Digital publications need to grow if they want to survive. More readers, more clicks, more revenue — it’s all important for a news publication. Top publishers are investing in new ways to engage readers as they refine their growth strategies for the coming year. They’re also experimenting with using social media in creative ways and configuring their paywalls to calibrate the right mix of free and paid reader access.
Although many publishers are struggling at the local level —more than 1,300 communities in the United States have lost local news coverage altogether since 2004 — large digital publishers are thriving. According to data from the Shorenstein Center and Lenfest Institute, the top 5% of publishers have a 97% monthly subscriber retention rate.
The average American today is willing to pay for one news subscription and up to three entertainment subscriptions each month. Smaller news outlets have to work harder to get readers to choose their publications as the one news subscription they will pay for, but with the right growth strategies, success is possible.
So, which growth strategies are proving to be most successful for digital publishers right now? Let’s take a look.
Top Growth Strategies for Digital Publishers
1. Understanding the Market
Digital publishes perform better when they match their editorial objectives to the interests of their readers. The more clearly publishers understand their market, the larger and more engaged their online audience is likely to be.
According to an analysis conducted by the Shorenstein Center, Minneapolis Star Tribune Network and Boston Globe Media sites perform especially strong when it comes to market penetration. This is due, in large part, to the willingness of these publishers to base their digital strategies on their own defined markets. When publishers establish their publications as essential sources of news in their markets, they generate demand. That demand is necessary for publishers to succeed in growing their subscription programs and page views in such a competitive industry.
2. Prioritize Audience Engagement
Successful digital publishers understand that search engine traffic alone isn’t enough to survive. Readers who only visit once or twice in a 30-day period aren’t going to sustain a publication. Having a strong group of core readers is necessary to build a sustainable news business.
Generally speaking, “regular readers” are defined as those who visit five or more times in a 30-day period. Research shows that just 9% of publishers’ audiences fall into the “regular reader” category. Growth strategies tend to be most effective when publishers prioritize their ability to engage this critical group of readers.
When researchers at the Shorenstein Center looked at how the most successful news publishers are engaging regular readers, they found that these strategies are most effective:
- Social media content promotion
- Dedicated email newsletters
- In-situ recommendation engines
- Dedicated audience development teams
3. Forcing Conversions
Do you know your publication’s stop rate? A stop rate is the percentage of all visitors who are stopped on a website by a paywall or a meter limit. To calculate your stop rate, take the total number of users who are stopped by your paywall in a 30-day period and divide that number by the total number of unique visitors during the same period.
For a subscription-based business model to be sustainable, publishers should aim for a stop rate that’s at or above 4%. Top digital publishers today are reporting stop rates of 6% and above. That means 6% of unique visitors are being prevented from accessing content on those publishers’ websites.
If your stop rate falls below 4%, it means you aren’t requiring enough readers to subscribe. Basically, you’re giving away too much content for free. If you’re hoping to build a business that’s centered on the subscription model, then putting up less porous paywalls should be one of your key growth strategies for the coming year.
4. Reducing Friction in the Purchase Experience
Pages that are slow to load, instructions that are hard to follow, and extraneous data fields that take too much time to complete are making it harder for people to subscribe to your publication. By reducing friction in the registration process, you can quickly improve website conversions.
The most successful digital publishers convert an average of 1.3% of stopped unique visitors each month. If your conversion rate is falling below .5%, it’s time to make a change.
When researchers from the Shorenstein Center looked at meters and conversion rates, they found that the following factors had the greatest impact:
- Audience engagement
- Targeted offers
- Frictionless purchase
One simple way to improve your conversion rate is by testing different sign-up forms and tracking which changes created the biggest impact. Speeding up page load times or simplifying the instructions on a registration page can lead to decreased drop-off rates almost immediately.
To learn even more about the key growth strategies that publishers are putting into place in 2020, get in contact with our team of web development specialists here at Web Publisher PRO.