Managing a digital audience is truly a mixed bag: on one hand, it is now possible to understand more about who is consuming what content, where and how-maybe even why; on the other hand, it can be incredibly complicated, despite all the advantages, to do so.
"You can measure down to the revenue contribution of each page view," says Matt Shanahan, SVP of marketing and strategy at Scout Analytics. "It’s more complex to make that happen, but for the first time it’s more doable." According to him, not enough publishers are working on behavioral targeting.
For former Newsweek president Mark Edmiston, CEO and founder of weekly digital magazine publisher Nomad Editions, this targeting is crucial: "You have all this raw data now that you can feed back into your editorial system," he says. "You can segment the market. It’s a way of giving the audience what they want."
Kathy Kraysler, director of audience analytics at MIT Technology Review, says testing is key to making this work. Kraysler spends much of her time analyzing ways to segment and target in order to move her audience toward conversion. In a recent audience study, for example, she found that a person who views two to three pages within a session is three times as likely to convert. "Leading them to other stories is important," she says. Her site uses an algorithm that helps direct readers deeper into the site through targeted suggested links.
Kraysler also found that SEO is not as effective at drawing value as social media, which brings in half of her site’s audience. "Before you put more resources into SEO, you have to consider, how are you going to get them to convert?" Visitors who come directly to the homepage, she says, are 11 times more valuable than those who come through a search engine.
One way to boost such engagement may come through customizing home pages based on individual users’ previous reading habits; Shanahan says this is a major opportunity that many publishers aren’t taking advantage of: "You have to build up brand loyalty with the reader. You do that by delivering very relevant, engaging content. That’s what will drive renewals more than anything else."
To measure loyalty, Shanahan suggests looking at frequency of visits. "A paid subscriber with low loyalty is a renewal risk," he points out. Another key metric is how much content is consumed-"You have to look at someone who reads one article per day versus someone who reads ten and ask, ‘What creates that?’" The third vital metric, he says, is of course the revenue value-how much subscription revenue does each user bring in, how much ad revenue do they represent and how much do they draw in other areas such as events or daily deals.
This revenue value is, naturally, balanced with the cost of acquisition and maintenance. According to Kraysler, digital readers are markedly more valuable in terms of cost versus return. For renewal and upsell, the system is more streamlined, she says. Marketing for digital is done entirely online, through email blasts, social media, banner ads and pop-ups informing readers that their subscriptions are about to expire, while a campaign for print consists of a more costly mix of direct mail and web marketing. While Kraysler says her digital audience, at 8 percent, is still a small portion of the total, she is encouraged by the fact that it is growing, up from 6 percent last year. Also encouraging is the promise of digital editions, for which she has seen page views per session five times higher than on the web.
On the flip side, she says, "Putting together a product to satisfy a digital subscriber requires more thought because the medium offers so many more options," in terms of rich media, videos, links and so on. Digital subscribers also expect instantaneous results, she adds.
Edmiston points out the need, too, for more frequent communication-"In a digital world, you have to be reminded that you have a particular publication on your device," he says. "With the iPad, you’re competing with so many things. You have to stand out and remind people that you are there and providing some real value."