In an ever-changing digital environment, publishers regularly face variability and uncertainty when it comes to distributing content, driving traffic, and building audiences. Avenues that were once successful are no longer producing the same results. Particularly challenging for many publishers this year has been the loss of traffic associated with Facebook’s News Feed changes. Prior to the changes, Facebook was responsible for over 40% of all external referral traffic, and many publishers relied on them to stay afloat. Now, however, across the board there's around ½ as much referral traffic coming from Facebook. Some publishers are experiencing even greater cuts; LittleThings, for example, lost 75% of influencer and organic traffic after the algorithm changes, causing the site to shut down😨.

It’s not all bad news, though. While a constantly evolving landscape is challenging to navigate, it also opens the door for new opportunities. Emerging platforms, expansion of existing platforms, technology advancements, and exploration of previously untapped resources are changing the way publishers operate and grow. 2018 ushers in an especially innovative period of change as publishers seek means to compensate for lost Facebook traffic. Some have focused their efforts on external investments, leveraging third-party platforms to distribute content, while others are focusing on new internal strategies. To help you take advantage of the current state of affairs, we’ve put together a list of some of the most promising ideas in both categories that we think you can learn from and be inspired by.

New External Opportunities for Reach and Distribution

Reaching Younger Audiences with Instagram TV

A few weeks ago, Instagram released Instagram TV (IGTV), a new feature that allows users to post full-screen videos up to an hour long. Publishers are quickly taking to this new outlet, aiming to access younger audiences. According to Statista, 68% of Instagram’s 1 billion active monthly users are under the age of 35; by sharing content through IGTV, publishers can tap into this demographic. MTV is one publisher utilizing the feature for this purpose. This year, they’re partnering with several Instagram influencers to release the nominations for the Video Music Awards via IGVT, an announcement previously posted to their website. MTV’s CMO described the decision as a “no-brainer” given that the majority of their fans are young and are “flocking to Instagram”.

Several other publishers have also experienced success reaching younger--and larger--crowds using IGTV; for many, IGTV content receives a much higher view count than in-feed videos get. Although IGTV is extremely new, it clearly has the potential to be a strong publisher tool by delivering content to a wider audience and directing traffic back to publisher sites. So far, IGTV content has been a mix of livestream videos, videos repurposed from other social platforms, and original content. Publishers interested in trying this new feature definitely should stay away from using IGTV solely as a dumping ground for video content they’ve distributed elsewhere; while some is fine, sharing new material will be essential to capture people’s interest. For the same reason, it’s important to exercise restraint with video length. While IGTV allows for videos of up to 60 minutes long, people may not be as generous with their time. Adweek suggests sticking with videos between two and three minutes long. For more tips, check out ITP Live’s article.  

Distributing Content to Millions of Apple Users Via Apple News

Many publishers are reaping the benefits of Apple News. Since the start of 2018, New York Media’s median daily users have increased by 42% and returning monthly visitors are up 150%. Among other strategy changes, New York Media reports moving away from Facebook and upping its distribution via Apple News to share around 90% of its content through the app. As of now, Apple News accounts for 10% of New York Media’s total audience. Other publishers who have found an ally in Apple News include Vice, whose traffic from Apple News doubled over the past year, and Meredith, who reports 327% growth in page views from Apple News.

Apple News presents an alternative solution to lost Facebook traffic. The “For You” section promotes the best stories from channels and topics that users follow as well as stories popular with other readers, presenting the opportunity for publisher articles to attain more visibility. Another major advantage of using Apple News to distribute content comes from its pre-installation on all iOS devices in the US, UK, and Australia, making it easily accessible and convenient for millions of people. As of early 2017, Apple News boasted 70 million unique app users, a number that will certainly be on the rise in years to come.

Optimizing Content for Voice Assistants 

Voice assistant technology is advancing and growing in popularity. Voice assistants initially found their root in devices like smartphones, smart TVs, and cars; smart speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home are the newest additions. Voice assistant content is an opportunity that, for the most part, has yet to be exploited. BBC is one publisher who is experimenting with new material to be distributed through Echo and Home. They made their first appearance in the smart speaker arena with a news briefing Alexa skill. Determined to establish a strong presence on voice-enabled devices, they turned their attention to developing new kinds of content, beginning with an interactive audio drama, “The Inspection Chamber”. The story follows a general narrative, but depending on how listeners answer questions presented throughout the 20-minute tale, they reach one of three different endings. So far, listeners are not thrilled with the story itself, but they’ve enjoyed the format and idea behind it, suggesting this kind of content, and other voice-assistant-specific content, has the potential for great success.

The key to leveraging this new frontier has not yet been unlocked, presenting publishers with the chance to play around with material. So far, there seem to be 2 main paths publishers are taking to tap into voice-assistant content:

1. Entirely new voice content 

Like BBC’s Inspection Chamber, there is opportunity for publishers to experiment with entirely new types of content. From audio news briefings to interactive stories, material of this sort is designed to be accessed specifically through voice-assistants. This approach to voice-assistant content provides room for creativity and exploration, but it does require time and effort, as publishers will need to invest in production resources.

2. Optimizing existing content

On a smaller scale, there are opportunities for publishers to enhance existing content for voice-assistants, mainly focusing on voice search optimization. There are over a billion voice searches each month, and it’s predicted that by 2020, 50% of all searches will be done by voice. For this reason, optimizing content for voice queries is a worthwhile investment. One area to consider for optimization is natural speech patterns. Compared with typed questions, voice queries contain conversational words and tend to be longer, so making minor edits (like integrating long tail keywords) can help you tailor your content. For more tips, Vital offers other voice search patterns to think about. 

Internal Strategies to Strengthen Audience Relationships

While external platforms can be useful to initially drive traffic to your site, keep in mind that they are more susceptible to chance and to change. It’s great if a particular algorithm works in your favor, but if that’s all you rely on and then the platform changes or loses popularity, you could run into serious trouble. For long-term success, the most sustainable investments are the ones that you have more control over and allow you to cultivate a deeper relationship with readers. Creating relationships directly, rather than relying solely on outside parties, will help you build an audience that keeps coming back, regardless of Facebook’s News Feed algorithm or SEO keywords.

Resurfacing Content to Maximize Value 

From its beginning, resurfacing content has been a central part of The Atlantic’s strategy. By highlighting posts from the past, the Atlantic is able to maximize the value of any one piece. Their investment in old content has not been misplaced, as 50% of traffic to the site comes from content posted at least a month prior. This year, in celebration of their 160th anniversary, they’re furthering their resurfacing efforts by sharing one archival article every day for a year. Their goal is to connect readers to the magazine’s history, which will build stronger reader relationships and in turn, loyalty.  

Resurfacing content is a powerful practice that allows publishers to continue to benefit from prior work. In order for resurfacing to be successful, a publisher must have content that is worth drawing attention to, even after time has passed. Evergreen content is material that remains interesting and relevant to readers over time, and is exactly what publishers who want to implement a resurfacing strategy should strive for. For example, evergreen content could be an article about the best places to visit in Europe. This topic will not become insignificant or outdated overnight; many readers will be interested if they’re reading it today, next week, or two years from now.

Once you have evergreen content, you can play around with ways to bring it back into circulation. This article provides insight from the Atlantic to develop a resurfacing strategy of your own.

Delivering More Engaging Experiences with AI

Evolving artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities are providing the opportunity for publishers to customize readers’ experience when visiting their site. NZZ, a Swiss news publisher, implements a paid subscription model, and uses AI to send individualized registration and payment messages to readers. One factor considered for the pay prompts is what time of day will be most convenient for readers. For example, commuters are not likely to pull out their credit card to input their payment information, so no messages are sent between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m. With this flexible paywall system, NZZ’s increased their conversion rate by fivefold in three years.

While over 90% of top companies agree that delivering a personalized user experience is key to driving loyalty and revenue, only 5% have the ability to actually deliver data-driven experiences across channels, in real time. Publishers that successfully process data and apply it in real time will achieve significant competitive advantages. In a digital environment where users increasingly expect their experiences to be personalized (think about the content you see in your News Feed, the movies and programs that Netflix recommends, and how Spotify finds new music for you), publishers who deliver on this stand to benefit significantly. AI empowers publishers to personalize content recommendations that users see on their sites, deliver more targeted subscriptions prompts, and send more engaging and contextual newsletters and messages to their subscribers. Since the beginning of the year, we've been working with our parent company, Zeta, to leverage their technology to help publishers in these areas. Be on the lookout for more on this soon from us. If you're interested in talking to us more about how we can help you deliver more personalized experiences for your readers, let us know, we'd love to chat!

Keep Readers Interested with Content Diversification

Many publishers find their niche for content and then produce material solely in that category. This makes sense to meet the needs of the audience you’ve created; obviously if they keep coming back, they’re interested in the topics you’re covering. Diversifying your content to incorporate new topics, however, can help you reach larger audiences and build loyalty with existing readers. The New York Times recognized the potential for service journalism to do these things, and two years ago they launched Smarter Living, a section of lifestyle content. Unlike hard news, this lighter material has been helpful for the Times to get new readers and increase ad revenue. Advertisers are sometimes wary of hard news because it can be controversial. Lifestyle content, on the other hand, is a safer bet for advertisers; in 2017, Smarter Living secured 12 new sponsors for the the Times.

Content diversification was an especially smart move for the Times, who runs on paid subscriptions. Incorporating new material helps keep existing subscribers happy and invested by differentiating the Times from other news sources, and it draws in new subscribers who aren’t willing to pay for just news, but find added value in the other content.

Aside from new content subjects, looking into new content forms may be another way to satisfy and expand your audience. Podcasts, for example, are a rapidly growing medium that could be beneficial to connect with audiences and cater to people who enjoy receiving information auditorily.  Unlike IGTV videos or voice-assistant content, podcasts can be distributed directly on your own site, cutting out the middleman.

Don’t be afraid to play around with your content. Monitoring audience engagement with certain material can help guide future topic and/or format selection. You can also poll your audience or look through reader comments to better understand what they’re interested in and what they’d like to see more of.


As always, we'd love to hear your feedback!💬

Do you have questions or comments about these strategies?

As a publisher, are you using any of these strategies? Do you have any new things you’ve been working on that we didn’t mention?

As a reader, are there other opportunities you’re seeing that you wish publishers were investing in?

Let us know in the comments below!