Understanding your audience

Publishing 101: The Complete Guide to Understanding Your Audience

As a digital publisher, you can’t expect to grow your audience until you understand who you’re trying to reach. The way readers interact and engage with the content on a digital news website depends on who they are and what they’re interested in. Understanding your audience is one of the key pillars to success for digital news publishers today.

Understanding your audience means learning what makes them tick. Who are your readers, and what do they enjoy learning about? Do they prefer written articles or videos? Don’t worry if you don’t know the answers to all of these questions just yet. That’s what this article is for.

Reader Demographics

Understanding your audience begins with tracking reader demographics. Demographics are important for digital news publishers who want to monetize their websites, either with display advertising, direct sponsorships, or even subscription sales.

Businesses that advertise on digital news websites want to know who will be seeing their ads, and whether that’s an audience they are interested in reaching. Being able to provide potential advertisers with the answers to basic demographic questions is the first step in securing large sponsorship deals.

Reader demographic information is usually listed publicly in the media kits that publishers post on their websites. However, some publishers choose to keep this information private and disclose it to potential advertisers upon request. The choice is up to you.

Audience Surveys

If you’re like most publishers, you might be wondering how to go about getting basic demographic information about your readers. After all, you can’t exactly stand on the corner asking people about their age and income as they walk by your newsstand.

The most common way for publishers to gather demographic information about their readership is through audience surveys. If you visit media websites regularly, you’ve probably been asked to complete a similar survey before.

A number of form builders are available, either for free or for a minimal cost, for just this purpose. Some of the most popular form builders include Wufoo, Survey Monkey, Google Forms, and Typeform. Choose the tool you want to use, enter some basic questions about reader demographics—age, occupation, location, and income level are a few common topics—and then implement your new form on your website. If your website is run through WordPress, then this process should be particularly straightforward. Depending on the form builder that you select, you should be able to customize the survey to match your publication’s branding.

Most publishers setup their surveys as popups that appear when readers click on articles, but you could also place a link on your homepage or you could email the survey to readers in your email database.

The specific questions you ask in a survey will depend on your primary goal. If your goal in understanding your audience is to inform potential advertisers, then you should ask questions about where readers shop and what types of products or services they’re interested in learning more about. Other topics that advertisers are particularly interested in finding out include:

  • Age
  • Marital status
  • Number of children
  • Education level
  • Employment status
  • Household income

On the other hand, your reasons for wanting to learn about your audience might have nothing to do with advertisers. If your reason for conducting a survey is to learn more about the type of content your readers want to see, and the topics they are interested in learning more about, then your survey should be filled with an entirely different set of questions. In that case, you will want to ask questions that have to do with:

  • Reader interests
  • Media consumption habits
  • Preferred media channels

The problem with reader surveys is that participation can be very low, and people aren’t always 100% truthful in their answers. Another way that digital publishers can collect information about their audience is by looking at website analytics.

Web Analytics

Understanding your audience means knowing how they found your website and how they engage with the content once they arrive. We recommend that publishers track their website analytics to learn more about their readers.

Google Analytics is by far the most common tool that digital publishers use to learn about reader demographics. To start collecting this data, you’ll need to enable “Demographics and Interests” reports within Google Analytics. This will allow you to see the age, gender, and general interests of your website visitors.

Importantly, you’ll also be able to break down visitors by age group and gender, allowing you to drill down into the different website behaviors exhibited by older or younger readers.

If your publication maintains an active presence on Facebook, then you can also use Facebook’s Audience Insights feature to learn about reader demographics. Although the people who’ve “Liked” your publication’s Facebook page won’t be an exact duplicate of your general website readers, the group likely contains enough overlap to help you collect a little more data in your quest to better understanding your audience.

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