loyal readers

Loyal Readers Consume the Most Content — Why That Matters

When you generate story ideas and publish content on your website, who are you writing for? If you’re trying to attract readers from social media or win the battle for search engine dominance, you might be taking the wrong approach. According to a new study, loyal readers consume a whopping 5x more content than non-loyal readers — and here’s why that matters.

The topic of reader loyalty is one that comes up frequently among digital publishers. Some count loyal readers as anyone who visits a publication’s website one or more times each week. Other publishers consider loyal readers to be paying subscribers or readers who have registered for free accounts with their email addresses.

Having devoted readers is important because in the world of digital publishing, loyalty equals revenue. Loyal readers are more likely to be paying subscribers than one-off readers who arrive through search engines or social media links. Regular readers are more likely to click on display ads and affiliate links, and they are more likely to sign up for subscriptions, memberships, and webinars.

Without a solid definition of what constitutes a loyal reader, publishers are left to decide for themselves. While the definition changes over time, we’re seeing most publishers these days measure loyalty by combining the frequency of a visitor’s website visits with recency. So, how frequently did the reader visit and how recently did they visit? Loyal readers are highly-engaged readers, and that goes beyond being a paying subscriber or a registered website guest. They leave comments and share articles with their friends on social media. They sign-up to receive email newsletters, and they come back to the website at regular intervals. They are easy to spot, even if the definition itself is hard to come by.

Loyalty By the Numbers

Now that we’ve gotten the definition of loyalty out of the way, we can talk about what’s really interesting in this new data study. Comparing loyal readers to non-loyal readers’ data at 10 publications, researchers found that the average media outlet only has 3.8% loyal readers.

That figure might seem shocking. After all, it’s not uncommon for digital publishers to feel like they know their readers by name. But the fact that the same handful of email addresses and usernames pop up again and again in comments sections and in replies to social media posts doesn’t mean this data is wrong. It only strengthens the researchers’ arguments.

On average, a publication’s base of highly loyal, engaged readers only makes up about 3.8% of its entire readership. The other 96% to 97% of readers are occasional readers. They may click on a link from time to time, or arrive at an article after doing a search on Google, but those readers are not generating significant revenue for digital publishers.

That’s because researchers also found that regular readers generate 16.2% of all traffic and consume 29% more articles within a single session than non-loyal readers. Regular readers are the type who arrive at your homepage and click around to read all the latest articles. Non-loyal visitors are more likely to follow a link from Facebook or Twitter, read the linked article, and then bounce. That kind of engagement and activity is unlikely to result in the reader registering for an account or signing up for a paid subscription, even though a strong call-to-action wouldn’t hurt.

What the research shows us is that publishers can’t afford to ignore their core audience. Devoted readers consume more content, they click on more ads, and they return more frequently than non-loyal visitors.

As you put together your content calendars and plan for the upcoming year, it’s a good idea to keep in mind the interests of your most loyal readers. Engaging these readers is your best bet to growing your subscriber base, even if the strategy doesn’t directly result in an increase in page views right away.

To learn more about how to improve reader engagement, click here.