when we think about story selections.
We also extend the
concept to tell stories about commonalities people share that transcend local
storytelling to be more universal.
“More in Common,” which is different from many of the other lifestyle
travels shows we launched, is an example of this. It’s a show we did for
Facebook telling stories about people who are seemingly very different, from
different parts of the spectrum. But despite differences in their backgrounds,
politically, economically or socioeconomically, they come together and find
common ground and a common purpose. It shows the bridges being built between people of various races,
religions, genders, and backgrounds in
cities and towns across America. These are stories that resonate with our
audience. They defy the odds and remind us that, in a time when many Americans
feel divided, we can be the best when we can be together.
Salz:By design, these are stories that move our hearts and minds. How do you measure impact and gauge success?
Mitchell: Virality is certainly one. However, that’s something no media company can control, so it’s not something we count on—or measure—from a business perspective. Engagement is a key metric. Real-time data that we can see on our social platforms shows our audience is extremely engaged. We’re a video brand and so we naturally focus on video views and completion rates. In just 30 weeks since launch, we’ve seen over 140 million video views.
Performance is measured in audience and revenue. It’s
important to build a business and grow revenue opportunities. To this end,
we’re pursuing a number of traditional
and non-traditional revenue opportunities as it relates to this new brand. In
addition to licensing fees, we’ve also had some very successful ad sales deals
around sponsorship and branded content. As we evolve the brand, we will look
for ways to align our goals with the goals of our advertisers. There are local advertisers who want to acquire
local audiences at the granular hyperlocal level. This is at the heart of what
we do. We make connections with local audiences through content that they
Salz:It’s interesting that you can achieve this level of engagement without a strong emphasis on technology to enhance the experience such as AR/VR, for example.
Mitchell: Content is the central focus for us. Our distribution strategy is diverse and we’re always looking for new opportunities in technology to deliver the story to our audiences. But, through all of these mediums, the content comes first. To broaden our reach, we’ve packaged the digital content into linear television specials airing across stations, hosted by up and coming talent. To expand even further, the brand is additionally shown on TaxiTV in New York City and in major airports around the country. What excites me most about the future of Localish is the continued evolution of engagement, how people are consuming content the way they want. Where our content lives, and how it can be accessed will always be aligned with the consumer first.
We approach all
branded opportunities in the same way. The
aim is to seamlessly integrate the brand into the story in a way that our
audience views it as quality content, not advertising.
We were recently chosen as
one of seven premium brands for the Local Media Consortium and Local Media
Association’s Branded Content Pilot Project, which will further help us
accomplish that goal. With this support, we’ll have additional resources to
develop branded content with strong storytelling that makes sense for our
audiences. We’ll also have tools to better
understand which types of content work for our advertisers.
Editorial and storytelling are the priority, and we make that very clear with our clients and advertisers. We have the creative control, and these stories will be released in the weeks and months ahead. In many conversations with advertisers, clients and agencies, they tell us local content and our approach to storytelling is “new and shiny.” This is interesting because the technology isn’t the attraction. It’s the brand and the positivity—and the feeling of community we reinforce with content.
About the Author
Peggy Anne Salz is the Content Marketing Strategist and Chief Analyst of Mobile Groove, a top 50 influential technology site providing custom research to the global mobile industry and consulting to tech startups. Full disclosure: She is a frequent contributor to Forbes on the topic of mobile marketing, engagement and apps. Her work also regularly appears in a range of publications from Venture Beat to Harvard Business Review. Peggy is a top 30 Mobile Marketing influencer and a nine-time author based in Europe. Follow her @peggyanne.
Consumer trust is a vital and a key differentiator for publishers
in a competitive environment. Fostering trust, prioritizing consumer rights and
offering transparency of data practices is more important than ever before for
Significantly, according to the 19th
Annual Edelman Trust Barometer 2019, consumer trust in traditional media
(64%) and search (66%) are at highest ever historical levels. In contrast, trust
in social media remains low, at 44%. Contributing to social media’s low trust
scores is data showing that close to three-quarters (73%) of all respondents
worry about false information or fake news being used as a weapon.
Specific findings in the US and Canada and Europe include:
The US and Canada and European markets also registered
significant trust in traditional media and search compared to social media.
Trust in traditional media is at its highest-ever historical level at 65% in US
and Canada and 60% in Europe, trust in search at 61% and 59%, respectively.
However, rust in social media in both markets is at 34%.
The percentage gap between trust in traditional
and social media is now at an all-time high of 31-points in US and Canada and a
26-point gap in Europe.
In terms of political differences, consumers who
identify as Republican voters show only 33% trust in media compared to 69% of
An Informed Public
The Edelman research, which is based on an online survey in 27 markets with over 33,000 respondents, also shows a considerably large trust gap (16 points) between the “informed public” (65%) and the “mass population” (49%). The “informed public” is defined as respondents self-reporting significant media consumption and engagement in public policy and business news compared to the wider public. These two groups present two different consumer realities. The “informed public” is seeking news, investigating and building trust. The “mass population” is more fearful and feels marginalized. Stephen Kehoe, Edelman’s global chair of reputation points out that: “… renewed engagement especially among the informed public has sparked a desire for change and factual information prompting an unprecedented increase in media consumption and the sharing of news and information, up 22 points to 72%.”
Further, more women, think that the #metoo movement, (plus
23 percentage points year-over-year) than men (plus 18 percentage points) shift
from the “mass population” to the “informed public” segment.
People are also looking to leaders to take charge and
initiate change. More than three-quarters (76%) of respondents report that CEOs
should take the lead on change rather than waiting for government to impose it.
Specific needs for positive change include: equal pay (65%), prejudice and
discrimination (64%), training for jobs of tomorrow (64%), environment (56%), personal
data (55%), sexual harassment (47%) and fake news (37%).
In all, this year’s findings speak to a new sense of consumer
engagement compared to last year’s Trust Barometer. This year, people seek new
opportunities to find news and information to take better control of their
Digital media offers publishers new opportunities to better understand audience engagement. Using post-click measures within an article page of the client-side logging system provides insights into audience preferences and retention. Nir Grinberg, a research fellow at the Harvard Institute for Quantitative Social Science together with the Northeastern’s Lazer Lab, reports on new post-click user engagement measures. His report, Identifying Modes of User Engagement with Online News and Their Relationship to Information Gain in Text, identifies metrics that will help publishers anticipate how long a reader will stay with an article and improve the recommendation process for new content.
Grinberg’s analyzes 7.7 million-page views from Chartbeat data on seven different news publications with articles across finance, how to, magazine (longer-form), science, sports, technology, and women.
Grinberg enlists three core metrics in his study:
dwell time (an estimate of the total time a user spends on a page)
scroll depth (the furthest position the user reaches on the page)
page interaction (the amount of interaction with the page through any form of input such as touch, mouse move, etc.).
His first step is to project the modes of behavior present in the individual page views. Then, he uses this information to predict the common behaviors of a larger audience. Identifying the modes can enable publishers and recommendation system to distinguish between different forms of reading, scanning and other lighter forms of engagement.
While Grinberg valued the original three metrics, he finds the information they provide limiting. His next step combines and correlates the original metrics with new measures. For example, he analyzes the proportion of an article that is visible on a user’s screen (relative depth) with how quickly a user scrolls through the visible part of the page (average scrolling speed).
Combining these two measures provides information about an overall navigation experience throughout an article. This information also allows recommendations systems to distinguish between audiences reading, scanning and other lighter forms of engagement. Based on these findings, Grinberg’s classifies reading behavior into five types: “Scan,” “Read,” “Read (long),” “Idle,” and “Shallow” (plus bounce backs for users who get to a page and almost immediately leave). This offers insight into the variety of reading behaviors and the level of engagement present when a user is consuming content.
As an example, the chart above reflects the relationship between different reading behaviors and their levels of engagement. The top right panel shows that the median article on a sports site has about 28% of page views that are scanning the article. The percentage is considerably higher than the rate of scanning in the other content categories. This suggests that people consume sports articles with a different intent, perhaps simply looking for quick games scores and/or result of a sporting event. This data helps characterize the likely user behaviors and intent of the page view and factors into content recommendations.
In addition to user behaviors, Grinberg identifies a measure that he calls “Semantic Information Gain” (SIG), the flow of information on a page. SIG captures how quickly an article moves toward its final point, It can be very helpful for publishers to use to see if or where a reader gets lost in an article. SIG can be highly predictive of audience engagement.
Practical and informative measures of post-click user engagement can improve recommendations of news content and enable more informed editorial decisions. Distinguishing between different modes of engagement with an article, such as scan, skim, or in-depth reading, can enable recommendation systems to better match articles with potential readers based on their engagement profile.
Today, Slate unveiled a sweeping redesign that includes its logo, website, mobile, and events branding. But this redesign runs much deeper than a new aesthetic approach. Slate’s new look reflects the organizations’ emphasis on audience engagement over scale.
“Our last major redesign, in 2013, was at the height of the Facebook boom. Social was the driver.” That design was very successful, according to Slate’s editor in chief Julia Turner. However, like most websites, it prioritized social sharing over increasing user interaction and time on site.
The landscape has changed a lot since 2013. In fact, the only constant has been change—with traffic, audiences, and distribution largely reliant on the algorithmic whims of search and social platforms. This is evident in Facebooks recent decision to de-emphasize news articles and anything published by brands in user’s News Feeds. While many publishers are concerned over how the latest change will affect traffic, few are surprised.
Engagement versus Scale
However, the pursuit of likes and shares was just one symptom of a larger trend that dominated the thinking of digital publishers: the quest for scale. As Dan Check, the president and vice chairman of The Slate Group, describes it “social isn’t about increasing time spent on site; it is about touching more people. Scale is fundamentally the pursuit of uniques.”
According to Turner, “We began to see fairly early on—in late 2104, early 2015—that the pursuit of scale for scale’s sake, didn’t make sense for a brand like Slate.” In fact, last September the company moved to engaged time as its primary measure of success, which enabled teams across the organization to put loyalty at the forefront of their initiatives. “The Landscape has become inhospitable to cheap scale. But even more, it doesn’t suit our audience and values.”
The new design builds upon Slate’s commitment to understanding and serving its audience, which Turner describes as “a highly-informed omnivorous media consumer.” Given that they are looking for “sophisticated next-level analysis,” she said it was important that this new design help guide them to information that will offer a deeper contextual understanding of topics in Slate’s five verticals: News & Politics, Culture, Business, Technology, and Human Interests.
With the new design, regardless of whether the visitor is a regular or lands on a page via search or social, Check said “We wanted to give people stronger signposts and a better understanding of what they can expect from us.” The redesigned Slate (which doesn’t use a third-party recirculation partner) will “show people more relevant content and tell the story about who we are. For years, our message was ‘like us on FB, follow us on Twitter.’ Now, it is more about contextualizing what you’re seeing.”
Listening to Opportunity’s Knock
This, in turn, is intended to deepen visitors’ time-spent on the site and affinity for the brand, both of which translate into revenue opportunities. While Slate CRO Charlie Kammerer says that the company has been able to “baseline monetize purely with our programmatic dollars,” the new design will offer more premium membership prompts for SlatePlus as well as newsletter sign ups.
It will also better surface and integrate Slate’s popular roster of podcasts on the homepage and throughout the site. Check points out that for many years, podcasting was a medium awaiting a business model. However, in the decade between the company’s first podcast (in July of 2005) and the explosion of podcasting a revenue driver, Slate remained committed to the format—in large part because its audience was. “Podcasting was something that garnered a lot of audience interest for about a decade. There’s rabid listenership. So, though it wasn’t a business for a number of years, it always made sense from an audience perspective.”
Today, Slate claims 2% of the podcast market share. Kammerer said “We’re glad we stuck with it because when the model matured, we were already in a good position in terms of expertise and audience.” And, with this redesign, Slate will also be investing more in audio, further increasing its roster from a current 24 podcasts and putting out more original shows like its hit Slow Burn, about the untold stories of Watergate, which hit #1 on iTunes on its first day out.
However, Slate’s emphasis on audio and the written word is not an indication that it has “abandoned video” said Turner. “Our video focus is what we can do well.” And, as Kammerer pointed out, the “the case for the pivot to video was a case for scale. The CPMs were higher so a lot of outlets chased those CPMs forgetting that video is expensive to produce well, and that the margins aren’t that great.” In his experience, the CPMs for audio are as good or better than video. “It’s about focus for us and we continue to focus on maintaining a super-premium audience. The written word and podcasting delivers that audience in a very meaningful way.”
And, while engaging its existing audience is a critical piece of Slate’s strategy, they plan to continue to build a quality audience without embarking on an unbridled quest for scale. As Turner put it, “It isn’t that social isn’t a good way to drive traffic. But what you want is a real relationship with your audience that isn’t dependent on social media.” She reports substantial growth in Slate’s Google and Apple News-driven traffic.
Referring to Facebook’s decision to downgrade publishers’ content in News Feed, Kammerer said “If they really want to drive more meaningful interaction, I like our chances. But who knows what changes they’ll announce two months from now?”
As Check put it, “You saw big publishers reach huge audiences through Facebook; a lot of people discovered content they wouldn’t have otherwise. Unfortunately, it has also given rise to a lot of things that aren’t great like fake news and low-quality content.” He sees a genuine market opportunity for existing or emerging aggregation partners who “want to be more responsible.”
Ultimately, Turner sees a real upside for Slate in Facebook’s move to back away from media distribution. “My instinct is that being an arbiter around the news space requires a whole set of real responsibilities and rigor that they’ve been fairly freaked out about. Now maybe we’ll see the return of news judgement to the institutions that have been cultivating that judgment for years.”
What makes a great headline, and why? How can headlines make the casual skimmer stop and read? While much has changed in media’s shift from print to digital, these fundamental questions haven’t. Editors and writers correctly describe headline writing as an art — but with all the technology out there, there is a scientific way to put evidence behind that art, and help publishers grow their engaged readership as a result.
Reading, scanning, skipping, sharing – our reading behaviors have changed dramatically in recent years. Chartbeat data shows that on average, only around half (55%) of readers who click through to content actually read what they land on.
The context of headline writing has changed as well. Media objectivity, which involves writing factually true and balanced content, is sometimes at odds with the goals of social media marketing, which values metrics like shares, likes and clicks. Increasing readers’ engagement with content can align objectivity and editorial integrity with the need to grow audience in a world where more than half of traffic to publisher sites is driven by platforms like Facebook.
However, publishers can support those better reading behaviors. Recent Chartbeat research shows that despite our changing reading and writing habits, there are scientific ways to improve the likelihood that something will get read.
The role of language and technology
In an analysis of around 100,000 headline tests and 250,000 individual headlines, we examined linguistic traits of successful and unsuccessful headlines and found that language really does matter.
What we see is that words like “what” and “where,” as well as numbers, quotations and superlatives (like best and worst) lead to more readership, whereas using question marks or time references can actually hurt. Interestingly, short headlines actually have a negative effect on readership of content as well, whereas notably longer headlines have no effect.
In a separate study, we also looked at the impact of headline testing technology and its ability to improve the number of visitors who read for more than 15 seconds. What we found surprised us. In a comprehensive evaluation of headline tests that use Chartbeat’s multi-armed bandit testing model, we discovered that alternative headlines – ones that, without testing, would never have seen the light of day – outperform the original roughly two-thirds, or 62% of the time. That means most headline writers only get headlines right the first time for 38% of stories. But technology can vastly improve these results.
A headline should not only entice readers to click and see more; it should drive consumption of a story. Of those 62% of stories, the alternate headline saw on average a 78% lift in traffic. It also led to a 71% lift in readership, measured by quality clicks: visitors who spend more than 15 seconds or more of engaged time with an article.
The bottom line
While gut instinct around language matters, technology can enhance that ability to find the right fit between content and audience. This, in turn, can dramatically improve engagement with content.
These days, publishers wear many hats. They have to write, edit, promote, monetize, optimize and grow quality audiences. The good news is that science — both in terms of predictive modeling and engagement-focused technologies — can help us improve the imperfect art of writing so we can better connect with readers and, ultimately, with each other.
How has both consumer consumption of news and traffic patterns changed year-over-year? What about the role of platforms? Every October, media analytics platform Chartbeat identifies macro trends in audience behavior and news consumption to help publishers understand major shifts and discover new growth opportunities. These just released trends, rolled up from Chartbeat’s network level data from 2016 to 2017, sum up the key findings:
1. It’s not a mobile first-world, it’s mobile-only.
In looking at platform-referred traffic by device type, we see that mobile has made stunning gains year-over-year. Last year, traffic from Google had just tipped over the 50% mark for mobile for the first time ever, showing a 51% mobile vs 42% desktop split. But from 2016 to 2017, Google mobile traffic grew from 51% to 60%, and Facebook’s grew from 78% to 87%. For publishers with high dependencies on platform-referred traffic, it is significant to note that most visitors are now coming via mobile. At least for platform-referred visitors, it is practically a mobile-only world.
2. It’s not that Facebook traffic is down, it’s that Google is up.
Traffic that was referred from Facebook and Google to premium sites has been fairly steady over time, with Google driving roughly 1.25 billion visits per week and Facebook around 1 billion. The ebbs and flows in their traffic have stayed pretty consistent each month—until now.
Due to recent major news events including the solar eclipse and hurricane Irma, we saw traffic coming from Google escalate in unprecedented ways in September. Recent reports have described a decline in Facebook traffic, but in looking very closely at multiple data sources, we see a different picture: While it is true that Facebook’s share of total traffic is down, the missing piece is that, in fact, the pie is much larger, and Google is up.
So what does this mean for publishers? Newsworthy events, particularly those that are unfolding over time, are huge moments for search activity leading to direct traffic. Social traffic does not spike until afterwards, mainly around more emotional, reactionary content.
3. Demand for video is not constant; it spikes around breaking news.
In looking at consumer engagement with video content, we see that it’s much more dependent on what’s in the news than text is. Below we’re looking at how much time visitors spend watching video, relative to the time they spend with text. The first notable thing is that this line isn’t at all constant — demand for video content really changes across the year. When we look closer, we see that spikes in video watching correlate with a few highly visual stories in the news (like hurricane Irma). And that makes sense: for highly visual news, readers look for a highly visual news medium.
It is noteworthy for publishers that video demand is variable, and deeper insights here should lead to a better content strategy and smarter monetization.
4. Longer time reading content drives higher loyalty.
How can media companies build and grow a loyal audience? Focus on engagement.
Why is engagement as a metric so important? Chartbeat research shows that half of visitors who click through to an article hardly read what they land on: 45% spend less than 15 seconds on the page. As you can see in the graph below, a new reader who engages for a longer amount of time during their visit is more likely to return. And the more they return, the more pages they consume and the longer they read on the page. This in turn, means they also view more ads on the page. Overall, optimizing for engagement can drive loyalty, and revenue.
5. The homepage is not dead– it’s the place for your most vital audience.
Is the homepage really dead? Not at all. Yes, Facebook and Google are prime sources to target new readers, and those first time visitors are more likely to land on an article than a homepage. However, to our surprise, in looking at how article and homepage consumption changes by loyalty (based on the fraction of days a user visits in a two-week period), our data shows that frequently returning visitors build strong homepage habits.
As readers become more loyal, they use front pages more actively.
Visitors who come more than every other day (hitting the 50% threshold), visit more front pages than articles
Subscribers (see dotted lined below in contrast to the solid lines) demonstrate higher overall engagement, at first with articles, but as they become more frequent users, their homepage consumption then begins to spike
The lesson for publishers? It is becoming increasingly clear that there are different tools in the publisher toolbox as it relates to building and growing a loyal audience. While platforms are for acquisition of new visitors, driving direct traffic on your owned and operated properties is critical to retention. The homepage is more important than you might think–it’s where you’ll lose or retain your most loyal readers.
Digital media is waking up to the hard truth that more is not always better. As a result, the strong belief that a high volume of content attracts a high number of page views is being replaced by the stark realization that quality trumps everything – even traffic.
NBC News is just the latest in a string of publishers to shift their focus from pushing pageviews to encouraging audience engagement. The emphasis on quality over quantity is part of a larger strategy to avoid commoditization by ensuring differentiation.
Rather than produce more news content, NBC News produces more original content around the news in the form of analysis, narrative, and additional formats including podcast and video. The outcome is less volume – approximately 25% fewer stories a day. However the goal is to deliver more value as this is a take on the news the audience can only get from NBC News. In an interview with Digiday, Nick Ascheim, SVP of Digital at NBC News, recounts the massive “culture shift” that has taken place in the newsroom. In the past, he says, the company was focused on pageviews. “The approach now is, let’s worry a little less about how many clicks and more about telling a good story.”
But it’s not enough to adopt a new mindset; companies must also adjust internal KPIs to measure success and gauge failure. Undeterred by the lack of industry standards or metrics to quantity engagement, NBC News has developed its own, unique formula. It defines a loyal user as one who has visited the site five or more times in two consecutive months. Of course, the way a publisher chooses to define and measure engagement will depend on key variables such as content category, delivery format, audience demographics and, above all, company objectives.
Engagement from the Start
The efforts of publishers like NBC News to set new performance goals and take on the task of internalizing them is a huge step in the right direction. (NBC News has even gone so far as to print the new goals on cards it distributes to writers and employees.) But publishers would also do well to apply the same rigor to how they acquire and engage audiences in the first place.
An obvious place to start is mobile apps, where app companies are learning the hard way that strategies focused on attracting massive numbers of users are fatally flawed. In the early days, the App Economy was a numbers game where data-driven (in my view data-obsessed) approaches worked well. Companies pursued strategies that allowed them to buy app installs at low prices in the belief that it would pay off. It seemed to work, allowing some apps – particularly games and lifestyle apps – to rocket up the app store charts.
But the gold rush mood sobered when a flurry of reports and blogs made the headlines arguing that app installs, like mayflies, were literally here today and gone tomorrow. Data released by app analytics and attribution companies, highlighted “insane” app unistall rates, adding gasoline to the fire.
The Mother of all Metrics
Today the companies across all app categories and geographies are coming to terms with the realization that engagement is what I like to call “the mother of all metrics.” Indeed, engagement isn’t just the end-game. It matters at every stage of the marketing funnel and every step of the user journey. Finding ways to grow (and measure) engagement is the toughest task that confronts every company with digital assets, not just apps.
Nonetheless, we can learn a lot from app managers as they rethink and retool to identify, acquire, engage, and retain high-quality users from the get-go. Their journey started a few years back with a singular focus on driving traffic. (Sound familiar?) They relied heavily on ASO (App Store Optimization). But their toolbox of capabilities has since expanded and evolved to include direct marketing, social media, influencer outreach, above the line advertising and marketing, and everything in between. All in an effort to forge deeper connections with fewer users.
By way of background, ASO is similar to SEO. Only instead of publishers optimizing elements of their content and websites in an effort to show up high in search engine results, publishers optimize key elements of their app store landing page and presence – such as keywords, icons and videos – to ensure people discover and download their app. That may deliver a high quantity of users, but the success is fleeting if efforts fail to drive lasting loyalty and frequent use of the apps.
Indeed, ASO has a role to play at every step of the journey. This inclues production, presence, promotion and the pragmatism app developers and companies will need to build a business, not just release an app. For savvy app marketers, ASO has evolved into an approach that encompasses everything neccessary to deliver great content and great experiences via an app. That is what’s required to move the needle on audience engagement and take an app from being simply discoverable to truly engaging. This ensures that the app goes from being a one-time download to a longterm addiction.
For publishers, winning used to be about creating huge volumes of content. For app makers, winning was about buying huge volumes of users. In both businesses the rules have changed, making way for a renewed focus on quality.
In all areas of your business, quality trumps everything. And engagement is emerging the performance metric that matters across the every stage of the marketing funnel and every step of the user journey. Whether you want to attract an audience or grow revenues, quality matters. Strategies aimed at boosting page views or installs may deliver fast — but not sustainable — growth. To achieve that, companies must double-down on efforts to create content and experiences that are genuinely engaging, thus converting an audience of readers into a legion of advocates for the long-term.
Advertisers know that not every view is created equal and that it’s important to understand your brand in context. It’s why ad tech companies created targeting options. It’s why content can be bought by topic. Are the companies creating content thinking about getting the most value out of their audiences in the same way?
To figure out if this is the case, we examined Parse.ly’s publisher data to see how much volume different topics produce. We broke this down by the number of articles written and the average pageviews per article. Then we compared that to how advertisers value different audience segments.
The Data: Audiences by Topic
Examining how people find different topics online revealed that the subject matter of an article has an impact on the likely source of traffic. For example, in a sample of one million articles in the Parse.ly network, Facebook brought in 87% of pageviews to lifestyle content. Google search accounted for 61% of readership to technology stories.
In addition to learning how people found the articles, we looked at how did each topic compared by scale and popularity. Articles that fell cleanly into the lifestyle or U.S. presidential politics categories received the most views, while articles about sports and entertainment were the most common by volume.
A couple of explanations about our methodology are worth noting. For this report, we selected articles that fell cleanly into one category. In other words, we selected articles where at least two thirds of the words were generated by a single topic. This left us with a subset of just over one million articles that we could cleanly assign to a single topic.
For example, imagine that most articles that are written as a mix of two or more topics. Those will be excluded from this analysis. It simply doesn’t make a clear conclusion to say that “mixed-topic articles with a lifestyle slant” tend to get more pageviews. However, we can confidently say that articles that are mostly about lifestyle tend to get more pageviews than articles mostly about business.
Other important data preparation decisions to note are that we included only English-language articles. We also excluded articles whose full text was fewer than 600 characters. (The complete methodology is detailed in the full report.)
Pageviews vs. Audience
The extremes are quite telling. An average article in the lifestyle category gets nine times the pageviews of an average article on business and finance. So, does this mean the lifestyle pageview will bring in nine times as much revenue?
In fact, in some cases, the opposite is true. Digiday recently reported thatCNN leverages audience segments by vertical to optimize ad rates. Chris Herbert, CNN’s SVP of digital operations and strategy, explained: “CNN’s finance vertical, CNNMoney, for example, commands higher ad rates than the parent site does because of its upscale audience, which could justify spending more to drive audience to that property.”
So, the really interesting question is how a publisher can match monetization to the potential expected pageview or volume, regardless of scale.
For example, even if the advertising value of certain topics are lower, the high volume of certain content types opens up other monetary opportunities. Lifestyle publishers and Condé Nast brands such as Condé Nast Traveler and Allure are forging partnerships to create branded subscription boxes. Efforts like these allow them to take advantage of the large “top-of-funnel” audience to drive purchase conversions.
Opportunities in High Volume/ Low Pageviews
Our team was surprised that the average views for each sports article ranked so low among topics. Given that the high-volume content was comprised mostly of local and even high school sports means that the average view totals are much lower. This is particularly true when compared to the audience for stories about national leagues. It is also worth noting that a preponderance of extremely short stories—such as those on game stats, syndication or even automated sports reporting—contribute to the high volume.
Taken in aggregate though, readers generally engage well with sports topics. A previous study we did (based on different data, but also looking at topics) found that sites focused on sports had a median engaged time of 51 seconds per article. Thus, sports can offer a strong monetization opportunity beyond pageviews. Engaged and loyal audiences can be monetized more easily through subscriptions, live events, or membership models.
Bring back the Classifieds?
Job postings are an example of a topic with low article volume—the lowest, in fact, of all topics analyzed—and high pageviews per article. From our research, we learned that the majority of traffic to job postings comes from Google search, which drives 84.4% of referral traffic. Facebook drives 11.9% of traffic comes, while the rest comes from other sources. This kind of traffic breakdown makes sense in the context of pageviews. If readers are searching for very specific information, a small subset of articles could generate a high volume of pageviews.
The classifieds are unlikely to return to their status as a primary revenue driver. However, for any scenario where you have a high amount of traffic to a low amount of content, there is likely to be room for revenue growth.
Using Data to See the Full Picture
The data we used for this study identifies ways that audience data should be considered for revenue potential, especially for opportunities outside of traditional display advertising. However, to be fully acted on, audience data must be synced in a way, both culturally and technologically, that connects it to business and monetary objectives.