Reducing the maximum number of page views allowed, putting more content behind the meter, marketing aggressively and having the right pricing strategy are all critical parts of making a digital subscription strategy flourish. But getting readers to stay longer and consume more content, obviously enjoying the experience and finding significant value in it, is the make it or break it part.”
Jeff Hartley, Morris Publishing Group

Digital subscription growth: Four engagement initiatives

By Jeffrey L. Hartley, vice president consumer revenue, Morris Publishing Group
Posted 6/29/14
Jeff Hartley

In an article titled "Digital Subscription Growth – Engagement is the Key," I wrote about how higher levels of engagement ultimately lead to more sales. More page consumption equals more readers hitting the stop lightbox, which leads to higher conversion rates.

So how do you increase the level of engagement? What are the basic engagement strategies to implement or improvements to encourage more content consumption and more conversions?

In the end, answering that question is going to determine the level of success we experience. Reducing the maximum number of page views allowed, putting more content behind the meter, marketing aggressively and having the right pricing strategy are all critical parts of making a digital subscription strategy flourish.  But getting readers to stay longer and consume more content, obviously enjoying the experience and finding significant value in it, is the make it or break it part. We can do everything else perfectly and still miss the mark by not developing higher value content for our readers. High enough that they pull out their wallets and buy.

Data makes the importance of higher engagement levels crystal clear for me. While many in our company (including me) track the number of unique visitors that come to our websites (along with a multitude of other metrics – pageviews, time on site, return visits, platform type and much more), I track the number of uniques that see a stop lightbox and how many convert to a subscriber. The first time you see how few visitors consume enough content to actually fire a stop lightbox each month ... is unnerving and is an issue for almost all newspaper websites.

For me, the guy charged with growing digital subscriptions, it makes the importance of higher engagement levels soberingly clear. So what do we do? What are initiatives we need to focus on first? I've studied this subject and discussed it with experts in order to develop the list below of critical needs to help grow engagement/subscriptions. This is my list, from a consumer revenue perspective. I'm sure there are many other solutions to consider and I'm all ears if you'd like to share your ideas.

Site Optimization: It's critical that we deliver a great experience for the reader, specifically in how fast pages load. With ever-shortening attention spans, we have seconds in many cases to show the value of our content. Increasing amounts of code, video and slideshows to our sites in order to enhance the reader experience, slows the load time. On some sites, the pages load so slow that the reader has finished reading the story and left before the stop lightbox or subscription offer has been presented. Here is an interesting infographic on load time and abandonment.

Content recommendation: Show me more of what I want. Content recommendation solutions are powerful tools in driving reader engagement. Providing a more personalized experience increases reader engagement levels and the amount of time they spend with your content. Readers want an easy stream of next articles to choose from that doesn't require much action on their part. The best content and sites keep you engaged because even though you came for just one article you were pulled into more with good content teases and easy navigation to the next item. Readers consume more pages, reinforcing the value of your content and increasing the likelihood of purchasing a subscription.

Content presentation for different devices and platforms: Use and interests varies by device so we should have a different content/presentation strategy for each. It's critical that, regardless of the device,  it's an enjoyable experience and easy to consume more content. Here is a great read on headline writing for best interest piquing, social sharing and SEO best practices.  These tips are especially applicable for mobile.

Aggregation and curation: The best sites showcase their content but also reference articles to other sites. Even if you send some of your visitors to other sites (even competitors) they will come back to you for the curation service you provide. Good headline writing and content judgement is key here.

While the math is simple, the solution itself isn't. Higher engagement levels mean more sales. In order for that to happen, our websites (and the platforms they exist on) need to be better, smarter and faster, using the creativity, tools and technology to get them there.

Thanks to Craig Sims (director of mobile and digital initiatives at Morris Publishing Group), Conan Gallaty (executive vice president for digital at WEHCO Media, Inc.) and Bharat Ayyar (director of analytics at Press+) for lending me their expertise in producing this post.

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