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‘Insights Were Phenomenal’; Audience Conversations Fuel Agenda’s Growth

Let’s say you run an enterprise subscription-based publication for corporate board directors and have seen two years of declining traffic (2016-2017). You’re an accomplished journalist—like Melissa Anderson, managing editor of Money-Media’s Agenda—so you think sensibly. “Maybe if we position ourselves as covering the news of the day, as it pertains to corporate boards or a corporate governance angle. Yes, that’s what we need to do.” She paused. “But it really wasn’t working.”

Anderson recounted this in her excellent, there’s-a-moral-to-this-story section of a recent webinar hosted by our AM&P Network—titled The New Content Metrics: How Publishers Are Measuring Engagement and Using That to Grow.

In September 2018, Money-Media managing director Dan Fink launched a growth plan with several prongs for all divisions, including marketing, sales, operations and tech. “But I can only speak to the editorial ones that I was involved with,” Anderson said, “which were to perform a traffic and audience engagement analysis. And what we found doing these things was that we were on the wrong path—which is why I titled this presentation, Talk to Your Audience.”

Because Agenda, which also prints and mails twice weekly, only sells enterprise subscriptions, you’re not going to read it through search engines or on social media. It has to come to your inbox or mailbox. “That drives the need for us to tend to our audience really carefully, as a community almost,” Anderson said. “Because the same 12-15 people on each license who are reading Agenda are the ones who are going to vote up and down each year if they want to renew the subscription.”

The first problem she found was a biggie. “If we had a company’s name in the headline for a story, people didn’t read it. They weren’t as interested if they knew who the story was about which suggested that we were we were on the wrong path [with] that kind of this news-of-the-day sort of approach.”

(Interestingly, the next speaker, Davide Savenije, editor in chief at Industry Dive, said that seeing company names brings a completely opposite response for their audience. But that only underlined the moral here, that talking to your audience—not reading what specifically worked for Money-Media—is the elixir of choice. I’ll be reporting soon on Savenije’s also-superb presentation.)

“But that didn’t tell us the whole story,” Anderson continued. “So beginning in January 2019, we launched this audience engagement analysis. We basically emailed a bunch of prospective readers as well as a large chunk of our readership. I ended up doing extensive one-on-one conversations with more than 40 corporate board directors and about a dozen other executives who were in our audience, like corporate secretaries, chief legal officers, people like that who could be reading Agenda, even if they weren’t a director. These conversations took about an hour each. They were very lengthy and detailed, and people were really excited to share what they liked about publication, what they thought we could do better and how they use it. It was a really great exercise, and the insights were just phenomenal. We built them into how we cover corporate boards, our news for our readers and build out our audience. And it’s really been successful.”

That assessment speaks highly of Fink for giving the time for that process to play out, and, of course, to Anderson, for engaging and listening—such a time-honored but often under-appreciated skill—and not rushing through that.

“What we found was that our audience reads Agenda for the analysis,” Anderson said. “They print out—I heard over and over again—‘I love to print out your issue and take it into the boardroom.’ They mark it up, they talk about what they want to do and don’t want to do—things they think are good ideas or bad ideas about how they want to run their own companies. So that’s what we found.”

And the results?

“In 2018 we began implementing what we found from the traffic analysis, and we saw a 15% lift in traffic in that first year and then we continued to see traffic increase over the next three years by positioning ourselves as a resource for our audience,” Anderson said.

That included a pandemic-related, pop-up newsletter that ran for about nine weeks around the beginning of the crisis last year. “We had extremely high engagement from that,” Anderson said, “contributing to the new sales, and it also led to something really interesting and I was excited to see: a double, year-over-year rate for forwards and sales for a newsletter.

“Our readers really aren’t on social media; they’re not sharing these things with their network that way. But they largely are forwarding them and that rate had been pretty stable for the past few years, and this year it skyrocketed… which shows us that people are really finding a lot of value in the content that we’re producing about how to solve problems and how they can take these into their communities. That was really exciting for us.”

What’s next on the agenda for Agenda? “We’ve been piloting an influencer program where we’ve heard again and again from people in the consulting space that they wish they could get our publication, but since they’re not a corporate board they can’t,” Anderson said. “We’ve experimented with providing a few comp accounts to those people [who] we want to be sharing our stories with their clients, and that’s been really successful. We have seen those come up through influential people who want to be sharing our pub.

The most exciting thing, she added, was that the tech team at Money-Media has been hard at work on building an entire new “stats platform that’s going to include metrics like scroll depth and time on page to produce this view into how in-depth our readers are looking at our stories, which again is another view on that value beyond just click-throughs.”

We’ll definitely stay tuned for that.

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A Combo Platter of Metrics and Knowing Your Goals May Be Best, Two Leaders Say

Audience metrics and which ones publishers should focus on continue to matter greatly—and only get more varied as our platforms advance. It used to be having a high open rate and few unsubscribes would allow you a good night’s sleep. Now time-on-page, page views, scroll depth, article scores, shares, printouts and even absence can all keep you up at night. We asked two leading publishers to weigh in

“We still look at open rates for our newsletters and several other metrics—but it is important to understand what these metrics actually tell you, and what they don’t,” Davide Savenije, editor in chief for Industry Dive and its stable of 23 newsletters, told me in an email recently. “If you understand your goals, you can figure out which metrics you need to pay attention and in what ways they are relevant—it’s never a single golden metric; for us, it’s a composite picture of multiple metrics that fill in different parts of the picture and that are tailored to your goals. These metrics provide you with a feedback loop from your readers that helps you guide strategy and adapt where necessary as you see the results. Benchmarking is also important so that you have context on what the numbers mean.”

As Savenije and the other leading publisher I turned to for this article, Dan Fink, managing director of Money-Media, both indicate, it is not just one metric that can tell the whole story. It’s more of a combo platter, depending on your needs and goals—be it building subscriber loyalty, adding new members/subscribers, increasing engagement, moving people to and within your site, or all of the above.

“We’re looking at time-on-page in addition to page views to assess which articles are resonating with readers,” Fink wrote to me. “It’s useful to look at average time and total time for each article. This reveals that the article with the most clicks doesn’t always get the most time. That’s important because users put a greater value on the amount of time they spend with your content, than the number of times they click on it.

“We are also looking at scroll depth (i.e. how far down the page readers scroll). This gives a similar insight to time-on-page. We are working to develop a formula that combines page views, time-on-page and other user actions (print, save, share, etc.) into a single metric. My plan is to shift our internal focus on this new engagement metric, since it is more valid than one-dimensional page views.”

recent article on INMA titled, Should Time Replace Pageviews as the North Star Audience Metric?, showed that time spent has gained traction throughout the industry. At Facebook, time spent helps rank the News Feed. At Google, it informs search results. “At Netflix and Spotify, play time guides content, product and marketing decisions.” A Netflix study found that “the total hours spent watching was the most predictive for member retention, well ahead of movie or show ratings.”

Finding the metric that most ties into reader/subscriber loyalty would seem to be the gold standard. Mediahuis, a huge international media company in Antwerp, Belgium, also found that “aggregated time spent on the site by individual readers correlated with the likelihood they converted to paid subscribers and renewed.” Other research confirms this, though visit frequency often tops even time.

Of course, metrics do not tell all. Industry Dive goes the extra mile, setting up “measurement and feedback loops” to try to answer further questions about value and loyalty, quality of their coverage and even which readers you should covet most.

“At the same time that we use website and other metrics to tell us important specific things about readers, I think there is a big analytics gap in the journalism world in terms of measuring the qualitative value of your relationship with readers outside of these specific contexts,” Savenije wrote. “There are many important questions that the above metrics do not provide clear answers to. What value do readers believe you provide? How loyal are your readers? Where do readers see you vs. your competition? Are some readers more important to your editorial model than others, and how do you measure your relationship with them? What do readers think about the quality of your coverage? Are they satisfied with your product?

“At Industry Dive, we have worked to build up measurement and feedback loops to help us answer these important questions. We have a data analytics team within our audience department that helps us build measurement tools around these questions, and develop custom dashboards to make them easy for our editorial teams to interpret and glean actionable takeaways from them.”

That last part is music to an editorial person’s ears. In 2019, the Financial Times, Money-Media’s parent company, developed a Quality Reads metric that “measured page views qualified by the threshold of time and scroll depth,” writes INMA. “For a page view to be counted as a Quality Read, the reader needs to spend at least 50% time required to read the whole article estimated by the number of words and scroll to at least 50% of the page’s length.”

We will continue to cover this important topic. What are your go-to metrics? Let me know at rlevine@siia.net. Thanks!

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‘Analytics as a Decision-Making Tool’; Metrics Work Best as a Means to a Well Thought Out End

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“How do you change your habits after you’ve learned about analytics?” asked Vidisha Priyanka (pictured), visiting instructor at the University of South Florida and a former interactive learning manager for the famed Poynter Institute, in a discussion we had on content metrics here a couple years ago. “How will it change your daily habit of writing and reporting and engaging your audience? How do you understand when your audience is trying to engage with you? And who is your audience?”

Most editorial people are not data and analytics experts, myself included. Yet as our world becomes more and more digital, so many more metrics have become available to us. It used to be having a high open rate and few unsubscribes would allow you a good night’s sleep. Now page views, time on page—the trendiest metric—scroll depth, shares, printouts and even absence between visits can each keep us up at night. (Absence may make the heart grow fonder but perhaps not the reader.)

“And what about drop-off rates?” Priyanka continued. “I’m reading an article that you’ve written and you poured your heart and soul in it, but people are dropping off after four paragraphs. So how do we improve your writing or presenting skills? What do you do with multimedia content? How do you add a visual or a graphic? So we talk about analytics not just as numbers, but analytics as a decision-making tool.”

What triggered my recollection of Priyanka was an email exchange this week with Davide Savenije, editor in chief for one of the fastest growing publishers, AM&P Network member Industry Dive and its 23 newsletters. Like Priyanka, they view analytics and metrics as a way to get better.

“We have a data analytics team within our audience department that helps us build measurement tools around [our major reader] questions, and develop custom dashboards to make [the data] easy for our editorial teams to interpret and glean actionable takeaways from them,” Savenije wrote.

That should be music to an editorial person’s ears. Both Savenije and the other leading publisher I turned to for this article, Dan Fink, managing director of Money-Media, a Financial Times company, both indicate that it is not just one metric that tells the whole story. And how you measure your metrics must also be tied to your goals—be it building member loyalty, increasing engagement, getting members to events, or all of the above.

“We still look at open rates for our newsletters and several other metrics—but it is important to understand what these metrics actually tell you, and what they don’t,” Savenije wrote. “If you understand your goals, you can figure out which metrics you need to pay attention and in what ways they are relevant—it’s never a single golden metric; for us, it’s a composite picture of multiple metrics that fill in different parts of the picture and that are tailored to your goals. These metrics provide you with a feedback loop from your readers that helps you guide strategy and adapt where necessary as you see the results.  Benchmarking is also important so that you have context on what the numbers mean.”

The Growth of Time-on-Page

Money-Media has several verticals and has always focused intently on metrics, infographics and visual storytelling. Yet the top of their website still reflects their guiding principle: “Content Is King.”

“We’re looking at time-on-page in addition to page views to assess which articles are resonating with readers,” Fink wrote to me. “It’s useful to look at average time and total time for each article. This reveals that the article with the most clicks doesn’t always get the most time. That’s important because users put a greater value on the amount of time they spend with your content, than the number of times they click on it.

“We are also looking at scroll depth (i.e. how far down the page readers scroll). This gives a similar insight to time-on-page. We are working to develop a formula that combines page views, time-on-page and other user actions (print, save, share, etc.) into a single metric. My plan is to shift our internal focus on this new engagement metric, since it is more valid than one-dimensional page views.”

A recent article on INMA titled, Should Time Replace Pageviews as the North Star Audience Metric?, showed that time-on-page has gained traction all over. At Facebook, time spent helps rank the News Feed. At Google, it informs search results. “At Netflix and Spotify, play time guides content, product and marketing decisions.” A Netflix study found that “the total hours spent watching was the most predictive for member retention, well ahead of movie or show ratings.”

For Savenije, there’s so much more than just metrics to determine if their content is accomplishing what it needs to.

“There are many important questions that the above metrics do not provide clear answers to. What value do readers believe you provide? How loyal are your readers? Where do readers see you vs. your competition? Are some readers more important to your editorial model than others, and how do you measure your relationship with them? What do readers think about the quality of your coverage? Are they satisfied with your product?

“At Industry Dive, we have worked to build up measurement and feedback loops to help us answer these important questions.”

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‘Helping Readers Do Their Job Better’; for Money-Media, Subscriptions and a High Renewal Rate Stem From That

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“It’s a simple formula,” Dan Fink, managing director of Money-Media, a Financial Times division, said. “We create great content, then we drive engagement with that content and then we monetize the engagement. We work very hard not to overcomplicate it. Everything feeds into that formula.”

 

After listening to Fink deliver a SIPA webinar on Cornerstones of a Successful Subscription Business Thursday, I can most assuredly say that at Money-Media there is no resting on your laurels. Or anything else. Renewals are close to 100%, yet they’re still working it.

 

“Renewals are critical,” Fink said. “You have to remind people why they bought [the subscription] to begin with. Restate your value proposition—99% of the renewal decision is based on engagement of that user… It’s critical to onboard new subscribers successfully. Make sure they can easily log in. And if they haven’t accessed anything or they’re not receiving your news alerts, you’ve got a problem.

 

“We use different levels of analysis to look at every subscription we have. Are there any at-risk subscriptions? [If so,] we need to increase engagement to reduce that risk. You have to communicate regularly [with your subscribers]. For each company that subscribes, they have an administrator who we send a report that we generate. ‘Here’s how many users you have—we want that number to keep going up. Here are your top 10 users. Here are the top 10 headlines people are reading across your company.’ We do this every quarter.”

 

Here are other highlights from Fink’s webinar, which will soon be available on-demand to SIPA and media division members shortly.

 

This is a good time. “Subscriptions have reverse correlation to economic downturns,” Fink said. “When the going gets tough,” people still cling to their subscriptions. “Society has acknowledged that good journalism is expensive to produce; people are recognizing the need to support high-quality journalism. It’s a simple and straightforward business model. There are very few third parties in the value chain along the way.”

 

Define your audience. “Make sure you can clearly define your audience in a way that they are identifiable and reachable. For Money-Media, one of our core [audiences] is the asset management industry—retail investment managers, institutional investors, intermediaries in this industry. We’re going to serve people in those specific sectors.”

 

Know your value proposition. It has to resonate with the audience, and being unique or proprietary works best.

 

Make your content “simply better.” “Maybe it’s more accurate or more timely. For our Health Payer Specialist, we announced its launch one week before the pandemic became a real thing in the U.S. We converted a beta test into a full-fledged product with a paywall and subscription fee. It proved surprisingly successful… Our news is very specifically dedicated to that audience. The way we write, our coverage, and what we’re not covering makes our product better [in this case] for health insurance providers.

 

Your paywall has to be aligned with your value proposition and audience. “We use a walled garden where no content is accessible outside the garden,” Fink said. “They can get a tour of the garden but that’s it.” He admitted that it’s pretty severe in this age, but it reflects the confidence they have in their content. Fink called the paywall where access must be paid for special content a “VIP lounge.” And the third and perhaps most popular paywall is the volume meter, where you get access to a certain number of articles a month.

 

Is your content helping your readers do their job better? “Producing great content is not cheap,” Fink said. “It has to keep people reading and really engaged. It’s helpful to have a clear mission. How does your product affect your audience? At Money-Media our mission is helping our readers do their job better. We’re all pretty much B2B, targeting very specific sectors. That [mission] gets used by us on a daily basis. Maybe they’re interested, but does it affect their success level in their business?”

 

How do you know if the content you’re producing is great? Audience engagement. “The ultimate measure of quality content is about engagement. ‘Is it great in the eyes of the audience I’ve identified?’ We track everything. It’s very easy to look at clicks, but you have to go deeper than that. We’re looking at page time spent. Most clicks don’t equal aggregate page time. Did they scroll down? Did they share it with colleagues? Did they post it in social media? Did they come back? Even page time is not a perfect measure. They could walk away with it open and make a sandwich.”

 

Ask for renewals early. “Even 30 days in advance is cutting it close,” Fink said. “We start at 90 days. [If they expire,] we might extend service beyond that date. But there has to be a risk of an interruption in service. Renewal time is also a great time to upsell or raise prices. If you have a great product and people are engaging with it, you really need to raise the price. If you can’t do that, you have a content or product problem.”

 

Again, the webinar will be loaded shortly on the SIPA website.

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Crisis Initiatives That May Have Longer Shelf Lives

“Like most B2B publishers over the last three years, we’ve been trying to take our reach much higher up the value chain within the audience. We have VVIP segments within our audience, so a lot of the editors and editorial directors are running hang-outs for those groups.”
That’s from Jonathon Whiteley, CEO of Incisive Media, a large B2B publisher in the UK. It comes from an InPublishing article about Incisive’s strategy during the pandemic.
We’ve all been disrupted to different degrees during COVID-19. But when we do return to some sort of normalcy—hopefully soon—various types of virtual hang-outs may be one element we continue to see more of, especially if travel still lags.
Here are other elements that might remain prevalent post-pandemic:
Remote working. In comments from a video call last week published by Associations NowSunil Prashara, president and CEO of the Project Management Institute, said that workers’ increasing comfort with remote work and videoconferencing will outlast COVID-19. He also believes it can increase productivity. In a survey of some members we did here last week, 38% of respondents checked, “I actually like remote working and will do it more when offices reopen.”
News hubs. Incisive is yet another organization that was quick to create a Coronavirus news hub, a collection of content and resources focused on implications for the industries it covers. Almost every publisher I’ve interviewed has said their Coronavirus hub has brought excellent engagement—and goodwill because most are paywall-free. Of course, we all hope that nothing takes over our lives like COVID-19 has. But the success of these news hubs could provide a blueprint for future hubs around big-ticket or charitable topics.
More collaborative meetings. People are getting more comfortable with their cameras being on for meetings and making comments. In a webinar last October on managing remote employees, Dan Fink, managing director of Money-Media, said that “frequency of cameras being disabled has become an issue that we’ve tried to address. We are encouraging people to use the video component.” Added Prashara: “It’s very difficult for people to talk on top of each other because the system can’t handle it. People will give people the opportunity to finish a sentence before they talk and etiquette starts to get creative. You don’t even have to define it—it starts to happen.”
Better retention. “There are people here that we would’ve hated to lose if we didn’t allow them to work remotely,” Fink said. But I’ve also seen companies where working remotely has not been greeted as warmly. That may change. “It can reduce turnover,” said Heather Farley, COO of Access Intelligence, during that same webinar.
Thought leadership. “What we’re doing editorially… is making sure we’re putting out as much thought leadership as we can,” Whiteley said. “In our financial portfolio, we’re doing a lot more senior opinion format style interviews. Our financial portfolio is quite technical because we are often dealing so much with regulatory issues, so we’re doing a lot more longer form explainer pieces around the implications.”
Better listening. With more people working remotely, the sense of being “left out” of meetings may dissipate. Said Prashara: “There could be 30 people watching, but I’m just seeing your face and you’re just seeing my face—therefore, it’s a bit more intense. There’s more of a likelihood that you’re going to be listening a little bit more attentively.”
Better platforms and tools. Zoom, of course, has become hugely popular, and other similar platforms will follow. Copyrightlaws.com, was having great success with their Zoom On Ins prior to the pandemic. Making these platforms part of our everyday—even in the best of times—will only improve what we offer. Money-Media was quick to order “kits for a number of staff who were having difficulty being efficient in their home work space; things like a mouse, keyboard, monitor, office chair, etc.,” Fink said. “Most of these items are pretty inexpensive on amazon.com but go a long way to helping staff be productive and letting people know how much we appreciate their hard work during this crisis.”