As publishers continue to adjust to an industry that is rapidly moving towards a strictly digital interaction, the metrics that truly matter are morphing as well. Metrics that were once used to measure success, like clicks and pageviews, lack a true connection to reader loyalty. User-focused metrics are now more measurable and actionable than ever, so it’s time to change the standards of success.
The question is: what are the metrics that accurately measure reader loyalty?
In news media it was once measured by a reader subscription to a print copy of the paper. That is all that mattered. With the rise of digital, a reader can browse on a variety of different news sources every day without paying a cent to any of them. News publishers are figuring out ways to monetize each reader’s digital experience through subscription models since ads are not providing enough money per user. Still, they are missing out on the millions of readers that are using their products every day but have little interest in paying for it.
In order to capitalize on these users, news outlets must create an experience that the reader wants to pay for. Companies must focus on the metrics that matter. The metrics that connect to reader loyalty. User focused metrics. Not the ones prioritized by sites such as Facebook like clicks and pageviews, but rather moving towards daily active users, session length, and retention rate.
The Old Metrics
Since moving to digital, many news companies have focused on page views and monthly active users as their key metrics. In the industry’s scramble to digitize within the last two decades, monetization was done primarily through ads. Therefore, all traffic was good traffic. Things like reader loyalty, which are key for long-term revenue, appeared less important than total clicks
The most obvious problem with using clicks or page views as a determinant of success is the rise of clickbait. Clickbait can take on its traditional form under headlines like Barbara Streisand eats applesauce! The reason why will shock you! Or in a more hidden, emotionally charged form. Since clicks are prioritized on sources like Facebook and Apple News, it motivates news curators to use emotionally charged headlines in order to get more views. Oftentimes, this places quality second because the only measurement of success is getting you to open the article, so inflammatory headlines will always win.
But just clicking on these articles provides nothing to the creators. They have no idea if you read the entire article or closed the article immediately after opening it. They have no idea if you stayed just long enough to see who created the article and dismissed the source for feeding you bullshit, or if you enjoyed the article and stayed on the site to learn more.
They have no idea what your experience was.
And that’s the key.
The Experience Metrics
Measuring a consumer’s experience with metrics is difficult. Most times, metrics don’t do enough to describe the interaction. But combining multiple user-focused metrics to evaluate each experience will bring news sources much closer to understanding each user.
As a news source, your goal involves maximizing the time readers spend on your site. Increased session lengths do not only mean more ad interactions but it also means your reader is familiarizing themselves with your product. The more aware a reader becomes of your products benefits, the more likely they will be to commit to your source. Primitive metrics don’t capture that reading one 30 minute article is often more powerful than spending 5 seconds on 30 different articles.
Focusing on increasing retention rate ensures that you are pushing content that cause users to come back to your site. In a world where a user has the liberty to browse dozens of media sources at no financial cost, they need to see the reason to come back to your site specifically. You must show them that you are their destination for a certain type of news.
Your users must want to get their daily dose of news from you. For companies that release immense daily content, once-a-month users mean so much less than daily active users (DAU). While some publishers may prefer weekly active users (WAU), the point remains the same: a routine user is a happy user.
Increasing the Experience Metrics
Increasing session length, retention rate, and active users involves better understanding your users. Your world-class journalists are already creating the content they love, but how can you ensure that its reaching the readers it should? Catering to readers tastes and preferences is essential.
Advanced ML technologies have made it more feasible than ever to integrate effective personalization into media experiences. When a user comes to your site from social media, they should see similar articles that intrigue them. Among the hundreds of articles published each day, loyal readers should receive an email digest including articles they can’t miss. Each site visit should point them to content they’d love based on past site activity.
All together, a more intimate interaction with your product will mean more loyal, long-term readers.