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‘We Found That This Coverage Was Helping to Convert’; How ACS Uses Metrics to Grow Their Audience

For months, we have heard of excellent COVID coverage from association publishers across the topical spectrum—medical, financial, psychological, etc. But we all knew that at some point, the readership bump that was gained by this coverage would have to be converted into a longer-term commitment.

In a recent webinar hosted by our AM&P Network—titled The New Content Metrics: How Publishers Are Measuring Engagement and Using That to Grow—two editors/digital strategists from the American Chemical Society (ACS) joined two other leading editors from B2B publishers to talk how metrics and engagement are helping retain that bump—and, in general, help grow their organization’s audience.

“When we covered the COVID-19 pandemic, as the science news organization, [we knew] this is part of our mission,” said Sondra Hadden, manager, C&EN (Chemical & Engineering News) audience development, ACS. “We put the articles in front of the paywall so it was free to read. And our site traffic exploded. We had very viral articles routinely, and this helped us.

“Our loyalty report really helped us measure whether people coming from search and social were able to move down this funnel of loyalty, and [we could] convince them to keep reading. We found time and again, month after month, that this was true—that this coverage was helping to convert in that sense. So that was a really good data point to go back to our editorial team and let them know.”

The “loyalty” refers to a loyalty dashboard that they launched early in 2020. This is a completely free resource, Hadden said, from the Center for Cooperative Media. “It’s less about new metrics and absolutely more about categorizing your site user in a different way based off of frequency to the site,” she said.

The different buckets are: casual readers for someone who comes once a month and that’s it; prospective loyalists who make 2-5 visits a month; and brand lovers who visit six times a month. “For us, those are the metrics of the numbers that the report actually came with. It aligns very nicely with our metered paywall article limit, so we didn’t change that.”

This helped ACS measure success beyond the simple page view. It told them who is reading, how are they reading and where they come in from. Still, while coverage of the pandemic brought in so many readers, ACS had to wonder at what point fatigue might set in, and people would need a pause. But it never really happened.

“All of the past year that we’ve been doing this reporting, the coverage is still a top read amongst all these different buckets of people,” Hadden said.

While Hadden painted that overall picture, Dorea Reeser, senior audience engagement editor, C&EN, ACS, presented more of the day-to-day picture from their daily news meetings. Every morning she pulls metrics on how stories are performing on their website, as well as on social media, and collects it in a spreadsheet.

“I collect the obvious things like date, story head links, story type, but the data that I pull also includes social media engagement,” Reeser said. “We have Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts and a LinkedIn one coming. I also take notes on how [stories] rank in terms of page views and where [visitors] are coming from because certain web referral sources are more valuable than others.”

Reeser, and the other speakers, agreed that time on page is another great engagement metric. “The benefit of doing this every day and manually gives us insight into what content, in addition to our viral content, is doing well. That content may go crazy from search, and while that’s great it’s not necessarily high engagement. Not all those people are going to become brand lovers and loyalists.”

All this data helps to inform ACS staff each day on what content to post. Are there any pieces of content that they should resurface more in social media? And is there something that they want to make sure not to overlook for their weekly newsletter? “It’s important that we give them the content that we’ve seen that people want and our readers want in various spaces,” Reeser said.

Aside from COVID-related content, Hadden spoke about one of their large editorial packages called C&EN’s 10 Start-Ups to Watch. It wasn’t getting a lot of metric love, so they wondered if just judging it by page views was doing a disservice.

“Writers were asking about it,” Hadden said. “It’s a huge effort; there’s a nominations component to it, creative, everyone’s involved in this package. By having the loyalty report and being able to drill down into behavior a little bit better, we were able to tell that, yes, maybe it wasn’t a viral article in that sense, but our brand lovers are engaging with us there when it’s released.

“They are reading it and spending time with it, and our brand lovers are members so we’re serving that audience that we as a society [can classify] as a member benefit. So this report did help us do better than the previous concept of defining loyalty, and turning our non-member readership into becoming members.”