Most Publishers Are Lousy at Audience Development. Here's Why.

By: Eric Shanfelt

publishers lousy audience development

As media companies, we pride ourselves on building long-term content relationships with our readers. Our audiences are the lifeblood of our businesses driving advertising, subscription, event, lead generation, and other revenues.

But despite our reliance on our audiences, we often struggle at developing them. It seems increasingly difficult for us to get more email subscribers, build print and digital subscriptions, drive event registration, and create more leads for advertisers.

Why? Because most media companies are actually lousy at audience development.

Our first mistake is that we don’t realize that the number one job of our website is audience development, not content delivery or monetization. Think about it … an average visit is only 2-3 pageviews. That doesn’t equate to much revenue.

If somehow, someone finds our website through a search, social share, or link, doesn’t it make sense that our number one priority — before monetization — should be to entice them to give us their email address? Now we have an actual relationship that we can use over and over again to drive repeat traffic as well as reader and advertiser-side revenue.

Our second mistake is forgetting that every page on our website has a flow:

  • First the reader orients themselves. Where am I? What am I looking at? Is it relevant?
  • Next the reader consumes the content be it text, photo, video, or otherwise.
  • Finally, the reader looks for what to do next … a call-to-action.

It’s the call-to-action where we as publishers often fall short. We give the reader some content and try to monetize that page view, but we often aren’t effective at then guiding the reader to the ONE thing that we want them to do next.

Step back and look at the pages on your site with fresh eyes. Ask yourself … does this page clearly move someone to take the next step with me (register, subscribe, download, purchase, etc.)? Each and every page should have a crystal clear call-to-action.

Finally, media companies must clearly realize that our sites have three very distinct types of content. Each type has a specific purpose and is designed to purposefully guide someone into a deeper relationship with our brand.

Open Content – This is content that anyone can see without registering or paying. The primary job of open content is to attract the right audience through SEO, social sharing, and links. Open content should always have a clear call-to-action to get an anonymous visitor to register. The lowest priority of open content is actual monetization.

Lead Magnets – A lead magnet is content specifically designed to entice people into registering and giving you their email address. Lead magnets are the secret to effectively turning anonymous web traffic into email names … and it’s your email database that drives revenue.

Paid Content – This is valuable content, data, or tools that people will pay for. This type of content is critical to media properties with paid subscription, digital memberships, or reports.

This kind of purposeful audience development is very familiar to direct marketers. But as media companies, we’ve often relegated audience development to an afterthought compared to content and monetization. That needs to change for media companies to thrive going forward.

Author: Eric Shanfelt

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