Digital Subscription Growth: Engagement is the Key
By Jeff Hartley
We hear that word frequently in the newspaper industry. In fact, a day doesn't go by when a new article about the importance of engagement isn't published (including this one). It's also a part of daily strategy discussions in our company.
Like you, we measure page views and uniques and have goals for growth in both of these categories. They're still very important. But we also closely monitor other metrics such as the duration of a visit, the number of visits per unique, the platform used and the number of pages consumed in a visit. In my opinion, these are engagement metrics and their importance is growing.
Jeff? Hello? In case you didn't notice but my office isn't in the newsroom and I'm not a journalist. I'm the circulation guy...why does engagement matter to me?
Because if you're the one challenged with growing digital subscriptions at your newspaper, engagement will rise quickly to the top of your list of metrics to watch. The level of engagement readers have with your newspaper's content is directly linked to your ability to grow digital subscriptions.
Measuring engagement with our product isn't something new, but we know much more about how our digital readers engage with us than we could ever hope to have known about print readers.
The more value our readers find in our content, the more they consume. Continuing to consume content they value (see Steve Gray's blog post, Why the definition of news must change in the digital age) will increase the chances they will subscribe. These readers will exceed the maximum amount of page views allowed and see a subscription request. Because more are finding value in our content, more will see the subscription requests, and more of them will say yes.
Basic math right? More people in the pipeline results in more sales. It's not that simple.
Why? Because it boils down to the value proposition we present to our readers – is this content relevant to me? With so many choices today to easily access information, ours has to stand head and shoulders above the rest for a potential subscriber to pull out their wallet. Traditional news, while still important, is only a small part of the content readers need or want. Publishers that buy into understanding what content readers want and giving it to them will see higher levels of engagement. The duration of visits will increase, the number of visits will go up and the pages consumed will increase.
Higher levels of engagement will be the result.
As a circulation/audience executive, you don't create the content, but you can impact content decisions by understanding and communicating how higher engagement rates impact your sales efforts.
Two simple metrics can help you get started in determining where you stand – the Stop Rate and the Paid Stop Conversion Rate.
With the help of our digital subscription management partner, Press+, we know what percentage of our unique visitors is encountering a stop light box (SR) and how many, once stopped, are converting to a subscription (PSCR). Because Press+ has so many affiliates, 450 and counting, they've established performance benchmarks for both the SR and the PSCR. These indicators are crucial to knowing how effective you are in engaging readers and converting them to paid sales (Note: these metrics can be set these up on your own using Google Analytics, Omniture, etc.)
Based on data from Press+, the average publication has a stop rate (the number of unique visitors that see a stop light box) of 3%-4%, but high performers stop between 5%-10% of unique visitors. A PSCR rate (the number of unique visitors that are stopped and then purchase) of 0.5% is considered average, while high performers convert 1%-2% of stops into paying subscribers.
While you may not utilize Press+ as your digital subscription partner, these percentages can be used to measure your own performance. The large amount of affiliate data they use to arrive at these benchmarks has a high degree of accuracy.
Marketing plays a key role in making consumers aware of the need for a subscription and the right, highly valuable content backs up your claim. The right promotional strategy can impact sales, especially for those customers that haven't experienced the meter or declined a subscription when they did see it.
Understanding the capabilities of the meter, promoting your products correctly and knowing how to use analytics to do drive more sales is an important part of the process (see my previous post-Digital Subscriptions-Meters, Marketing and Analytics).
Creating highly valuable content, using the correct metering strategy and promoting the opportunity to have unlimited access to this content are essential.
Jeff Hartley is vice president of consumer revenue for Morris Publishing Group. He is an active NAA member and currently serves on the NAA/ABC Circulation Subcommittee.
First Published: April 29, 2014