For over a decade, Ken Doctor has been asking media executives “what percentage of your visitors drive 50% of your site’s traffic?” A surprisingly small amount of executives actually know the answer to this question, but across the industry the average is only 7% of monthly unique visitors drive 50% of traffic. These are the same users Robbie Kellman Baxter refers to as ‘super users’ in “The Membership Economy“.
These ‘7 percenters’ are your most loyal, engaged readers. How you’re able to monetise their engagement is key to your financial success. Take for example The New York Times: in 2015, 12% of their digital visitors drove 88% of their digital revenue. Since then, as we’ve seen The New York Times almost double its visitors in its push to 10 million digital subscribers, the importance of these deeply loyal readers has only grown.
The rapid increase in subscriber numbers means that, if anything, an even smaller percentage of the audience is driving the bulk of the revenue.
Mark Thompson, CEO of The New York Times
Advertisers are beginning to value the deeply engaged readers more as well, as president of Atlantic Media Michael Finnegan explains:
Our advertisers really aren’t as interested in those one-off, passerby users. When you’re doing a sponsored content play, the advertiser knows that it’s not going to get access to all 30 million people. And they don’t want access to all 30 million people — they want access to the million viewers who are particularly engaged and influential.
Michael Finnegan, president of Atlantic Media
So how can you get to know your most loyal readers? And how can you best monetise their engagement? We have three things to keep in mind.
Know who your readers are
Too many publishers don’t know who their best customers are. One such publisher in Doctor’s report found that 20% of readers drive more than 70% of their page views, but only 1.3% of those readers have provided their e-mail address or name. Without this information, publishers aren’t able to personalise their digital subscription offers to trigger more conversions.
Often we see publishers viewing visitors through the dichotomy of free and paid subscribers. Yet this neglects the value of free registered users. Getting readers to leave their email address as a first step is key in converting them into subscribers, as there is no greater indicator of a reader’s interest to pay than volunteering their e-mail address.
The power of the e-mail address, the power of the known user, is 10 times compared to an anonymous user.Peter Doucette, Chief consumer revenue officer at Boston Globe Media
We’ve developed EngageReaders to help detect your most loyal subscribers, showing your reader breakdown into three categories: scanners, core readers, and one-time readers. Furthermore, this tool can also help you better engage your readers. By using predictive modelling, EngageReaders is able to identify over-performing and underperforming articles and highlight hidden gems. Hidden gems are the articles which are read by a limited number of readers, but are loved by those who did read it. Knowing the hidden gems can help improve placement of similar articles in the future. EngageReaders measures reader satisfaction for each edition, laying the foundation for a more engaging product offering.
Upgrade your conversion strategies
According to Ken Doctor, regional publications often have a smaller percentage of digital subscribers than national publishers. To fix this, Arvid Tchivzhel from Mather Economics offers a tactic: act on ‘acceleration of interest’. By this he means to target readers when local breaking news creates a burst of attention. To succeed, publishers can capitalize on these spikes in demand, when readers’ emotions are high and are more willing to pay for information.
Doctor also points to the Star Tribune (from Minneapolis, USA) which has been able to convert 1% of its 5 million monthly unique visitors. In fact, while Minneapolis is only the 16th largest metro market in the country, the Star Tribune is ranked 5th in circulation. This strong growth is in part thanks to a stream of well-executed innovation projects.
The Boston Globe has also seen strong growth, thanks to its ability to convert low-paying subscribers into high-paying subscribers. Readers are introduced to The Boston Globe with a 99-cent deal for four weeks, which is then raised to 60-cents a day, and then to $1 a day in the 13th month. This strategy is great because it helps to create a daily habit for readers, making reading The Globe part of their routine every day.
Activate your loyal base
To better activate your most loyal readers, it’s important to know what has triggered their loyalty in the first place. For some publishers, newsletter subscribers have become a very valuable audience, as they are more likely to become paid subscribers–something internal research has shown to be true at many publishers. The New Yorker found that the top sign a reader will become a paid subscriber is if they are a newsletter subscriber, while The New York Times found that newsletter subscribers are twice as likely to become paid subscribers. This holds true outside of the American market as well; French financial newspaper Les Echos found that readers reached via email are more loyal than those who come via social media or search.
Naively, we thought that the newsletter was dead and that the future was more in the social network, homepage, and applications. But the more we worked around media with publishers, we learned that newsletters are one of the best ways to have a relationship with the readers.
Stéphane Cambon, Ownpage CEO
Edward Roussel, chief innovation officer for Dow Jones, credits their newsletter program for much of their 30% year-over-year digital subscription growth in 2017, while The Washington Post’s 70 newsletters have doubled conversion rates and boosted engagement by 40%, according to chief product and technology officer Shailesh Prakash.
Make sure to check out the full article from Ken Doctor as well, available here.
This article was written by Mary-Katharine Phillips, Media Innovation Analyst at Twipe from 2017 – 2021.