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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
News Editors' Picks, an Apple News Discovery Source
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 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 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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
In the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic, more Apple users than ever before are relying on their devices for entertainment and for news. As such, Apple’s news aggregation app recently hit an all-time high of 125 million active users.
Apple CEO Tim Cook revealed, whilst poring over Apple’s Q2 performance on an earnings call, that Apple News had hit the milestone. The previous Q1 reported 100 million active users in January 2020. Cook also announced that while Apple’s Products revenue had declined in the period, its Services revenue surged.
Presumably, this jump users’ frugality during this turbulent time for employers and employees, whilst also indicating that many Apple users rely on its products to stay positive and entertained during lockdown. Apple’s Services revenue was $13.35 billion (£10.65 billion) in Q2, boosting the segment by around $1.9 billion (£1.5 billion) since last year. Several services set all-time records during the quarter.
Last week we started a new series of articles on how ad-funded publishers can adapt through the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week, we looked at changes in advertising trends. In today’s second instalment, we’re going to focus on affiliate partners.
Affiliate deals can be a valuable component in a mix of revenue drivers, and in trying times such as these where elements of that mix have taken a hit, publishers would do well to look into their options.
Most of us may be stuck indoors, but some areas of e-commerce are thriving. E-commerce rose by 25% between March 1st and 15th according to Bloomberg, who also found that average daily online grocery sales doubled and at-home fitness gear like dumbbells, stationary bikes and treadmills saw a 55% boost in sales over the same period.
Clearly then, small-to-medium publishers would do well to begin investigating the feasibility of affiliate partnerships. You’ll find no better starting point than Knoji, who offer a one-click solution for finding brands that offer affiliate partnerships.
Affiliate networks act as intermediaries between publishers and merchants. Affiliate networks allow publishers to easily find and participate in affiliate programmes which are suitable for their brand and audience, then manage and monitor them once they begin.
Below, we’ve listed our favourite affiliate networks, and explained why they’re so effective.
Once approved by Skimlinks, publishers are approved for affiliate partnership with all merchants. Skimlinks is used by many top-tier publishers including BuzzFeed, and contains a healthy number of UK brands as well as US. Publishers should be aware that Skimlinks takes 25% of all commissions, and publishers have reported that the scripts they use can cause performance problems, slowing pages when visitors arrive.
AWIN is one of the largest affiliate networks out there, working with over 230,000 publishers. In 2019, it generated 147M sales, which averages at 640 sales per publisher. Because publishers and merchants are encouraged to undertake a heavy vetting process before deciding on partnerships, the affiliate partnerships that do get established with AWIN are routinely of a high value. AWIN pays out twice a month.
SOVRN (formerly Viglink) automatically converts links on a publisher’s site into affiliate links; it selects the advertiser that pays the highest commission and ensures that they are linked to. It’s affiliate partners are some of the biggest retailers in the world, including Amazon. Publishers should note that it can take a little while to get started with SOVRN. Unlike Skimlinks, publishers must be approved by each merchant individually. SOVRN takes a commission of 25%.
Amazon’s affiliate marketing program is, to many, the industry standard, and a benchmark to which competitors are compared. Without doubt, it’s the largest out there. But, publishers must consider that because most products sold on Amazon are physical goods, they’ll have fewer options to refer sales that generate a recurring monthly income during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While aimed at merchants rather than publishers, Impact can set up custom affiliate link tracking for publishers and is a simple, intuitive way for publishers to manage and monitor their affiliate partnerships. We recommend requesting a demo, as BuzzFeed, Times, Forbes and more A-list publishers generate portions of their income with Impact.
Trackonomics is a simple, intuitive affiliate marketing platform. It offers some interesting unique selling points, like the consolidation of all data into one dashboard to save reporting time, alerts for expired links, and ‘click-to-sale attribution’, which reveals how individual pieces of content perform. Trackonomics lists BuzzFeed and Condé Nast as publishers, and the likes of Uber and ASOS as merchants.
As tough as COVID-19 will be on publishing, we hope this will prove to be no more than a bump in the road. Affiliate partnerships are a neat, unobtrusive way for publishers to drive the highest revenues they can in this trying time, and they come with the added benefit of being beneficial to merchants and brands. With both parties doing their best to establish successful affiliate partnerships, the potential for revenue here is high.
Our new blog post series aims to guide publishers through an intimidating immediate future. We hope this post was useful.
Click here for the next instalment in our article series aimed at helping publishers monetise through the COVID-19 crisis: Digital Editions
COVID-19 has thrown many traditional models of monetisation in publishing into precarity. Over the next few weeks, we’ll share our thoughts and insights into how small and medium-sized publishers can react to protect their businesses and build stability in a transformed post-pandemic world. We’ll be focusing on publishers whose main revenue source is advertising, touching on areas like direct display and programmatic advertising, affiliate revenue, video, events, print and digital alternatives to print. To be updated on this series of articles please add yourself to our mailing list.
Today, we’re looking at advertising and audience trends, and how to react to these changes.
As entire nations protect themselves from this health crisis, huge portions of the planet are effectively paused, and will be for months. People have lost jobs, businesses have closed and those sheltering from COVID-19 have changed their lives to exist within four walls. Publishers have had to shift entire operations into remote businesses and have encountered immediate setbacks, not least a huge upheaval in the world of advertising.
There are some notable changes in audience behaviours at present across the digital publishing board. People are already spending significantly more time online. The week of March 16, web traffic grew by 20% across the board in the US, and Cloudflare reported usage was up by 40% in Italy. These spikes come with changes in user behaviour; fewer people are taking a morning and evening commute, and lunch breaks no longer fit a consistent pattern as many work from home. Downloads of news apps like Apple News and SmartNews have exploded, and news publishers have observed a spike in subscriptions over the last four weeks, fuelled by readers’ desire to stay as informed as possible on the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the thick of the crisis, ad spending is down in general. As companies continue to lose money, one of the first things to be cut from budgets is digital ad spend. Many Q1 budgets are already committed, but the start of Q2 on April 1 could see a huge drop in ad spending across all sectors. The New York Times expects total advertising revenues to decline at percentages in the mid-teens in the current quarter due to uncertainties surrounding COVID-19. But where spending is down, particularly in areas like travel, sports and politics, it’s up in areas like hobbies and interests, education, careers and news media.
Once a recession hits another shift is likely to happen. This graph displays the estimated revenue of the total ad industry in the years immediately before and after the 2008 financial crash:
Our current situation is unlike any other crisis, but it’s likely we’ll see ad revenues continue to drop, only to increase again as soon as some of the uncertainties alleviate. Brands’ anxieties surrounding the viability of long-term financial commitments during COVID-19 should not alter the long-term trend. Advertising is resilient - it will bounce back.
Put simply – monitor, test and adjust.
Here at Mathematics, we’ve built dashboards to allow clients to monitor CPMs, ad impressions and total ad revenues on a daily basis in a single place. As publishers continue to shift more of their business from direct display to programmatic, this kind of data is displayed across various dashboards – bringing this data together makes it easier to track downward and upward trends and adjust partners accordingly.
Now is the time to try out new partners and test alternatives to underperforming setups. If traffic is growing you may find your niche is better served by particular partners – we’re going to compile a list of companies to look into later in this series of articles.
But more than ever it’s time to adjust. To continue driving revenues through advertising in the long-term it’s imperative that publishers’ websites act not as a 'nice to have' but as a serious selling tool for brands. Publishers need be serious about ad viewability, the uniqueness of the platform they offer and their connection with a niche, valuable audience. More than ever brands will monitor conversions from the publications they place ads on and remove under-performing partners – it's imperative we offer them a valuable platform.
We’ve observed a trend for advertisers adding hard news and features pertaining to COVID-19 to their blocklists to avoid hypothetical brand safety fallout. Many publishers are frustrated by a perceived over-zealousness in how advertisers add to their blocklists, which has seen entire publications being blocked as a result. Consider integrating your own blocklists internally if you fear this is having an impact – running only house ads on stories that might trip you up.
The ad verification company DoubleVerify has begun advising clients to consider not blocking the category “natural disasters”, under which COVID-19 is categorised in its system, on the sites of trusted publishers. DoubleVerify COO Matt McLoughlin said:
“Brands should take a very hard look at supporting those publications producing legitimate information and analyzing whether consumers will really associate the brand with the content when it is so prevalent … it really becomes part of everyday life.”
“Brands should take a very hard look at supporting those publications producing legitimate information and analyzing whether consumers will really associate the brand with the content when it is so prevalent … it really becomes part of everyday life.”
Publishers should note, however, that these moves to block hard news aren't new, and with increased competition and a decrease in advertisers an approach to blocklists should be mulled over.
The US is likely to see a large rise in ad spend over the next nine months as 2020 is a presidential election year. Every four years, there is an observable rise in ad rates as political content floods the online space, so we're likely to see digital publishers' advertising revenues recover in the US as election day looms closer. And typically, changes in the US economy are felt worldwide, so we'll likely observe some international economic improvement over this period.
As tough as COVID-19 will be on publishing, we hope this will prove to be no more than a bump in the road. If publishers can adapt, they’ll retain their ad revenue and come out of this crisis in as strong a position as ever.
Click here for the next instalment in our article series aimed at helping publishers monetise through the COVID-19 crisis: Affiliate Revenue
Let’s think about the typical journey of a story posted on your website.
A writer is made aware of a topic they believe will intrigue their readership. They devote time to research, accruing quotes and assets, and clarify their findings. They write the story. It’s subbed, added to their publications’ CMS and published. For a brief period, the story occupies a precious few pixels on a homepage. It’s aggregated to platforms such as Apple News and Flipboard, and surfaced through social media. Readers may share the story across their timelines. There’s a chance it’ll feature in the publication’s weekly newsletter. A strong story might have a shelf life of a week, but some stories will survive for a few short hours.
For many of these stories, short shelf life isn’t just, and requiring this much resource for one short influx of traffic makes for an inefficient and ineffective business model. But it doesn’t need to be this way. Evergreen content - stories that remain relevant regardless of the passing of time - can yield noticeable returns for publishers. In this post we’ll explain why evergreen content is so valuable, how to create it, how to repurpose existing content, how to drive traffic to evergreen content and how to measure its success.
Evergreen stories are those that visitors continue to derive value from over a long period. Traffic may arrive to them through backlinks, social posts, through search or through your own website architecture, continually notching up article views over a longer than normal lifespan.
Different publications have different measures of success. At Mathematics we focus on lifetime value; working to turn casual visitors into return readers, using loyalty to maximise the lifetime value of a reader. You may measure success through unique users, read times, watch times or ad impressions, but whatever the metric, one thing remains true: the harder your content works, the higher the potential revenue. It's possible to measure the success of your stories through lifetime value too - put simply, requiring three hours of resource to drive 100,000 pageviews over the course of two hours just doesn’t compare to allotting five hours to drive 1,000,000 pageviews over the course of two years. An evergreen content strategy focuses on the creation of articles, videos or audio that continually drive views and maximise the lifetime value of that content.
A good evergreen content strategy starts by reframing the way we produce content. As a first step, journalists can ask a question - will this story still be relevant in a month, six months or a year? If not, is it possible to approach the piece in a way that offers that longevity? Instead of creating multiple short pieces on a developing story, look at creating a well-structured, in-depth piece that offers the reader a complete overview. Instead of covering a story by referring only to the press release, approach it from an evergreen angle and accrue original quotes, background, data and bring together other coverage, including other sources.
Certain formats will make for better evergreen candidates, so a strategy that balances news pieces with the following types of format can work well:
Updating these pieces in due course will extend shelf life. This could mark a big shift from how your publication creates content, but this shift can have a big effect on the value your readers derive from your content.
We can identify candidates for this type of content by looking at 'lifetime value'. You may calculate this value in a number of ways but we would suggest looking at read time, scroll depth and overall views since the story was published. There's no designated tool for this in Google Analytics but these metrics can be found using Google Tag Manager - speak with your development team about setting this up.
A simple way to find stories with evergreen potential is to access Behaviour > Site Content > All Pages in Google Analytics and download a list of the most popular articles in the last full month, then do the same for each preceding month, looking for stories that show up across multiple months. Then dig into the data for that story to get a feel for its performance.
Parse.ly have some useful tools for calculating which pieces of content you should optimise to turn evergreen including the ‘Evergreen Overview’ report. Here's a sample report:
As you can see, Parse.ly conglomerates data from all posts it deems to be evergreen within a timeframe of your choosing. It selects these posts according to whether or not they continue to drive significant traffic to your site three days after publishing.
Once you’ve recorded these evergreen stories, it’s time to go one further to aid a truly thorough evergreen content strategy.
At WIRED - whose evergreen strategy is excellent - the team sometimes select “Average Engaged Time” to find evergreen articles that may not be getting traffic. The most important metric in this process is the lifecycle filter: ‘Evergreen’ or ‘Evergreen Candidate’. ‘Evergreen’ filters for steadily-trafficked posts more than 20 days old. ‘Evergreen Candidate’ filters for steadily-trafficked posts between 8-20 days old. For a thorough explanation, click here.
Now that you know which pieces of content are providing the evergreen effect, it’s time to ensure that they continue to do so.
Your older articles may predate the latest updates to your site, so ensure that these pieces match the current look and feel of your site, with correct headings, no broken or low res images, or missing, outdated embeds.
Once this is covered it's just a case of removing the timeliness of a post. Amend wording tied to a specific time period, add further context, update the story and if using data, look into updating this data or making this data 'live' by using a tool like Data Studio.
Be sure to maintain and update a list of your evergreen URLs so that you’re able to periodically check them and update them. Don’t hesitate to make these updates; they resurface stories in the eyes of Google which lends itself to a great SEO strategy, as do additional links to internal and external sources that may not have been available when the piece was initially published. Be sure to carefully monitor your metadata when updating articles in this way to avoid discrepancies between its headline and URL. For more advice on SEO best practice, click here.
Now, you can have fun with the distribution and re-promotion of your evergreen content. The WIRED team take the best stories to social in a number of ways. Here’s what Indu Chandrasekhar, Director of Audience Development, told Parse.ly: “We’ve played around with language. We’ve pulled quotes from the story. We’ve made special art and created special assets. We’ve done Twitter threads. We’ve done interviews, we’ve done excerpts. There’s no end to things you can do. It’s one of the places you can play around the most. Are there holidays or special events you can peg these stories to?”
Why not start adding one or two evergreen stories to your mailer? You could add them in their own dedicated section, incorporate them into the bulk of the copy, or even start a brand new ‘archive’ newsletter. It could be worth trying all of these approaches to see which works best for you - your most loyal readers are likely to receive your mailer they may well be the audience most enthusiastic to revisit your best content.
It may be worth creating a document which lists all your evergreen stories and sharing it amongst your team, encouraging them to link to these stories when appropriate. You could also create a variation of a ‘Start Here’ page to list evergreen posts and signpost them to new readers, or create a ‘Top Posts’ section in a sidebar visible on every page of your site.
They certainly can. As well as helping to configure Google Tag Manager or Analytics your website architecture can be reworked to surface your strongest evergreen content and increase pageviews from visitors. At Mathematics we've built "evergreen" functionality for some publishers. To use this editorial click a simple button in their CMS to define an article as evergreen. We give this type of story more weight in 'related' areas, deliver these stories into specific 'evergreen' areas on the site and send notifications to editors to include them in newsletters. By separating these stories out in the CMS the team have easy access to them too, making updates and reshares easy for the team.
Publications should strive to make content evergreen as part of a wider aim to increase traffic whilst reducing volatility - raising the depths of traffic troughs (or 'valleys'), rather than heightening its peaks. You want your readers to arrive, stick around, consume more content and return to your site periodically, not spend seconds with one viral story, only to never return. At Mathematics we call this kind of growth 'valley elevation'.
With an effective evergreen strategy in place you can monitor valley elevation by paying attention to the variants on your weekly and monthly traffic. Naturally, you should aim for a general upward trend over a long period of time. Essentially, to elevate valleys is to increase the ‘half-life’ of your content; that is, the time required for your content’s value to reduce. Working to elevate valleys whilst ensuring peaks remain tall steadily increases the value of a publisher’s entire site.
In summary, evergreen content can create strong, predictable long-term success. Master evergreen content whilst reporting regularly like you do best, and you should yield some serious returns.
Recently, Google updated their search rater guidelines to help them better recognise and reward original reporting by surfacing it more prominently in search and ensuring it stays there longer. This means readers interested in a specific story can find the piece that started all the fuss, and publishers can reap the rewards of having their high-quality original reporting surfaced to a greater number of users. Here’s a guide to the changes and our tips on how to make the most of this new behaviour.
Let's say your publication has secured an exclusive interview with an A-list celebrity. This interview includes a number of revelations as yet unheard by the public. Months of work has gone into securing access, your team has researched, created, subbed and produced a great piece, and you publish it. In our current news cycle, many publications regularly borrow quotes and angles from others, creating pages of content about this topic in Google's SERP. Elsewhere, a single news event will be covered by many thousands of publications worldwide. Your publication may dig deeper than others by sharing data on specific angles of the story or accruing quotes from sources central to the story.
Google's changes aim to aid their users to find the original source on news topics. Moving forward, articles recognised by Google as 'original reporting' on a given search term may stay in a highly visible position on the search results page over a long period of time. We're yet to see exactly where these will be positioned, but it's likely these will sit above all other results.
Google's algorithms sort through content, arranging stories in a way that offers the best experience for their users. These algorithms are constantly updated and improved, and Google's latest change to the algorithm is to train it to take into account the 'originality' of content within a story, the timing of the post and the quality of the publication producing it.
To achieve this, Google will harness the use of a 10,000-strong team of raters worldwide. This team has been instructed to use the highest rating - “very high quality” - for original news reporting “that provides information that would not otherwise have been known had the article not revealed it." Noting that "...original, in-depth, and investigative reporting requires a high degree of skill, time, and effort.”
These raters will be tasked to consider a publication's reputation, too. From Google's guidelines: “...you might find that a newspaper (with an associated website) has won journalistic awards. Prestigious awards, such as the Pulitzer Prize award, or a history of high-quality original reporting are strong evidence of positive reputation.”
Ranking in a top position for a popular search term will have a significant effect on traffic for a publication, so this change is likely to offer the greatest benefit to newspapers and large publications pinned on the page for popular terms.
We're yet to see whether this change will also affect niche stories, but if this happens it could aid specialist publications with long-tail traffic on stories broken by them and then picked up by larger publications.
This change is unlikely to affect the results below this highlighted story, however, so don't expect a huge drop in traffic from search.
Now's the time to look at how you can increase the longevity of stories by producing them with an 'evergreen' approach in mind. Rather than reworking existing stories or publishing slightly tweaked press releases, publications that add to stories with further reporting, quotes, new angles or 'deep-dives' could find themselves pinned to Google's results, attracting a steady stream of long term traffic.
As Google raters will be analysing publisher reputation, it could be worth looking at an 'About' page (remember them?), using this to cement your publication as an authority, listing journalistic awards and accolades. It could make sense to update Wikipedia entries with this information, too.
Secure exclusives whenever it makes sense to, and when working with embargoed press releases, spend time ahead of publication to ensure the story probes deeper than others. The knock-on result for your audience is a further increase in the quality of content which will reap benefits for your publication overall, building loyalty and increasing dwell times - another positive!
This could prove a significant change to the behaviour of content in Google’s search results page. But, don't be intimidated. For publications which already devote time and resource to producing original takes on a topic, this update could bring with it serious rewards. You're already performing Google's 'original reporting'. Continue to focus on telling stories you care about in the way you'd expect of another top-tier publisher, and you're well on your way to capitalising upon this search update, and benefiting your publication hugely as a result.
Responsible news is how I refer to the group of organisations striving to un-bias news consumption in an age defined by political polarity and an apparent unwillingness to engage in constructive, structured dialogue with opposing parties. You’ve seen this too, everywhere from Twitter to the most high-profile news on the planet. To provide news in this way is irresponsible. Yet, in a political climate as turbulent as ours, adapting practice is hardly a priority for much of top-tier journalism.
It may come as a relief that there is a group of news organisations striving to simplify access to quality reporting, by aggregating that of our most reliable sources or by creating their own. These organisations value quality over quantity, in both quality news and quality time spent with their platform. In this piece, we focus on three organisations: Tortoise, Kinzen and Curio. Their subversion of traditional models makes our access to world-class reporting simpler than ever. Each could fit into our lives in a totally seamless way.
James Harding, the former Director of BBC News who co-founded Tortoise, coined the term ‘slow news’. It refers to an observation he has made lately in his decorated career: that the stories which took the longest to complete were consistently those that bore the most significant impact. “It was a lesson that said, actually, when you take the time, you can do journalism that is really valued and valuable – so that was the thinking [behind Tortoise Media],” he told Press Gazette.
First, we need to clarify that as Amol Rajan of the BBC correctly points out, “slow news has been around for years. It’s called the ‘Features’ section”. You know that, so you’re right to wonder why we need platforms like Tortoise: the labour of love belonging to Harding and Katie Venneck-Smith (former President of Wall Street Journal). Tortoise members contribute directly to the editorial process thanks to what Hardy calls a ‘system of organised listening’.
Tortoise’s ‘Daily Edition’ - the daily AM news bulletin - won’t be a digest of top stories of the day. Instead, it will go in depth on five - possibly under-reported - stories. Tortoise hosts a daily “ThinkIn” from 6:00pm-7:40pm, encouraging attendees not to just ask questions, but to share strong opinions. It is broadcast live.
To tackle the ‘echo chamber’ effect, Tortoise plans to eventually take its ThinkIns on the road to prisons, clubs and schools.
Tortoise will be “non-party-political” with “no proprietor” and no “subtle relationships with advertisers”. Harding wants to shift from the focus on “liberty and fairness” of news organisations of the past. “Dignity - the idea that everyone has a right to be recognised and respected”, is his priority.
All of this output will focus on five broad areas: technology, finance, natural resources, identity and longevity.
With 20 top staffers full-time already, Tortoise hopes to employ over 40 permanent staffers by mid-2019. 10 editors will get a budget to bring in contributors, and Tortoise’s staff team of reporters and researchers will handle a significant portion of the original journalism.
Tortoise has disavowed breaking news but will still aim to break the type of stories that will be covered elsewhere.
Tortoise’s business model is all about membership - a “high-quality, low volume” business. Harding “doesn’t believe in native content” and he doesn’t want Tortoise to “become an ad agency”.
Revenue is also driven by commercial partnerships with big institutions, for whom Tortoise will organise on-site ThinkIns, which resemble the TED Talks model. The aim is to strike up 8 to 10 such partnerships with industry leaders.
Tortoise is currently in beta phase - it’s unclear if a free trial version will be available once the platform launches properly. We don’t know when exactly that will be, but Tortoise’s offer of a discount for founding members ends on March 31st, implying a launch soon after.
To help outline the myriad merits of the platform, we spoke to Liz Moseley, Tortoise’s Members Editor. Consider this an outline of what the app aims to achieve, and how that distances it from the news pack.
Mathematics: Can you elaborate on what James means exactly when he refers to a “system of organised listening” - that is, how precisely users contribute to the editorial process?
Liz Moseley, Members Editor: When somebody joins Tortoise, they become a member of the newsroom, which means that they are active contributors to what we do.
My job, which I think is unique in news media, is a case in point. I’m an Editor, I’m in the daily conference, the long term planning conversations, and my sole focus is to act as the conduit between the members and the journalistic effort. So, I find people in the member base who can develop stories with us, and we gather their feedback.
At the moment the main channel in the product for this is the ThinkIn. We host them four times a week at the moment, usually (not always) in the newsroom itself. So members come in around 5pm, when we’re still at work, and we have a conversation. In the course of that conversation - sometimes on a predetermined topic, sometimes on the news of the day - we will form a point of view. Informed by what people say.
Frequently, members raise questions that warrant follow up journalistically, so we write pieces that come directly off the back of what’s been said. We use footage from the Thinkins within the stories, it’s important the members can see themselves in the process and the work itself. We use our members as fact checkers, and actually as our conscience too. One of the first features we built in the beta app was “WDyT” which stands for “what do you think”. We’ve been bowled over by the amount of and quality of input we’ve had. I’ve worked in media for 20 years and I’ve never seen anything like it. Members are incredibly committed to it - they won’t let us rest on our laurels for a second.
Does Tortoise’s membership fee risk fostering coverage of stories that only affects a certain bracket of the population?
The full suite of pricing isn't live yet. At the moment it's £50 for three years for u30s, and the same if you get a gang together as join as a group of 10 or more. That's pretty good value. We'll be rolling our student pricing, pricing for social enterprises and so on as we build out. So we are being very deliberate about making sure Tortoise is accessible. The diversity of the member base is crucial to the success of the whole thing.
How will Tortoise strive to keep access to its services democratic?
Our home is in central London and it would be easy, or at least easier, for us to create an experience that is London-bound. Inviting people into the newsroom is one thing, but when we take Tortoise on the road and host ThinkIns in other places - even those that are still in London strangely - the conversations we have change.
For those people who can't make it to us, we're bringing the Tortoise to you. So, for example, we hosted a ThinkIn in a school that is particularly affected by knife crime. This week we did a ThinkIn in a church. We're going to a care home in Norwich. We have events coming up in Oxford, Edinburgh, Manchester, Bristol. In the next couple of months we're having ThinkIns in Amsterdam and New York. They’ll all be livestreamed.
The decision for a new company to host a conference (the ThinkIn) every day is a bold one. What measures will you take to keep this up in spite of how busy we can all be, or how tired after a hard day at work?
Strangely, we're more worried about scaling it up than keeping it up. We want to be able to host ThinkIns wherever the members are. At the moment, demand is high and the quality is getting better all the time as we learn more about how to bring people into the conversation. When it comes to 5pm and we start to welcome people in (we're all still working when the members arrive), it doesn't feel like an effort, it's exciting. Because it's different every time. There's a buzz about it.
Do you view Tortoise as a competitor to other, more established newsrooms, or as a complementary service?
At the moment it is complementary. People will always want their breaking news and they can't get that from us. Quite a lot of our founding members are self-professed news junkies. They're building the Tortoise habit at the moment, and we are starting to hear that some of them are easing off some of their previous news sources now they're enjoying Tortoise. But that's not what the business model is based on. It's not an instead, it's an alternative.
Unlike Tortoise, Kinzen is a news aggregator, as opposed to a newsroom in its own right. Kinzen utilises machine learning to allow a user to take control of their news consumption routine. That's what they see, when they see it, how much of it they see.
Kinzen hope to “make users empowered, giving you the ability to construct some form of filter and ranking system that reflects your intentions and not your instincts.”
Users can respond positively or negatively to news they’re provided with in Kinzen’s different topic channels. These are what’s analysed to present users with news they want. But you can also integrate your Twitter feed, where Kinzen’s algorithm will watch topics you follow.
However, it is still in the testing phase, so Little and his team are building a pre-launch community over the next two months, inviting people to test pre-release versions of the iOS app.
Kinzen currently has two long term goals, not outlined in detail as of yet: to reward valuable curators in the community, and to interest news organisations, presumably into partnership of some kind.
Kinzen launched in January on a £5 subscription basis. Before launch, they were seeking donations in exchange for six months of access to Kinzen’s subscription services after launch.
In order to better understand Kinzen on a conceptual level and situate it clearly in the responsible news landscape, we reached out to CEO and co-founder Mark Little.
What type of content are Kinzen actively looking for, and what publications are you looking to court?
Kinzen’s mission is to connect the active news seekers of the world with the sources who reward their trust and attention. In other words, to build a user experience of news worth paying for. Our perfect partner is a publisher who wants to build deeper personal engagement with members of the communities they serve.
How does Kinzen benefit publishers?
Kinzen is purpose-built for publishers who want to develop reader revenue products based on personalisation.
Our first product is a personal news app which offers users a highly curated experience of the open web. Initially, this drives traffic to publisher websites, and will soon become a sales pipeline for publishers offering subscription content. It will also help us perfect and refine Kinzen’s unique brand of ‘personalisation with a purpose’.
In parallel, Kinzen is developing a ‘white-label’ version of its user experience for partners. This technology solution will help publishers develop personalised newsletters and audio briefings, and can be eventually integrated into publisher apps and websites.
How can publishers monetise using Kinzen?
First, publishers can use the Kinzen app as a lead generation tool for their reader revenue products (without sacrificing revenue or user relationships). Second, publishers can use Kinzen technology to build new reader revenue products or enhance existing ones.
Do stories link directly to publishers à la Flipboard, or is all news viewed within the app?
All stories in the app link back to the publishers’ websites. All potential premium subscribers are directed to the publisher paywall/gate.
Technically speaking, how does a publisher get its content onto Kinzen? Do they provide an RSS feed, or is there more to it than that?
Kinzen’s data team can scrape, tag and organise content from any existing open website without any special relationship with the publishers. But RSS feeds will be core to any relationships based on reader revenue.
In an era when publishers are building loyalty and striving to retain valuable audiences of their own, why would you recommend a publisher work with Kinzen?
Kinzen’s founding team are old-school journalists who have worked for both traditional publishers and social platforms. We have a deep understanding of the problems facing publishers in a world dominated by big tech companies and aggregators. Kinzen doesn’t sell your ads, sell your content or ‘own’ your audience. We judge success by the value of the personal bond we help create between news seekers and publishers.
Users are encouraged to build their own channels, to explore what matters to them. How does Kinzen avoid turning each user’s experience into an echo chamber?
One of Kinzen’s founding goals is to help people see beyond the usual sources, and discover journalism they never knew existed.
We do not have an ad-funded business model. Our algorithms don’t need to fuel outrage and emotion. Kinzen does not track your browser history to keep you addicted to the same sources and opinions. We don’t rank news and information on the basis of what your social network is thinking.
Instead, we have a Discovery section in the app which surfaces expertly curated sources and channels and an Emerging Topics feature which engineers serendipity based on editorial choices rather than popularity. Explicit user feedback and conscious choices drive our recommender systems.
Curio stands out in the lineup as it’s audio-led. There isn’t quite the same amount of information about Curio available online as Tortoise and Kinzen, but their site tells us that Curio creates “Intelligent Audio For Busy People". It offers thousands of high-quality audio stories from the best publications in the world, no annoying ads, offline listening, all hand-picked by editors and read to the listener by award-winning narrators. What we know for certain is Curio’s sources are among the planet’s most reliable, including the Guardian, The Financial Times, The Economist and The Washington Post.
Naturally, we wanted to be able to provide some concrete information explaining how the platform is of use to publishers. We were put in touch with Tainá Vilela, Curio’s Head of Brand, who helped make the service’s operations totally transparent.
How does Curio provide value for a user, from the perspective of the people working on it?
It's easier to discover great timeless stories with Curio, stories are often buried under a large volume of information. We are passionate about choosing content that is relevant to our lives and what goes on in the world.
Our unrivalled collection of audio format stories, from some of the world’s most respected media outlets, gives people an opportunity to engage with great journalism on the go.
Does Curio view itself as a competitor to other ‘reading-led’ news apps such as Kinzen and Tortoise, or a complementary service?
Audio versus reading is not an "either or". There are parts of our regular daily lives when screens are not ideal or easily accessible, like when we are commuting, cooking, performing chores around the house or before going to bed. That is when audio shines.
Who are your ‘award winning narrators’ and how are they selected?
Several of them are Audie Award winners who have worked for brands like National Geographic, BBC, Disney and others. They are trained actors and performers who are able to bring empathy, gravitas and life into any story.
Is an emphasis placed on individual publications within the app, or on your own curated playlists? In other words, are users encouraged to prioritise one over the other?
We help listeners find stories they love and publications to reach new audiences, increase engagement and create a new stream of revenue.
We uncover great ideas, well crafted pieces which can instigate interesting debate and personal growth. Good quality comes from established outlets like The Guardian, which was founded almost 200 years ago or AEON, a magazine around philosophy and culture which launched in 2012 and is still pretty much under the radar.
How will Curio ingest and consider user feedback?
At Curio we are always listening. Our listeners are more than just “users” to us, they are stakeholders who trust us to provide them with the best content out there. Their feedback has a daily impact on our product, so we make sure to listen, learn and work on becoming better.
In 2013, Jessica Lessin founded The Information: a subscription-based digital news organisation which Tortoise seemingly owes a lot to. The Information shares only a small handful of news stories per day. It earns 90% of its revenue from subscriptions, and an estimated 10,000 subscribers pay $399 per year for the service. It has been profitable for over two years.
The 900,000-subscribers team at The Financial Times are interested in The Information’s strategy. They have reportedly discussed ways they could help to accelerate growth.
Agate, is another startup that allows users to pay for individual articles as they go. It’s a digital wallet for which publishers can set their own pricing on a story-by-story basis. Agate aims to make it easier to consume premium content without blockage from an unaffordable paywall. But, in a crowded market of micropayment startups, they have a tough job ahead of them.
Spaceship Media isn’t a platform, rather a form of consultancy that helps news organisations remain unbiased. They do this using ‘dialogue journalism’ - a process developed by founders Eve Pearman and Jeremy Hay - to “[go] to the heart of social and political fractures” and “[build] journalism-supported conversations between regular people about the issues of deep consequence to all us”. Their belief is that establishing a journalism-supported dialogue between communities in conflict helps solve that conflict. In their words:
“We work with media organizations and others on several different levels. We design and manage engagement conversations from the ground up; we provide design and ongoing consulting support; we provide consulting around our engagement values and methodology and project visioning.”
Vigilant won the 2018 Startups for News contest at the General Editors Network conference. The platform offers ‘real time search and monitoring across thousands of public data sources’. This makes it easier for journalists to locate stories and angles.
In some ways, it’s a dark time for news journalism. You’re reading this because you know that the boundaries between truthful reporting and spin are blurrier than ever. Luckily, there is a vanguard of organisations whose functionality helps identify news brimming with bias. The purpose of this piece is not to depict one service in a more favourable light than another; we merely want to help you consume responsible news, and ensure your own journalistic output is consumed responsibly.
On Monday, 25th of March, 2019, Apple gathered the press and figures of highest influence in tech to its California headquarters for some significant announcements. The headline acts of the evening for publishers? A new territory for News - Canada - and the introduction of magazines to Apple News. Say hello to Apple News+.
Now live in the US and Canada, Apple has launched with 320 magazines and newspapers including Time, Vogue, People, National Geographic, Billboard, The LA Times and Wall Street Journal. Following a one month trial, access to all titles will cost $9.99 US and $12.99 in Canada.
First of all, full disclosure. We’re the team behind FlatPlan - the system that allows publishers to get onto Apple News with any CMS - and we were delivering content to Apple News+ Canada from launch - so you could certainly say we’re fans of Apple News. But we’re a business that’s powered by publishers, so we have a good understanding of both the platform and the implications for the industry. Here’s all the information you need from the announcement.
Open the new app and you won’t immediately notice a difference to the UI. The free tier in Apple News still takes centre stage, offering curated and algorithm driven news and content recommendations. Magazines appear within the app, neatly flowing into the Today feed. Publishers are given “New issue” and “Featured issue” screen estate to showcase covers, chosen for readers based on their interests and from Apple News editors’ curation.
"Live covers” allow publications to create moving versions of their covers, using motion to leverage their storytelling capabilities and entice readers to click through. The reader that wishes to dive into the magazine is led into a contents page and can view articles in Apple News Format - Apple’s own format that that allows pages to be presented in beautiful, screen-optimised pages with animations, behaviours and custom styles to bring an immersive experience.
It’s Apple News Format that sets Apple News+ apart from competitors that offer PDFs which require users to zoom in and out of pages that were destined for the printed page – not designed to be legible in screen. Publishers that make the most of this format will benefit most from Apple’s revenue model, as they’ll offer an experience that builds loyalty and increases dwell time.
Apple takes 50% of all revenue from Apple News+ subscriptions, with the rest of the revenue going into a pool to be divided between publishers. Revenues are dished out to publications based on the amount of time users spend engaged with articles - dwell time, basically. This gauge for payment isn’t perfect - visually-led articles will rarely attract the same dwell time as long-reads, and weekly publications will arguably have more opportunity to rack up views, but the simple fact is that the more compelling the publication the more revenue the publisher will receive.
It will be interesting to see how publishers react to this new model. We could see a shift to longer versions of articles delivered into Apple News+, or specially produced Apple News+ articles with behind the scenes video and extra photography. The smart publishers will use Apple News Format to go much further than just presenting stories, working with Apple News editors to showcase stories that make full use of the system. We find our FlatPlan ‘Feature’ stories that make full use of Apple News Format offer very high dwell times on Apple News at present - using the format to compel readers and increase revenues is key to success in Apple News+. One thing's for sure - by focusing on dwell time over pageviews Apple will counteract clickbait - the aim of the game is to keep readers engaged.
Different publishers have different takes on this. Condé Nast, Hearst and Meredith have jumped feet-first into the new offering. Wall Street Journal's approach has been to use Apple News to build new subscriber bases. New York Times aren't posting to the paid tier at present, but still seeding content on Apple News+ free tier.
What's clear is that consumer behavior is changing. Netflix has changed how people watch television. Gone are the days of following a schedule - people are now getting used to a world where they control what they consume and when they consume it. Apple News+ is at attractive proposition to the consumer, so while it won't be right for every publication it's going to be hard to ignore its impact.
You don’t. Wall Street Journal is delivering a ‘curated’ selection of stories to the platform. WSJ editor Matt Murray will dictate the stories that make it into the app but William Lewis, publisher of The Journal suggesting that the selection will be a mix of general, political and sports stories, based on stories that do well on the free tier of the platform at present.
This is hard to predict so early on, but assuming that 2% of the 90 million monthly users of Apple News will subscribe (1.8 million), with 320 titles currently available. If a title was to receive a 1/320 of total dwell time, they could each expect to receive around $28,097 per month.
Assuming the distribution of dwell time were to follow the 80/20 rule, we would expect the top publications to receive roughly $112,387 per month, whilst the majority (80%) might expect to receive around $7,024 per month.
Apple has a huge user base - 1.4 billion active devices as of January this year. Apple Music has over 50 million paid subscribers, thanks to Apple’s promotional clout. The app will come preloaded with a free trial on all iPhones, iPads and computers, and features push notifications to drive users into the platform. 90 million people use the free tier of Apple News+, racking up 5 billion pageviews every month, so expect this launch to make an impact.
Canada is Apple's fourth territory (after the US, UK and Australia). What's unique about this territory is the addition of a new language - French Canadian. We're now delivering content for 90Min into both English speaking and French speaking channels. Apple plans to roll the app out into Europe soon, so we'll see more language support soon.
Apple News+ magazines is available to publications by invitation at present. Drop us a message if you'd like to talk about how FlatPlan can help your bring your publication into the system.
Apple has rolled out two big changes to Apple News in the last few weeks, following their annual Keynote event in Cupertino. We felt it would be useful to give a quick rundown on these changes and how they might affect your Apple News strategy moving forward.
Open Apple News now and you’ll notice a number of changes to the look and feel. On iPhone, navigation is now reduced from five icons down to three — Today, Spotlight and Channels. Today replaces “For You” and Spotlight works as it did before, with Channels now offering a route into publications, topics of interest, saved stories and search. On iPad, navigation is now displayed as a slide-out drawer, with Channels listed in order of priority on-screen whenever navigation is expanded.
The app now displays a wider range of stories across a number of views. More space is given to topics and areas like Your Briefings, News Editors’ Picks and News Top Stories help guide users into content arranged by interest or browsing history.
Last week Apple launched Mojave, a new operating system for Mac computers. News is now bundled with this OS, appearing prominently on a walk-through of the new system, with an icon appearing in the dock at all times.
The macOS version is similar to News on iPad, making use of slide-out navigation and a window that opens at a similar view to iPad portrait. Users with linked Apple accounts will notice the app is linked to their devices, sharing publications, interests, saved links and viewing history. Notifications from publishers appear on desktop whenever the app is open.
Apple’s updates to look and feel are likely to aid users to find a wider range of content they’ll enjoy. The new setup means your stories have a higher likelihood of appearing within streams of content and topic groupings give more opportunity for stories to appear to those who don’t follow your publication. Apple’s algorithms and natural language processing handle how these appear, so aside from creating well-written, clearly defined content, you don’t need to do anything more here.
Channels give more opportunity to drive users to your channel, particularly on iPad and Mac where your publication name appears prominently. Apple recommends uploading an icon to drive brand recognition — if we look after your publication on News we’ve done this for you already.
More prominent channel links put more emphasis on ensuring the page users arrive to is as compelling as possible. Our advice is to ensure all stories appear on the first tab — removing sections completely may even make sense in many cases. Promoted Articles allow you to maximise impact by pushing your very best stories to the top of your channel. To promote an article, log in to News Publisher and hit the star icon. Promoted articles remove themselves from the top of the page after a few days.
If you’re a Preferred Partner, Apple News appearing on macOS gives a new opportunity to reach a ‘bored at work’ audience. We’d recommend testing notifications at times users at work are likely to be looking for a short distraction. Analytics on your main site will give clues to these timings but behaviour may differ on Apple News so trial a few times and dig into Apple’s analytics for data. It’s worth keeping an eye on competitors if they have notification functionality — users who arrive through notifications may, of course, dive into the article stream (and potentially see your content), so avoiding crossover could help increase impact.
As Apple News grows we’d suggest a focus on increasing publication follows. The user that clicks the heart icon is much more likely to see your stories and if you have notifications enabled they’ll receive this prompt. FlatPlan is the only system that allows Call to Actions for this in footers and we’re testing functionality to help increase follows which we’ll be messaging about soon, but it’s certainly worth thinking about how to drive follows from an editorial perspective as well.
One final thought from us — behaviour is likely to change as more people use the app across new devices. Apple News doesn’t sync with Google Analytics so make sure your team keep an eye on Apple’s analytics. You can set your team up to receive a daily, weekly or monthly analytics report by email — to do this head to Analytics > Recurring Report or just hit reply if you’d like us to help.
Earlier this week Facebook opened Instant Articles up to all publishers, allowing mobile users to view articles within the Facebook app. Wondering if it’s for you? Here’s a short Q&A.
Instant Articles allow publishers to host their content within Facebook’s app for users on mobile. A little like Google’s AMP initiative, the main aim is to speed up loading times for mobile users.
Facebook say the result should be a 20% increase in opens, a 10x faster load time and a 70% decrease in abandonment. The Wall Street Journal have reported a 30% increase in shares, too.
According to Facebook, yes. And Facebook claim they haven’t (yet) boosted the visibility of Instant Articles. Facebook uses the number of shares and how long people look at an article to decide how much visibility to give a story, so all three metrics working together to increase open rate.
Any publisher with a Facebook Page.
You can. Publishers keep 100% of the revenue generated by ads they sell themselves, which can be served through most ad servers, including Google DFP. You can also incorporate Facebook ads, with profits from this split between Facebook and the publisher.
By handing our content over to Facebook user reliance on the platform is increasing. Our reliance has led to a shift in the way Facebook monetises the network.
When the platform first launched, Facebook banned native advertising and their guidelines only allow for one ad per 350 words. But native advertising is now allowed, and honestly, their ad policy helps the end user. It is however a reminder that Facebook will be in complete control of your content, so if you come to rely on it for traffic, then expect the model to change relatively regularly.
Publishers have to fit content into a template that leaves very little room for branding and feels ‘very Facebook’. There’s a real risk of losing a certain amount of connection with readers – you get a logo bar that appears near the top of the page, some typeface and colourway choices, but that’s about it (you can see our design for Mixmag at the bottom of the page, showing customisable areas). From a commercial point of view there’s also a real worry that publishers are giving away the very identity that often drives advertisers to work directly with their teams, too.
And from a technical point of view, full mobile navigation isn’t allowed, infinite scroll isn’t possible and the ‘related articles’ area is limited, so opportunities to draw users into further clicks are limited.
Despite the downsides we feel Instant Articles should certainly be tested by publishers – but it’s the testing that’s important.
Keep a very close eye on Google Analytics. Segment by Mobile, then look at how Instant Articles perform over time, taking particular note of Pages Per Session and Bounce Rate.
It’s possible to set your feed up to allow editorial to decide whether or not a post should appear on Instant Articles, and while this doesn’t allow A/B testing in a traditional sense, this level of control will help you direct certain articles through to your site. You may find certain types of article perform much better when removed from Instant Article templates, so it’s well worth experimenting with this.
The lack of navigation or space for related article plugs means it’s more important than ever to weave related stories into articles. Assure your linking practice is on top of its game, and continually experiment with different internal to external link ratios, as there's no one-size-fits-all rule for all publications on that. As your content starts to be distributed across platforms like this it’s a good idea to revisit article structure with editorial and design teams.
Facebook’s microsite is a good place to start with Instant Articles. Your options from here depend on your CMS and your budget. Take a look at Facebook’s dev portal for a rundown of options or, of course, feel free to get in touch with us for a chat.