Winning out in distributed publishing requires solid evaluation of how each platform contributes to your goals as a publisher. Naturally, digging into data is key to understanding if your approach is working and how to build further growth. With this in mind we asked Barney Perkins, our Data Analyst, to guide us through an in-depth look at Apple News analytics.
Apple’s commitment to preserving user privacy means integration with Google Analytics isn’t possible. Analysis takes place within Apple’s own analytics dashboard or by manually downloading data for use in systems like Data Studio.
Let’s look at some of the key metrics we monitor within Apple News.
Apple News measures both the unique and total views an article receives. We have observed significant differences between unique views on Apple News and how the same content performs on its publisher’s website. These figures often correlate negatively, perhaps indicating differences in audience interest and the way that Apple News promotes content.
The former is difficult to establish given the limited ways Apple allows us to segment audience data. To drill this down you’ll need to manually track content and performance, which will allow you to better understand the Apple News audience and identify untapped potential for content on other platforms.
Apple News defines reach as headline views plus article views. Reach closely matches unique views and both are inversely correlated with the proportion of traffic that comes from recirculation. The articles that do a higher proportion of traffic through recirculation don’t seem to get as much reach as those that get the majority of their traffic from the Today Feed, as more users tend to discover content from their personalised topic feeds than the ‘Related’ section at the bottom of an article.
A user that taps to Follow a publication will be shown more content from that title across the Today Feed — the homepage of the app. A direct link to the publication’s channel in News will also appear in navigation. Naturally, then, building followers is key to driving growth.
The accumulated Follows a publication receives prior to the date an article went live exhibits a positive correlation with unique views. By monitoring data across the publications we handle, we believe Follows don’t just affect reach for those that follow, they send a signal to Apple’s algorithm to expose more stories to other users, too. As your number of followers increases, you can expect to see the size of spikes in traffic increase significantly.
Upon opening your publications’ Follows page, you’ll be presented with a simple chart displaying net follows per day in a given time period, and net follows across the whole of that period. Audience segmentation is available by territory. At the moment this comprises the US, UK, Australian and Canadian audiences, where Apple News is currently available.
The grey dots along the x-axis (above) mark significant events for your articles — being featured in Spotlight, being featured in an Editorial Group (eg. News Editor’s Picks or Top Videos), appearing in an Apple email, sending out a push notification or being ‘boosted’ by Apple Editors.
Notifications can be sent to followers by publishers who have been invited by Apple to deliver them. Click-through rate tends to be consistent across publications, but frequency of these notifications needs to be considered; ‘over-notifying’ will lead users to remove notifications for your publication. Notification click-through rate appears to be weighted significantly in favour of iPhone users and in particular males aged 25–34.
Notifications can be used to increase the lifespan of articles that aren’t time sensitive. We believe an effective strategy is to monitor the performance of a piece within its first 24 hours in Apple News, then send a notification. This will give you much more of an indication around interest in the story than sending immediately or following website analytics, as popular stories on Apple News can vary significantly.
Shares relate to users clicking the Share button within the app, with analytics grouped according to the platform they were shared through: Mail, Messages, Twitter, Facebook and Other. For most of the publishers we work with, the vast majority of these shares are categorised as ‘Other’. Often as high as 98%, this inhibits comprehensive analysis of shares. Given that the majority of Apple News users are on iPhone, we suspect that ‘Other’ shares come from WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or other dark social.
Shares outside of Apple News aren’t trackable in Google Analytics, but at FlatPlan we include trackable links in template footers, allowing publishers to track user behaviour if they leave the platform to visit the publisher website.
Discovery Source breaks down how users land on your content. Traffic is broken down according to multiple measures: the Today feed (the homepage and default view on Apple News), your channel page, topic feeds (the Entertainment topic page, for instance), recirculation (the area below articles), push notifications, Spotlight, the Today View (the most prominent area of the main page controlled by Apple News editors) and “Other” (which could include external shares to the app article).
Being featured in Spotlight means Apple News editors’ have chosen your story to sit alongside 4–5 others, sitting within a very prominent tab in the app. While being featured here can be a significant traffic driver — particularly if a story is featured on the weekend — don’t regard Spotlight as the holy grail. We often see much higher spikes of traffic to stories surfaced through recirculation, the Today Feed or Topic Feeds — in essence the whole ecosystem works well to help expose certain stories.
On the whole, there is limited demographic data available in Discovery Source to advise on how a channel retains readers, or — in conjunction with other metrics — identify how popular articles can drive traffic to the rest of one’s content. But, with significant deviations from the norm regarding gender or age, for example, an estimate of how traffic flows through the channel can be established.
Apple News calculates loyalty by dividing users by the number of articles they’ve read in the past 28 days, or by the number of days they’ve visited out of the past 28. These numbers will match up almost exactly, and you can use either approach to gauge the loyalty of your users.
At Mathematics we group users by Casual, Loyal, Brand Lover and Subscriber, and using similar measures in Apple News we find Brand Lovers are generally more stable, although this varies a surprising amount across publications. Whilst there is a strong correlation between the behaviours of Casual, Loyal and Brand Lover users, the correlation relaxes significantly the heavier the user, suggesting that it will take time to build core audiences, but that those audiences will follow normal behaviour and spend more time with your content.
Aside from the ways in which we can monitor and drive growth with News Publisher, here are some other points to consider when using the platform:
Articles featured on Apple News tend to have a three day lifespan. A feature in Spotlight, Editorial Group or a notification can extend this lifespan up to a couple of weeks, however — effectively doubling its number of unique views.
The Significance of Date
The distribution of unique views over days of the week differs from title to title. After accounting for the significant differences in traffic across a number of publications, the following distribution was found for the the month of October, 2018:
There are notable demographic discrepancies across current Apple News’ territories. US audiences seem to be considerably older than in the UK and Australia, with the UK’s audience the youngest. UK and Australian audiences were also generally more likely to use Apple News on iPad. When these are significantly different for a given article, it is possible to predict traffic flow by identifying similar discrepancies. This can be done by cross referencing with other metrics like discovery source and/or time.
It is worth mentioning that there can, at different times, be significant differences in what content audiences find appealing according to territory.
Apple’s commitment to privacy limits the level of analysis or correlation with other analytics tools, but by focusing on overall publisher goals, tracking these and using Apple News analytics carefully, it’s possible to measure and increase growth on the platform.
Building loyalty from the right audience is key to driving consistent growth, with Follows having the most significant effect on the increase of loyal users. Understanding which content works well on Apple News involves manually processing article data, and stories that spike can often differ heavily from content that does well elsewhere, which can be used to help social teams try to resurface content that didn’t gain traction elsewhere.
Spotlight and other Apple News curated areas can drive huge spikes of traffic but the ecosystem as a whole works very well for exposing good stories and depending on the niche of the publication huge spikes from general audiences tend to be less value compared to solid traffic from audiences directed by specific interest or through similar publications.
We offer Apple News analysis as part of our Pro package at FlatPlan, delivering reports that help align Apple News analytics with overall analytics and offering actionable advice on driving growth — just drop us a message if you’d like to discuss this.