Audience development is about more than blindly pursuing eyeballs and clicks across as many platforms as possible. As more independent publishers move to generate revenue through subscription and membership programs, there’s been a renewed interest in cultivating the right type of audience—that is, a loyal audience that’s willing to pay for monthly subscriptions to their favorite news websites.
Just a small proportion of readers drive most traffic and profit to digital news outlets. According to data from Piano, a business platform for digital media, just 7% of monthly unique visitors drive half (50%) of traffic, on average. Piano calls these visitors “super fans,” but publishers know them as paying subscribers.
Although Piano found that there are 9x as many one-off visitors as loyal visitors on news websites, loyal visitors still generate twice as many page views. Importantly, Piano also found that when it comes to paid subscriptions, number of page views is among the best predictors of conversion.
Cultivating a loyal audience, and turning one-off visitors into loyal fans, is easier when your website covers a topic that readers feel passionately about, which is the case for so many hyperlocal news publications. But it still requires that publishers identify potential readers and find ways to ensure those targeted readers are reaching their publications.
Here are six do’s and don’ts to consider.
Do … utilize social channels to drive revenue.
There’s been a lot of talk about how Facebook’s news feed change will impact local publishers. Despite the changes, Facebook and Google continue to be major drivers of revenue for many local news organizations. Social media is often the first place where readers encounter an article, making this an important piece of the puzzle for publishers. Distributing content on social media means more than just writing tweets. In today’s environment, it means tending to comments, programming social media channels, and looking for new ways to take advantage of user generated content.
Don’t … forget to load up articles with multimedia content.
Multimedia content has been one of the keys to the New York Times’ success in audience development as of late. The Times frequently embeds documents, podcasts, maps, and interactive charts in its articles. For example, a recent article about the Harvey Weinstein scandal included an embedded statement from Weinstein along with a supplemental podcast. Although The Times is tight-lipped about the exact percentage of its articles that contain multimedia content, the number is at least in the double digits.
Do … consider a website redesign.
Of course content is always important in determining how long readers spend on a publisher’s site, but design shouldn’t be overlooked, either. Forbes increased its average website session length by almost 40% and increased impressions per session by 10% when it redesigned its mobile site in 2017. USA Today’s redesigned mobile site, with its Facebook-like appearance, increased the time spent per article by 75%.
Don’t … do it alone.
There’s a reason why so many major news outlets are hiring audience development specialists right now. Expanding an audience and deepening engagement is hard work, and it isn’t something that most editors and website publishers can do by themselves. Outside experts can be brought in to teach reporters and editors the latest SEO strategies, along with the best tactics for utilizing social media, mobile apps, and engaging with readers in comments sections. Independent publishers should also be on the lookout for outside distribution partners.
Do … bring back the comments section.
Local publishers have had a tempestuous relationship with comments sections. On one hand, comments can grow unwieldy and they can be difficult to moderate. But from an audience development perspective, comments sections provide a golden opportunity to engage with readers and cultivate a loyal following. Comments sections make readers feel connected to the publication, they’re a fantastic tool for encouraging user generated content, and they can even be a resource for journalists looking for new story ideas and sources of information. For publishers using WordPress, a number of plugins are available to streamline the process of setting up and managing a website commenting section.
Don’t … get too caught up in page views
Page views and unique visits are valuable metrics, but they don’t paint a complete picture for news sites. When it comes to audience development, publishers should be looking at how many pages their visitors go through on average per visit. This is a more useful indicator of how interested an audience is in a news product, and it can guide editorial teams as they look for new ways to maintain their current audience and attract new followers.