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Data Strategy, A Series: Part 2

Data as seen and used by Publishers

Let’s start this part of the series with a simple reflection question: Why is the news important to you, personally, and to our society at large? Though each person will have his/her/their own answer, many responses will be identical. I subscribe to the view that unbiased news is important in keeping the populace informed of what is happening in their communities, country and the world. The newspaper industry goes back centuries but became the powerhouse it rightfully should be towards the end of the 19th century. But this article isn’t a history lesson, it's about data and why it is important in publishing. To understand the importance of data to publishers, one must understand the modern “conversion funnel” as it applies to publishers. This funnel will vary from publisher to publisher based on the business model, but the most popular versions have 4 main components: New Users (sometimes anonymous), Engaged Users, Email Subscribed Users, and Paid Subscribers. We will tackle each part of the funnel and show how data is (and should be) used at each step to move a user down this funnel.

The first step in the conversion funnel journey is that of a new user. This is someone who perhaps comes to the site via social media, from search, etc. They have no affinity to the publication whatsoever, however, it is the publisher's job to create a connection with that user to get them further down the funnel. Should someone coming to the site from social have a different on-site experience than someone who finds the site through a search engine? Publishers should be observing these visitors on-site behaviors and strategizing ways to expand their session times. This can be done with content recommendations for the site based on what the user is reading, attempting to capture an email (though it might be too soon for that level of comfort), or showing more ads. The path a publisher takes will be dictated by the data they see from that user's visit. If it is a local publication and a user is from out of state, maybe showing more ads is the best option, since the news will most likely not be highly relevant. If the user is someone who reads more than one article about the same subject matter, they are more likely to respond positively to an email. The most a publisher can hope for is to match this anonymous user to a fruitful interaction on-site.

The next level of the funnel is that of an engaged user. Engaged users can be noticed coming back to the site multiple times in a certain time period. These readers have an affinity to that publisher’s content and enjoy going to the site. These users are the ones who will have the highest likelihood of giving their email to a publisher. The way to capture said email is to frame it around that user's journey on-site. Do they like one specific kind of content or do they read a bit of everything? Perhaps this is the opportunity to offer up subject-specific newsletters vs general newsletters. With the data from the reader's visit, a publisher will be able to get a more accurate read on what they should be developing from a product standpoint (one vs many newsletter types, placement of email capture messaging, etc.). These engaged readers are decent testing subjects from an A/B standpoint on what can work for changes to the site layout, as well as how to better guide individuals through the funnel.

The next level is an email subscriber. Once an email is captured, it opens up a whole new world of possibilities from an audience development and monetization standpoint. That user has now given a great piece of PII, which can help a publisher begin to create an accurate profile to sell against for advertising (and which will help increase CPM’s), as well as cater to that user's preferences on-site. The publisher can also begin to create an identity graph to identify that user whenever they have a touchpoint with the site. Emails sent to these users will also have more relevant ads within the body of the email if the publisher chooses to activate that level of monetization. While an email subscriber is on-site, the publisher can also be using the data gleaned from them to begin fostering the trust needed to move on to the next portion of the funnel, that of a paid subscriber.

Having a paid subscriber is the end goal for most publishers. Getting a reader to take the leap and pay for access to your site shows a great trust has been built, but more importantly, that there is intrinsic value to the content they are reading every day. The data taken from these users has tremendous value since it will again allow the publishers to know if they should be breaking into new revenue streams (e-commerce, events, access to favorite journalists, etc.). This will also allow publishers the opportunity to build out great look-alike audiences to conduct more subscription campaigns, and further enhance that identity graph to sell against with advertising.

Rich Bobé, Vice President, Publisher Development

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