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Metrics to Achieve Long-Term Revenue Growth

This Retail Metric Is Helping Publishers Achieve Long-Term Revenue Growth

Online retailers have been using the customer lifetime value metric to gauge the success of their retention strategies for years. Now, savvy digital publishers are getting on board with the same technique as they search for new ways to achieve long-term revenue growth.

The customer lifetime value (LTV) metric is a new one for many in the digital publishing industry. The metric is designed to measure the value of a customer to a business over the course of the relationship.

Rather than looking at customer interactions and purchases in a silo, ecommerce retailers figured out years ago that they would be able to see a more complete picture, and more easily achieve long-term revenue growth, if they looked at the value of a customer over the complete course of that customer’s relationship with the company.

Tracking the LTV of customers often results in retailers paying more attention to customers who buy a few items a month over a long period of time than customers who purchase just one item and then never return to the retailer’s online store. In the long run, businesses generate the most revenue from loyal customers who incrementally spend money over a period of years.

What does the LTV metric have to do with digital publishers looking to achieve long-term revenue growth?

As more publishers adjust their business strategies to include subscriptions and memberships programs, interest in tracking the long-term value of individual readers has grown.

A publication’s most loyal readers are also its most valuable. The longer that relationship continues, the less costly it becomes to serve that reader. Over time, loyal readers can also bring in new subscribers via referrals and social media “shares,” increasing the lifetime value that much more.

The push toward using LTV as a metric comes as publishers place less and less importance on page views. Page views were once thought to be one of the most important metrics for a publisher to track. But really, all a page view tells a publisher is how many people clicked on a particular article. A page view doesn’t offer any insights into how many people actually read the article, or where they came from, or whether they decided to subscribe after viewing a particular piece of content.

How Publishers Calculate LTV

How a publisher calculates the LTV metric depends on which channels or strategies he is using to achieve long-term revenue growth. The mix of subscriptions, memberships, types of advertising, and product sales (for example, selling images, videos, branded swag, or tickets to live events) will influence which key metrics make up the LTV.

In general terms, we like to see publishers combine the eCPM of each page type with the number of pages per visit, the amount of time spent on each page, and the number of repeat visits. When combined, these metrics should paint a clear picture of the true value of each visitor, giving publishers a way to identify which topics, themes, and features are bringing readers back and causing them to subscribe.

The New York Times employs an entire data team dedicated to understanding what makes casual readers decide to subscribe, and why long-time readers decide to cancel their subscriptions. The team looks at the behaviors leading up to conversions (when readers decide to subscribe). They have found that frequency breadth and depth are good signals that can predict when a reader will subscribe, helping the media organization achieve long-term revenue growth.

Knowing that the more frequently a visitor comes to the NYTimes.com website the more likely he is to subscribe, the publisher has boosted its tactics for bringing casual readers back for more. One of the ways The New York Times does this is through email newsletters, which the publisher has found to be a highly successful in converting casual readers into subscribers.

A decrease in website visits and engagement can also be viewed as a warning sign that a reader is about the cancel his subscription. For example, someone who used to read seven articles a week and now reads just one or two is at a high risk of cancelling.

If you’d like to learn even more about how to convert readers into subscribers to achieve long-term revenue growth for your publication, then let’s chat.

audience engagement metrics

What Matters More, Audience Engagement or Page Views?

At this point, most digital publishers understand the importance of web analytics. While page views will always have a role here, audience engagement is taking the lead for publishers interested in measuring the success of their editorial content.

A decade ago, it was expected that publishers would look at page views and unique visitors as they evaluated the success of certain articles or sections on their websites. Most publishers were under the assumption that the more page views an article amassed, the better the article was. Visitors who enjoyed an article would have a reason to stick around the website, either clicking through other pages or returning the next day to see if more content had been posted about the same topic.

To a certain extent, publishers’ initial focus on page views makes sense. In addition to promoting loyalty, page views were also an indication of how much display advertising revenue the publication could expect to bring in.

In the years since news publications moved online, however, there’s been an industry-wide shift away from looking at page views as a key performance indicator.

For starters, page views alone are not enough to indicate whether a visitor enjoyed a particular article, or whether the reader even finished the article in its entirety. Page view metrics also do a poor job of measuring what kind of opinion readers have of the publication overall and whether they plan on returning in the future or becoming paying subscribers. These are just a few of the reasons why, as an industry, news publishers have transitioned away from page views and started looking more closely at audience engagement metrics.

Audience Engagement Metrics

Audience engagement has become increasingly important for publishers who want to boost their CPMs for display advertising revenue and convert first-time readers into paying subscribers.

Whereas page views measure the specific number of visitors clicking on a website, audience engagement metrics are much broader in scope. When most people talk about audience engagement, they’re talking about the extent to which visitors are interested in or involved in the content on a website. Shares, comments, time on the website, and offline impact can all represent audience engagement. Many publishers combine two or more of these metrics—for example, shares and comments—to determine audience engagement.

What publishers are discovering by tracking audience engagement is that audiences enjoy reading articles about certain topics more than others, and that certain kinds of stories do a better job of converting first-time readers into paying subscribers. Tracking audience engagement gives publishers a way to hone in on these topics.

For publishers who frequently post video, video completion rates are almost always a part of the equation here. Knowing the number of people who clicked on a webpage with a video (page views) is less useful than knowing the number of visitors who watched the video in its entirety. Knowing the engagement metrics for their video content, publishers should have a clearer understanding of how the length of content impacts completion rates. They can also compare completion rates for videos posted on different platforms and users on different devices.

Paywalls can make it harder to track the impact of page views, as well, since articles behind a paywall will always generate fewer page views, even if engagement with those articles is much higher. This is one of the reasons why many digital publishers stop using page view growth as a key performance indicator after putting up metered paywalls.

Analytics platforms today can get incredibly granular in the way they track audience engagement metrics, segmenting users by loyalty and demographics. A few questions that publishers can answer by looking at their audience engagement metrics are:

  • Do readers coming from Facebook stay longer than readers coming from Twitter?
  • How long does the average reader from Google stay on the site before leaving?
  • Are readers living in certain areas staying on the website for longer?

Publishers aren’t the only ones interested in audience engagement metrics. Advertisers are interested in the information, as well.

Page views and impressions can only tell an advertiser so much. For a clearer picture of what they’re buying, advertisers will often ask for audience engagement metrics. Advertisers want to know that readers are engaging with the content on a publisher’s website and that the display ads they purchase will result in clicks and sales. In this way, tracking audience engagement metrics makes publications more attractive to potential advertisers, upping the CPM rates that publishers can charge.

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.