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Connect with younger readers

How Digital Publishers Can Connect with Younger Readers

Top Strategies to Connect with Younger Readers

Eighteen to 34. That’s the most coveted age demographic among brand advertisers. Because advertisers care so much about reaching consumers between the ages of 18 and 34, that’s also the demographic news publishers should be engaging with to keep their advertiser clients satisfied.

Consumers in the 18-to-34 demographic have more money to spend on the products and services that advertisers are selling, and they’re at an age where the money they earn is more likely to go towards expensive “toys” than investments. Consumers between the ages of 18 and 34 are also less likely to have developed the types of brand loyalty that can be difficult, if not downright impossible, to break.

Basically, advertisers feel like they have a greater opportunity to convert consumers between the ages 18 and 34, making this a highly desired demographic.

The challenge here is that people who consume news tend to be older than this demographic, and that’s making it hard for local news publishers to charge a premium to advertise in their publications.

The Digital/Print Divide

The idea that people who consume news the most frequently tend to be older than the age demographic advertisers are trying to reach has been around for a long time, but new research is showing that the long held belief might not necessarily be rooted in truth.

It’s true that over the past decade, local newspapers have been having increasing difficulty finding new ways to connect with younger readers, leading to dissatisfaction and frustration among regular advertisers. According to Pew Research, 63% of news readers over age 65 prefer to read print papers. But among digital-first publications, the average age of readers is much younger.

Younger readers, the kind advertisers covet, are more likely to get their news through digital platforms than print. Eighty-one percent of 18- to 29-year-olds who would rather read their news than watch it on television prefer to get their news online. Even young adults who would rather watch their news than read it are switching to digital channels. According to that same Pew survey, 57% of 18- to 29-year-old news watchers prefer to get their news on television, and 37% prefer the web.

When it comes to advertising on news platforms, businesses are more likely to connect with younger readers when they advertise on digital publications than print or television. Digital publishers should be trumpeting these types of surveys in their media kits and other sales materials. Educating would-be advertisers about the benefits of running display and native advertising on digital-first publications, given the desirable demographics of their readers, is one of the first steps a sales team should take.

Of course, just having a web product doesn’t necessarily mean a publication is going to have a wealth of younger readers. Local news publications, in particular, can sometimes struggle to attract the attention of readers in their teens, twenties, and early thirties. For these publishers, in particular, we recommend the following strategies to connect with younger readers.

How to Connect with Younger Readers

#1: Meet them on their platforms
Young people might not be hanging out on the online platforms you’d expect. Many teens and twenty-somethings have traded in Facebook and Twitter for platforms like YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram, and Snapchat. Finding ways to engage audiences on those platforms is an important first step in being able to connect with younger readers.

#2: Test migration strategies
How do you get the people who’ve followed your publication or “liked” your content on social media platforms to visit your website? The answer will be different for every publication, which is why we recommend experimenting and testing as much as possible during the early days. Catchy headlines, desirable incentives, and even online contests have been used effectively. For the Financial Times, simply adding emojis to the messages its social media team was sending through WhatsApp had a positive effect on click-through-rates, since emojis made the publisher’s messages seem more informal.

#3: Craft new content strategies
Let’s say you were able to connect with younger readers via Instagram and Snapchat, and you used incentives to bring them back to your publication’s website. How do you go about keeping those new readers engaged? One way is by producing more content in the forms that appeal to younger audiences. For example, through Google Analytics and reader surveys, you might discover that younger readers prefer shorter articles or articles in Q&A format. Or maybe you’re learning that they would rather watch video content. Some publishers are even creating digital games that users can play alongside traditional news articles and op-ed commentaries.

How is your publication reaching out to younger readers? Send us an email and let us know what has—and hasn’t—been working for you.

Build Trust With Readers

4 Strategies to Build Trust With Readers

What makes people trust a news publication? How can publishers build trust with readers? These are questions that many digital publishers have asked. Now, we’ve got the answers.

Despite all the talk of “fake news,” the truth is that trust in the media is still relatively strong. According to a survey by the Reuters Institute, the average level of trust in the news in general sits at 44% globally. More than half (51%) of consumers say they trust the news media that they consume “most of the time.”

Those numbers aren’t bad, but they could certainly be better.

Trust is also set to become an issue that impacts publishers’ bottom lines, if Facebook and other social media giants begin incorporating brand trust scores into the algorithms that determine which content users see in their news feeds.

Restoring trust among readers won’t happen overnight, but digital publishers can still make it happen using these proven techniques.

Publishing Strategies to Build Trust With Readers

1) Offer supplementary information

Today’s readers don’t just want to know what the facts are. They want to know how those facts were obtained and why they should believe that they are valid. A study from the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas, Austin, found that adding a simple box that explains the story process can go a long way for publishers looking to build trust with readers. Examples of details that can be included in a supplementary information box include topics like, “How we reported this story,” “Why we’re publishing this article,” and “How we took steps to be fair.”
In surveys, readers said that articles that ran alongside boxes with supplementary information were more fair, accurate, informative, transparent, and credible. Those are pretty incredible attributes for any news publisher, but particularly for a digital publisher at a small-but-growing publication.

2) Get readers involved

Readers can’t complain about the fairness of coverage when they themselves took part in creating it. While it’s unlikely that everyday readers will be able to contribute full-length articles on a regular basis, publishers can still build trust with readers by highlighting the best comments and contributions alongside articles that run online.

Don’t assume that readers know that they’re invited to contribute, either. Banner ads and periodic reminders in email newsletters can be used to solicit reader contributions. Forms placed prominently on the homepage are also a worthwhile addition. Just make sure those forms include an attachment feature, so readers can attach documentation or supporting evidence for any news items they’re submitting.

3) Focus on the local angle

When the Knight Foundation hosted its regular gathering of funders and journalism insiders in Miami last month, there was a lot of talk about sustainability in local news and rebuilding trust in the media. One of the key points made by presenters was that local news is the ideal place for the news media to start rebuilding the trust that’s been broken in the “fake news” era, and more directly, that the closer publishers can connect neighbors and news, the stronger their communities become. It’s a powerful message, and one that digital publishers should keep at the forefront of their minds as they continue planning their strategies for long-term growth.

Readers trust what they can see, and they can see the community that’s right outside their windows. Therefore, publishers who really want to build trust with readers should start by covering the topics that their readers care about in their own communities. Establish that basic foundation of trust before expanding into broader topics that might be harder for local readers to grasp.

4) Take the opportunity to explain

Editors serve a number of roles at digital news publications, but one of those roles needs to be “Explainer-in-Chief.” Take a moment as the editor of your publication to write the occasional column about how controversial stories came to be or how reporters at the publication do their jobs on a daily basis. You’d be surprised at how few people understand the inner workings of a news publication.

Educating readers about why certain decisions were made and the challenges of running a small digital publication—and at the very least, explaining that reporters don’t write the headlines—will go a long way in building trust.

What other strategies have you seen publishers implement as they work to build trust among readers?

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.

Local news reader survey

Survey Highlights Changing Reader Sentiment Toward Local News

How do readers feel about local news outlets in their own communities, what makes them want to engage, and why do they prefer certain digital publications to others?

To answer these questions, and gain a better understanding of how local news organizations can be more transparent with readers, the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin recently teamed up with the News Co/Lab at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Together, the two organizations surveyed more than 4,500 people in three areas in the United States — Fresno, California; Kansas City, Missouri; and Macon, Georgia.

What they discovered through their survey should be enlightening to anyone who has been tracking the local news industry in the past few years. It turns out that readers have better impressions of local news than news in general, but their opinions skew more negative when asked about specific publishers in their own communities. Here are other key findings from the survey:

Readers consume national news more frequently than local.
In News Co/Lab’s survey, “most” people said they consumed national news about once a day, on average, and local news “slightly less often.” That’s not what most digital publishers will want to hear, but it is valuable information nonetheless.

Knowing that readers are less likely to visit a local news website multiple times a day, publishers should be looking for ways incentivize that behavior. For example, rather than publishing all of the day’s stories at once each morning, the publisher could dole out content on an hourly basis throughout the day. This publishing schedule requires readers to visit multiple times during a 24 hour period in order to stay up-to-date on the latest news around town.

Engagement has become an issue for local publishers.
Survey respondents rated local news outlets poorly when asked how they engage with their communities, giving them an average score of just three-out-of-five.

Why does that matter? For one thing, recent research has shown that engagement is tied to perceptions of bias in local news. The more engaged a digital publication’s readership is, the less editorial bias is perceived by readers. Therefore, local news outlets that can engage readers are shrinking the perception bias that often plagues the industry.

Here at Web Publisher PRO, we’ve talked a lot about reader engagement, and we know that digital publishers thrive when they have devoted audiences. A few of the ways we recommend that digital publishers work to improve engagement are by inviting readers to become active participants through commenting and guest posts, covering local stories that other outlets are missing, and adding job boards as a way to position their websites as community portals.

News literacy skills are often lacking.
Almost across the board, News Co/Lab found that survey respondents were overconfident in their ability to understand the news. Readers who showed the lowest news literacy skills were also the least interested in receiving help.

Local publishers shouldn’t be surprised by these findings. In a separate survey, researchers at the American Press Institute found that almost one-third of Americans can’t tell the difference between news and opinion articles.

Frustrating as it might be, these findings actually show us that a great opportunity exists for digital publishers. When local news outlets increase transparency and utilize tools to improve engagement, they create more informed news consumers. Those news consumers have a greater understanding of how local journalism works, and with that information, they should have an easier time pinpointing which news sources are credible and which are not.

On a smaller scale, we recommend that publishers consider web design as a tool for improving news literacy. Simple changes to a digital publication, like drop down navigation bars and a more functional layout, help readers find the content they are looking for on the first try.

Although the News Co/Lab’s findings show that trust in the local news business is low, digital publishers should remember that there are ways we can increase reader confidence. Seemingly minor changes to web design, such as adding visual breaks and getting rid of large pop-up ads from third-party websites, go a long way in changing reader perceptions and improving trust in the local news industry as a whole.

Launching a local news site

The 5 Best Strategies for Launching a Local News Site

Only the strong survive in the local publishing community. Launching a local news site requires a solid business plan and a firm grasp on the needs of the community you’re planning to cover.

While statistics on the number of local news sites are scarce, the number is clearly growing, and competition for readers and ad dollars is fierce.

Despite that competition, there has perhaps never been a better time to consider launching a local news site, given the news consumption habits of American readers. According to Pew Research Center, four-in-10 Americans often get their news online, and 28% get their information from news websites directly. That’s a lot of eyeballs, and potential revenue, for online publishers.

Based on our experience working with local publishers in the midst of launching local news sites, these are our five best strategies for success.

1. Launching a Local News Site: Know the Competition
Who are the dominant publishers in the community you’re planning to cover, and how long have they been in business? By doing your research beforehand, you can dig deep into the publications already having success within your niche and find out what they’re doing that readers love.

When researching competing publications, pay particular attention to which topics they cover, how they promote their stories, and how they generate revenue. For example, you may discover that competing publications place significant emphasis on local high school sports or city council coverage. Just because existing publications cover these topics doesn’t mean you need to, but you should use that information for reference when strategizing and launching a local news site.

2. Launching a Local News Site: Find Gaps in Existing Coverage
Now that you’ve done your research on competing publications, it’s time to start thinking about what topics or areas are being left uncovered. Finding a unique niche is one of the best ways to guarantee immediate success when launching a local news site.

In order to find holes in existing news coverage, you should get on social media and use hashtags to ask people in the community what they’d like to learn more about. You can also use web analytics and keyword research tools to find out what people in the area are searching for on Google.

When you’re launching a local news site, it pays to dig into a specific niche. Leave the state and national political coverage to the big media companies. Less competition means greater chances for success.

3. Launching a Local News Site: Develop a Strategy for Monetization
One of the key differences between a hobby blog and a professional news website is monetization. If you’re launching a hobby blog, feel free to jump right into content creation. However, anyone hoping to turn their local news site into a sustainable business needs a solid monetization strategy.

Thankfully, there are endless opportunities for generating revenue as a local publisher in 2018. The most common revenue generation strategy for new publishers is selling advertising to local businesses, but it’s growing increasingly common for more established publishers to sell subscriptions, as well.

Check out the Web Publisher PRO archives for more ideas for generating revenue. We’ve covered how to generate revenue through live events, membership programs, and e-commerce, along with other forms of ancillary revenue.

4. Launching a Local News Site: Start Creating Content
With a business plan and monetization strategy firmly in place, the next step in launching a local news site is to begin creating content. Breaking news coverage is easy to produce, but it also goes stale quickly. Our best tip for any publisher in the early stages of launching a local news site is to think about evergreen content. Which topics are likely to generate clicks in the coming weeks, months, or even years?

For publishers planning to cover specific neighborhoods or communities, we recommend starting with a local restaurant guide or niche business guide. This is the type of content readers are likely to discover on Google in the years to come, and when done right, it can become a valuable resource for people new to the community.

5. Launching a Local News Site: Develop a Readership
You’ve got a business plan, a monetization strategy, and an archive of great content. Now is not the time to sit back and let readers come to you. Whenever you’re launching a local news site, it’s imperative that you reach out into the community and bring readers to your site.

One of the easiest ways to do this is through social media advertising. You can target social media users in specific geographic areas, or users who’ve indicated an interest in specific topics like local news. Depending on the niche or community, you may also want to consider sponsoring local events and festivals as a way to get your publication’s name out there.

Launching a local news site has never been easier, but keeping that newly launched publication afloat, and turning it into a sustainable business, requires foresight, patience, and hard work. If you’d like to learn more about the best strategies for launching local news sites, please reach out to one of our publishing experts at Web Publisher PRO.

Data Journalism Tools

The Small Publisher’s Guide to Editorial Analytics

Numbers don’t lie. For local publishers looking for new ways to boost traffic and click-through rates, editorial analytics can serve as a roadmap to success.

Rather than polling readers or simply guessing which articles will be most popular, more publishers are now relying on audience metrics and editorial analytics to inform their newsroom decisions.

Editorial analytics platforms can be setup to measure visitor activity on a publisher’s site. With popular platforms like Chartbeat and Parse.ly, publishers have the ability to track readers on their websites in real-time. Analytics platforms also track whether site visitors are actively reading, or whether they are just skimming content and saving articles to read later.

With this data in hand, publishers can make better decisions about which topics or stories to cover and how prominently certain articles should be promoted on their sites.

Three examples of how analytics can be used to make newsroom decisions include:

  1. People in the community may say they love reading stories about the public library, while editorial analytics suggest that sensational crime stories are actually driving the greatest engagement.
  2. Editors can track how small changes to published articles, such as changes to headlines or additional links to outside sources, impact how readers engage.
  3. When doling out annual bonuses and selecting candidates for promotion, publishers can look at reporters-specific metrics to determine which staff members are bringing the most value to the organization.

Should editorial analytics always be used to determine which topics get covered in a local publication? The answer to that is tricky. Just because a certain topic doesn’t generate traffic doesn’t always mean it’s not a topic worth covering. These are difficult questions that journalism ethicists have been debating for years.

In the years since digital-first publications like The Huffington Post and Gawker first started using analytics to make editorial decisions, the practice has gone mainstream. Many of the most popular tools for collecting this data at large media outlets have since been adapted for smaller digital publishers.

As a best practice, editors should consider asking themselves these questions when deciding the best ways to utilize editorial analytics in the newsroom:

  • Which readers are we trying to reach?
  • What types of reader behaviors do we want to cultivate or encourage?
  • Which metrics are we using as benchmarks for success?

In a survey of news editors, CEOs, and “digital leaders” conducted by Reuters Institute, 76% said improving the way newsrooms use data to understand and target audiences is going to be “very important” for their organizations.

Larger newsrooms have added analytics teams to the mix at a furious pace. Audience development editors and data analysts pour over the data to uncover new areas for opportunity. In smaller newsrooms, journalists themselves have access to analytics tools and metrics for their own published stories.

For publishers who’ve decided to start using editorial analytics to make strategic newsroom decisions, the next question is which platforms or tools to use. We’ve put together a list of some of the top choices for small and mid-size publishers who run their websites on WordPress.

Top WordPress Plugins for Editorial Analytics

  1. Chartbeat: For existing Chartbeat users, this plugin makes it easy to install Chartbeat’s code and start tracking website traffic and audience behaviors.
  2. Google Analytics: The Google Analytics plugin for WordPress connects publishers to Google Analytics and lets them see how visitors are finding and using their websites.
  3. Parse.ly: Designed for writers, editors, and website managers, Parse.ly helps publishers understand how audiences are connecting with the content they publish.
  4. Google Analytics Post Pageviews: This plugin links to a publisher’s Google Analytics account to retrieve the pageviews for individual articles or posts.
  5. Clicky by Yoast: Publishers who use this plugin can track individual posts and pages as goals and also assign revenue to specific pages or posts.
  6. Crazy Egg: With Crazy Egg, publishers can see exactly what visitors are doing on their websites and where they are clicking. They can also see where visitors are coming from and what types of content are bringing people back.
recycled content

When Should Local Publishers Use Recycled Content?

Nobody wants to read yesterday’s news, but properly utilizing recycled content can still be an effective strategy for driving traffic to a growing online publication.

Of course, not all content is created equal. An article about an upcoming holiday event or a recap of a high school sports game isn’t going to have the same longevity as a feature story about a local celebrity or a popular mom-and-pop business, or a review of a restaurant that’s become a date night hot spot.

Before we dig into what types of content a publisher should recycle, and how to determine whether a specific article is worth republishing, let’s talk a little more about what recycled content really is.

Recycling content means to take an article that’s done well over time and republish it. Although some viral publishers, like Business Insider and Upworthy, will re-publish articles multiple time on the same platform, it’s more common for local news publishers to recycle content across different platforms. For example, an article that’s done well on a publisher’s website can be repurposed in an email newsletter or expanded on to create an eBook.

Social media is another popular place for local publishers to post recycled content. Sprinkled among the links to recent stories can be links to older feature stories. In addition to generating more traffic, this strategy can also grow a publisher’s audience on Facebook and Twitter.

Syndication is another way to recycle content. Rather than republishing content on their own platforms, publishers who go the syndication route are giving other publishers permission to post their content on third-party websites. Syndicated posts link back to the original publisher, making this a popular way to generate traffic and gain exposure to new audiences.

The Best Types of Recycled Content

Hyperlocal news websites can publish anywhere from three to 20 fresh articles a day, but just a small fraction of those articles generate more than 50% of traffic. If a local publisher is lucky, 5% to 15% of its articles will go viral, leading to social shares and driving an influx of first-time readers.

Evergreen content is content that’s always relevant. Evergreen content doesn’t become dated. It’s always considered up-to-date, and it’s always seen as “fresh” in the eyes of readers. Evergreen content is search-optimized, helping local publishers take full advantage of traffic from search engines like Google and Bing.

The best type of content to recycle is content that’s both popular and evergreen. Feature stories and local business reviews tend to fit this mold most frequently.

A few examples of the types of stories that could be recycled:

  • Feature stories about prominent community members
  • An investigative article about the origins of a local landmark
  • Reviews of local restaurants
  • Lists of the best businesses or date night spots in town
  • How-to articles

Not every feature article or restaurant review is worth republishing. Monitoring site traffic is one way that publishers can determine which articles are worth recycling. In addition to comparing page views for stories that could be considered evergreen content, publishers should also take a close look at how much new traffic those stories have driven and how many new subscriber sign-ups those stories generate.

How Much Content Should Be Recycled

No two publishers are exactly alike, however a good rule of thumb is that 80% of the content on a website can be new and 20% can be republished without loyal readers batting an eye.

Publishers with new websites have less leeway in posting recycled content, whereas established publications can get away with more. However, even established sites should expect to do some basic maintenance or upkeep on the articles they republish to keep them up-to-date. Adding new imagery or updating the introduction to these stories is one way to give old content new life.

Recycling too little content is throwing money down the drain. Creating quality content takes money and time, and savvy publishers can get more juice out of the content they post with a well-planned content recycling strategy.

Questions to Ask Before Publishing Recycled Content
• Is this article worth re-publishing?
• Where are the best places to republish this article?
• Are the facts in this article still true today?
• Do we need to write a different introduction to keep this article relevant?

Comments Section on local news site

How to Improve the Comments Section on a Local News Site

Should a local news publication take on an authoritative voice or serve as a conduit for community conversations? An argument could be made either way, but evidence suggests that encouraging reader discussion—either in a moderated comments section or on social media platforms—leads to greater page views and a more loyal audience.

As with so many other trends in local publishing, comments sections have gone through an evolution. They all but disappeared from public view around 2014, when publishers like Recode, The Week, Reuters, and Mic announced they were shuttering their comments sections within weeks of each other. Around that same time, publishers began steering readers toward their social media pages and encouraging conversations to take place on Facebook and Twitter.

Now, fears over the effect that changes to Facebook’s news feed algorithm could have on publishers are leading many local news sites to bring their comments sections back.

At the same time, publishers are finding that adding a comments section can boost page views, which in turn leads to greater advertising revenue. For example, at The Financial Times, readers who leave comments are 7x more engaged than readers who do not. Readers who comment regularly are also more likely to renew annual subscriptions.

The four goals that publishers should strive to achieve with their comments section are:

  1. To encourage the highest quality comments from readers
  2. To cultivate a loyal readership
  3. To strengthen trust between community members and the publication
  4. To generate new story ideas and potential sources

Of course, setting goals is easy. It’s meeting those goals that often proves challenging.

To raise the level of discourse in any comments section, a publisher needs to be present. Researchers at The Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin found that when journalists engage with commenters, uncivil comments drop by 15%. Commenters simply behave better when they know that someone is listening.

Reporters, editors, publishers, and even volunteer moderators should all be responding to valid questions, encouraging productive comments, thanking people for useful comments, and in some cases even asking questions of commenters when conversations in the comments section become particularly lively.

When comments that are libelous, inappropriate, or abusive do pop up—and they almost always will—they should be removed immediately. Publishers should be careful not to let abusive or challenging people dominate the comments section. Almost eight-in-ten Americans believe online services have a responsibility to step in when harassment occurs on their platforms, and 64% say online platforms should play a “major role” in addressing online harassment, according to a survey by Pew Research.

Stepping in to delete inappropriate comments not only raises the level of discourse and discourages copycat commenters, but it also establishes a greater level of trust between readers and publishers. Readers are more willing to engage and interact in a comments section when they feel protected from abuse.

Another way to improve the quality of comments on a local news website is by sponsoring commenter meet-ups. Happy hours, book clubs, speaker events, and even newsroom tours can all be used to bring online commenters together in the real world. Fostering a sense of community and moving the online world offline keeps commenters on their toes.

One of the more controversial ways to improve the quality of comments on a news website is to charge readers for the privilege of participating. Some publishers are charging readers for prominent placement of comments on their sites. Others are doling out “points” in exchange for positive actions, like visiting the site regularly or sharing links on social media. Those points can then be exchanged for access to the comments section. While this strategy is certainly innovative, it’s unlikely to work well for a smaller publication that’s still looking to grow the size of its audience.

To sum up the key points, there are three primary steps publishers should take immediately to improve the comments sections on their websites. These include:

  • Encouraging reporters to respond to questions about their stories in the comments below their articles
  • Deleting inappropriate or abusive comments as quickly as possible
  • Sponsoring meet-ups and happy hours for top commenters
Audience development

Audience Development: 6 Do’s & Don’ts for Local Publishers

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.

If you’re interested in discussing how we can help with audience engagement and development, please reach out to David Walsh, Web Publisher PRO’s founder.

Hyperlocal publishers

What Readers Want from Hyperlocal Publishers

Readers don’t click onto hyperlocal news websites for commentary on international issues. Most don’t visit for the coverage of professional sports teams, either. According to a series of studies by the Media Insight Project, an initiative of the American Press Institute and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, readers are motivated to subscribe because they want access to “local news” and “useful articles.” (The survey also found that 31% of subscribers are motivated by a genuine interest in supporting local journalism.)

It should come as no surprise that people put local news above all else when they list what they want from hyperlocal publishers.

In a recent survey by the National Newspaper Association, 84% of people said they want to see local news, information, and obituaries. Sixty-one percent of respondents in the NNA survey like to read about school issues, and 46% enjoy the local sports coverage. Editorials, letters to the editor, and public notices were also valuable in the eyes of local readers.

Public notices can easily be collected from local government websites, giving publishers an easy source of free content.

Turning readers into reporters is another way to satisfy readers and generate low-cost content. Publishers can repurpose the top comments on articles each week into a Community Voices section, and they can ask readers to submit local problems—like potholes and broken stoplights—to publish in a regular Fix-It Report.

Just 2% of readers said they want to see state and federal news in local publications, which should be a clear indication to hyperlocal publishers that they can axe any non-localized content without fearing the repercussions.

Readers who fall into the millennial demographic—between the ages of 18 and 37—are primed to want their news from digital sources. According to a survey by Elite Daily and the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications, 34.5% of millennials say they use and prefer “online-only news sites.”

When they click onto their favorite online-only news sites, millennials want to read about the environment, equal rights and pay, poverty, and access to health care.

Hyperlocal publishers can put a local spin on any of these topics by covering the groups working to make change in their own locales. For example, instead of regurgitating what was said in a city council meeting focused on land use issues, a reporter could ask for a comment from a community environmental group. Many of these groups already have their own data or reports about various topics, which can easily be copy/pasted into articles. Rather than headlining the piece, “City Council Votes on Land Use Changes,” the publisher could put together a package with the headline, “How Proposed Land Use Changes Will Impact Local Bicyclists.” These types of expanded articles lend themselves to insights from local thought leaders, who are then likely to share the articles with their followers on social media.

One of the most common times for readers to subscribe to local publications is immediately after moving into town, according to the Media Insight Project’s study.

Hyperlocal publishers can meet the needs of these recent transplants by offering more content related to moving into their communities. New subscriber packages might include coupons for items that people often need when they move into new homes, like mattresses or appliances. Dedicated City Guide sections are also useful for new residents, particularly when they include articles on the best school districts and real estate listings.

To recap, here are a few takeaways about what readers want to see in hyperlocal publications:

  1. Local news, information, and obituaries
  2. Public notices
  3. Reader generated content
  4. Coverage of local groups and organizations
  5. Moving sections or “city guides” with information for new residents

If you’ve got questions about developing the type of hyperlocal publication that generates strong reader engagement, feel free to reach out to the Web Publisher PRO team for information on how we can help.