Thriving in distributed publishing requires a solid evaluation of how your distribution platforms contribute to your goals. 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.

The Dashboard

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.

Views

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 publishers to segment audience data. To reveal this, 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. With FlatPlan, we have another layer of access to Apple News analytics, and we’ve created a bespoke email notification system that flags successful articles so that you don’t miss what’s working best on the platform. The system looks out for spikes in traffic as well as features from Apple News Editors and features in areas like Trending Stories.

Reach

Apple News defines reach as headline views plus article views. Reach is a good indicator of how well content is surfaced within the app. By examining the figures with corresponding data from the Discovery Source tab, it’s possible to pinpoint sections of the app in which different content types perform best. With this method, you can pinpoint a productive balance between general interest stories and more niche pieces.

Follows

A user that taps to Follow a publication will be shown more content from that title across their 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.

Featured by Apple

The grey dots along the x-axis 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 News Editors. These can provide information on articles that pique the Apple News Editors’ interest, therefore gaining great visibility, which we can use to grow audiences.

Since the launch of Apple News+ some of these areas have been moved or changed somewhat. The Spotlight section is no longer a part of the free section of the app. The Apple News Editors have also begun to send out notifications for selected articles under the heading of “News Editors’ Picks” which can reach a huge number of readers.

Apple News' News Editors Picks source May 2020

News Editors’ Picks, an Apple News Discovery Source

Notifications

Notifications can be sent to followers by publishers who have been invited by Apple to deliver them. We’ve noticed that, across our network, click-through rate tends to be consistent across publications, but iPhone users and in particular males aged 25–34 seem to engage the most with the alerts.

We’ve identified some effective strategies for pushing these notifications. The frequency of these notifications needs to be considered; ‘over-notifying’ can lead users to unsubscribe from your publication. Notifications can also be used to increase the lifespan of evergreen articles and breaking news stories can be delivered rapidly.

Shares

Shares relate to users clicking the Share button within the app, with the analytics reporting 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%, understanding user behaviour is a little trickier here. Given that the majority of Apple News users are on iPhones, we suspect that ‘Other’ shares come from WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or other types of dark social.

Shares outside of Apple News aren’t trackable in tools like Google Analytics, but at FlatPlan we include trackable links in template footers, so publishers can track user behaviour even if they leave the platform to visit the publisher website.

Discovery Source

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, Editorial Collections, the Today View (a prominent area at the top of the main feed controlled by Apple News editors), the Apple Email Newsletter and “Other” (which would include traffic from shares). In Spotlight, Apple News Editors group four of the days most interesting articles available on Apple News+, News’ paid counterpart.

Apple News discovery source graph

 

Apple News discovery source breakdown

Being featured in Top Stories means Apple News editors’ have chosen your story to sit alongside four others, within the Today feed’s most prominent tab. While being featured here can be a significant traffic driver , don’t regard Top Stories as the be-all and end-all. Stories that do not focus on current affairs can still thrive within the topic-based feeds — in essence, the whole ecosystem works well to help expose certain stories.

Sadly there is no easy way to segment other tabs in the dashboard (Loyalty or Reach for example) by Discovery Source at present. But, with occasional significant deviations from the norm regarding gender or age, for example, an estimate of which sections of the app are leading readers to your stories can be made.

Loyalty

Apple News calculates loyalty by segmenting 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 charts generally track each other very closely, but the differences between the two helps shed light on how readers are engaging with your content.

At Mathematics we look a lot at loyalty, particularly with respect to how often readers revisit a site. Using similar measures in Apple News finds that there can be significant differences across publications. Ultimately, we’ve observed that higher loyalty can often boil down to post-frequency but we have some other tactics that we find can increase reader retention.

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:

Article Lifespan

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.

Demographics

There appear to be some notable demographic discrepancies across 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.

In Conclusion

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. For example, generating more followers can have a significant effect on the number of loyal users. Understanding which content works well on Apple News often involves manually processing article data, and stories that spike can often differ heavily from content that does well elsewhere, which is what led us to develop our notification system.

Curated areas in the app can drive huge spikes of traffic but the ecosystem as a whole works very well for exposing strong stories and depending on the niche of the publication huge spikes from general audiences tend to be of a lower 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.