TopBuzz lead image

TouTiao & TopBuzz: Everything Publishers Should Know

What are TouTiao and TopBuzz?

Launching in 2012, TouTiao is now among the largest news aggregation apps in China. Installed on over 250 million devices, it’s the flagship product of Bytedance: owner of world-beating apps like Uber, and the world’s most valuable startup. TouTiao doesn’t only syndicate news; it presents content from social media platforms, video streaming sites and more. Its all-encompassing nature makes it the most widely-used app in China in terms of duration: users spend an average of 73 minutes a day on the app, surpassing even Facebook. 

ByteDance launched TopBuzz in 2015: an English-language version of TouTiao that has been steadily ascending charts ever since. In December 2018 alone, Chartbeat found that TopBuzz referred almost 34 million page views across Charbeat publishers internationally. That’s a 36x increase on January 2017. TopBuzz had 36 million monthly active users, as of September 2019. See below for the steep incline in users from February 2017 to February 2019.

TopBuzz referal traffic feb 2017 to feb 2019

How do TouTiao and TopBuzz work?

TouTiao stands out as it curates user-specific content using a remarkably sophisticated AI. This technology is very much the heart of the product, to the extent that TouTiao has never hired an editor, and CEO Chen Lin has previously said that TouTiao is “not a news company, but an AI company in the search business”. TopBuzz uses the same Bytedance AI, making it just as powerful an application. 

Bytedance’s AI creates engaging user feeds by focussing on three key areas:

  • User profiles: these are built on the app’s understanding of the user’s demographics
  • Content: The system uses natural language processing to determine if an article is trending, whether it’s long or short, and its timeliness (evergreen or anchored to a specific moment).
  • Context: It also accounts for location-related data like geography, weather and local news.

The apps refine their recommendations as users spend more time with them, increasing the quality of recommendations and significantly raising user retention rates.

TouTiao and TopBuzz monetise through advertising. Bytedance’s AI inserts ads every three to five pieces of news. Leveraging their user bases, TouTiao and TopBuzz share revenue with creators in a YouTube-style proportional rewards system. 

Publishers should be aware that a curation process without human input has seen fake news surfaced virally in the past. Interestingly, TouTiao only allows “legitimate” media institutions to publish political content, but TopBuzz has yet to implement this rule. Also, financial rewards for clicks fundamentally contradicts many publishers’ quality-over-quantity business models. But, neither TopBuzz nor TouTiao are closed networks, so visitors without accounts can still view content. Also, the fact that so many TouTiao/TopBuzz publishers focus on clickbait, quick-fire content does allow higher quality content to stand out, it just may be difficult for it to surface in the first place. There’s no hard-and-fast answer here.

How can I integrate my publication with TouTiao and TopBuzz?

Anyone can set up a publisher account and start surfacing content. TouTiao says on its website that by October 2017, 900,000 of its 1.1 million publishing accounts were “self-media.” Interestingly, only 5,500 accounts are professional news outlets and over 70,000 represent government institutions and other organisations. Also, TopBuzz has officially partnered with over 200,000 publishers and independent creators including The New York Times, BuzzFeed, Hearst and CNN.

After signing up for a publisher account on TouTiao or TopBuzz’s signup pages, publishers’ content immediately begins being crawled by Bytedance’s AI and recommendation algorithms, giving new publishers just as many opportunities to be surfaced in users’ feeds as established ones.

Emulating TouTiao’s model, TopBuzz presents a significant opportunity for digital publishers, and content creators of all kinds. It may continue to encounter trouble as it proliferates in the west, where regulations on things like copyright and fake news are stricter than China, but consider that TopBuzz floats around #10 among top free news apps in Google Play Store. That’s above CNN and even Flipboard. On iTunes, it ranked higher than the BBC News app. It continues to grow rapidly, and publishers would do well to investigate.

How Publishers can Grow Their Audiences by Publishing Less

Recently, Digiday published a valuable investigation into why in the last couple of years, publishers including The Guardian and Le Monde have cut publishing frequency, and consequently observed rises in audience traffic, dwell time and subscribers. Here, we pull some key facts and figures that will be of interest to digital publishers. 

Chris Moran, The Guardian’s Editor of Strategic Projects, revealed to Digiday that the publisher detected a huge portion of its content went mostly unread. It cut its output by a third, which resulted in traffic growth, according to a tweet by Editor-in-Chief Katharine Viner. In December 2018, The Guardian had 23.4 million monthly unique users in the UK. In December 2019, it boasted 25 million. 

Similarly, French publisher Le Monde reduced its published output by 25%, simultaneously growing its staff to 500 journalists. Its online readership grew by 11%, as did its print and digital circulation, according to Luc Bronner, Le Monde’s Managing Editor.

How do publishers gain readers by publishing less?

In short: because there’s a marked difference between digital and print news consumption habits. Readers tend to dedicate time to reading print publications cover-to-cover, but less time to individual articles online. If users read fewer articles online, publishers should dedicate all their time to ensuring that these articles are of the highest possible quality. Publishers have a tendency to produce more content than necessary in pursuit of revenue, but The Guardian and Le Monde have proven that this isn’t strictly necessary.

Here’s what media analyst Thomas Baekdal had to say:

“Whether a digital magazine publishes 100, 500, or 1,000 articles makes no difference. It’s the quality and interest of the articles that matter instead. We see this clearly on YouTube, where the most popular YouTubers rarely post more than once or twice a day. Publishers look at this, do the analysis, and they discover that when they cut away the not valuable, nobody realizes that it is gone.”

When it comes to tracking the success of this new approach, publishers can begin tracking time spent over clicks and page views. “These analytics show a clearer path to subscriptions”, according to The Post and Courier

Digiday’s full investigation is available to read now.

Google logo in neon

Google’s News Aggregation Service to Rival Apple News

Google has opened discussions with publishers about licensing their content for a new, Apple News-style news aggregation service. With publishers to be paid a license fee, the revelation represents a shift in Google’s relationship with publishers, who have long sought financial compensation from the search giant for the use of their content in its results page. The talks are in their infancy, but we do know that Google is meeting with publishers in Europe, specifically France, about the as-yet-unnamed new service.

The financial arrangements have yet to be revealed. A Google source revealed to The Wall Street Journal that ongoing discussions focus on licensing content to appear in a free product, but the specifics are being ironed out currently. Apple News launched in September 2015 and quickly became the industry standard news aggregator. A free service, publishers monetise their publications through advertising. Used by 100 million users worldwide, it’s very much the Goliath to Google’s David in the news aggregation arena. In 2019, Apple launched Apple News+, which provides subscribers with full access to digital editions of newspapers and magazines including Vogue, National Geographic Magazine and Los Angeles Times. Priced at $9.99 per month, it provides full access to digital versions of print publications.

apple news+ mobile with cereal magazineFacebook is the third tech giant reevaluating its approach to news. It wants to pay publishers a license fee for use of their news in an upcoming in-app news tab. At the time of the announcement, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spoke of his hope that other tech companies will follow this business model.

Google’s news aggregation service may mark an attempt to rekindle favour with the European news media. In September of 2019, Google announced that it would not pay European news organisations for the right to include their content in its search results pages. This sparked a significant backlash from publishers who expected the opposite outcome after the passing of a directive through European Parliament. 

France was the first EU country to progress this directive into national legislation on October 24th 2019, but fell into one of its loopholes. This meant that Google refused to pay French publishers for links and removed snippets and thumbnail images for publishers displaying content in France unless they specified they wished to have this content shown in search results.

Apple News has long been the benchmark for news aggregation apps. Separate from the pre-existing Google News app, Google’s new news aggregation service can be considered a direct competitor for Apple News and Apple News+. Google is optimistic about its chances. Here’s what Richard Gingras, VP of news at Google, had to say:

“We want to help people find quality journalism – it’s important to informed democracy and helps support a sustainable news industry. We care deeply about this and are talking with partners and looking at more ways to expand our ongoing work with publishers, building on programs like our Google News Initiative.”

If you’d like to seamlessly integrate your publication with Apple News, click here.

Facebook ads desktop

Facebook to Close its Audience Network's Mobile Web Arm

Facebook has announced plans to shut down the mobile web arm of its Facebook Audience Network. Thought to be a response to recent attempts by browser companies to reject cookies in mobile web browsers, publishers should be aware that starting April 11 2020, Audience Network will no longer fill any ad requests to their web and in-stream placements. 

“We make business decisions based on where we see growing demand from our partners, and that’s in other formats across mobile apps. We’re focusing our resources there moving forward,” revealed a Facebook spokesperson to Digiday. Publishers should note, however, that this move will not yet affect their ability to place Audience Network ads in their Instant Articles.

Launched in 2014, Audience Network offers advertisers placements in a variety of third-party apps. In 2016, an expansion was introduced that included mobile sites. This has helped it monetise publishers, who were paid over $1.5 billion in 2018. But, it’s unclear quite where the divide between web and app revenues lies. Sources suggest that the app segment drives a larger proportion by a significant margin. 

Google dominates web browser market share and the tech giant last month announced its intention to drop support for third-party cookies inside two years. That move is likely to negatively impact Facebook’s Audience Network. GDPR penalties have been leveled at certain European ad tech groups, placing real-time bidding under critical examination. Furthermore, Facebook CFO Dave Wehner expects a targeting “headwind” as the California Consumer Privacy Act is rolled out.

On the whole, the closure of Facebook Audience Network’s mobile web arm represents an interesting move on Facebook’s part. Mobile web is so susceptible to brand safety and viewability issues, and Google is undoubtedly the dominant force.

working with graphs and phone

In Summary: Nic Newman's 2020 Digital Publishing Predictions

Every January, Nic Newman publishes his annual report of journalism, media and technology trends and predictions for the coming year. Nic Newman is Senior Research Associate at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, where he has been lead author of the annual Digital News Report since 2012. As such, his annual report is an invaluable tool for digital publishers, marketers and editors alike. Here’s our roundup of its key revelations for 2020.

As in 2019, publishers are putting faith in reader revenue in 2020 - that is, revenue driven by readers through paid strategies like the paywall. 50% of publishers expect it to provide the majority of their revenues in 2020. A third expect this approach to be on par with advertising in terms of importance, and very few will attempt to profit off solely advertising. Jon Slade, Financial Times’ Chief Commercial Officer, said: “Growth engines, reader revenue specifically, has very positive prospects; advertising revenue remains a major concern.”

The positivity towards reader revenue extends beyond international publishers to smaller publications who are enjoying successes with their first forays into subscription models. But, as this approach circulates wider, competition for the finite amount of users willing to pay for content will likely become a challenge. “Churn rates are likely to become an increasing worry for those that can’t prove consistent value to audiences,” warns Newman. Also, the disappearance of quality journalism behind paywalls has obvious democratic implications that publishers should be wary of.

A digital leaders’ survey conducted by Reuters revealed that publishers favour Google and Twitter over Apple, Snapchat, Amazon and Facebook when it comes to initiatives to support journalism. Facebook, it seems, is still experiencing fallout from publishers over the early-2018 introduction of the ‘meaningful interactions’ algorithm that saw publisher content sidelined in news feeds.

Publishers aren’t naive about the unlikelihood of lawmakers fighting their corner and defending the sanctity of unbiased reportage. The controversial EU directive “the link tax”, which decrees that anyone “using snippets of journalistic online content must first get a license from the publisher”, is not being regarded as the saving grace that European lawmakers hoped it would be. 

Elsewhere, 2020 looks set to be another serious year for podcasting. Half of the publisher respondents to Reuters’ survey claim they’ll push various podcast-focused initiatives throughout 2020. Not least because podcasting revenue is expected to grow by roughly 30% to reach over $1bn in the US. In 2020, expect the proliferation of podcasting beyond the English language. Much of the action so far has been confined to the US and a handful of English-speaking countries, but this is set to change.

All in all, 2020 looks to be a year in which journalism finds a firmer footing, and begins to regain some confidence in itself thanks to new business models with a serious potential for longevity. In spite of some legislative obstacles, the overall mood is one of optimism. Here’s how Nic Newman articulated the feeling for 2020: 

“...the overwhelming mood from this year’s survey is one of quiet determination not to be distracted by the latest innovations but to focus on delivering long-term value for audiences. There is no one path to success – and there will be many publishers that do not make it – but there is greater confidence now that good journalism can continue to flourish in a digital age.”

Head here for a summary of, and download link to, Newman’s full report.

Editorial SEO for Kerrang!

How we Helped a Music Publisher Top the (SEO) Charts

Sistrix, the industry-leading SEO tool favoured by Amazon, recently announced Mathematics client Kerrang! as the brand which gained the greatest search visibility through SEO for 2019: Kerrang! reported growth of 364%, as a result of SEO, across the year. That puts our beloved music title ahead of editorial heavyweights like Metro, Huffington Post, and even the New Yorker when it comes to overall growth from search engine optimisation.

We helped Kerrang! achieve this success with a process we call ‘Editorial SEO’: a collaboration between publisher and agency that comprises two key facets:

  • We continually offer advice on editorial SEO best practice, allowing editorial teams to implement it into all aspects of editorial practice
  • We manually update carefully selected articles and pages on a weekly basis

Editorial SEO advice and best practice

This project with Kerrang! started with editorial team training. Luke Morton, Kerrang!’s Digital Editor, arrived to the publication with a strong knowledge of SEO, and recognised Kerrang!’s potential for serious growth through search. He wished to ensure the full team understood the ins and outs of SEO best practise, so after working together to build a set of goals we ran training sessions and Luke ensured this practice was assimilated fully within his team.

Mathematics is a publisher-specialist agency. We understand how editorial teams tick, so our approach to SEO considers the voice of a publication at every step - audience loyalty doesn’t arise from stuffing articles with keywords or creating content based solely on popular search terms. As we advised Kerrang! when we started working together: Editorial SEO must never compromise the quality of the journalism.

Instead, we spoke to the team about tools that could aid them, and changes to processes that would increase search traffic without hindering quality. Among the tools we walked the team through were CoSchedule’s ‘Headline Analyzer’ and Answer the Public. CoSchedule’s tool is vital for its intuitiveness; it aids users to craft a version of their headline that will find greatest favour with Google thanks to in-depth analytics presented in refreshingly simple diagrams. Answer The Public is a search insights tool into which a user enters a topic, and is presented with all pertaining questions, prepositions and comparisons that featured that topic and have been searched in Google, in order of search volume.

Next, we walked the team through short tail and long tail search terms. A short tail search term could contain one word, so may be the name of an artist or band - let’s say Kerrang! favourites Slipknot. Three words and below is still classified as a short tail search term - eg. ‘Slipknot drummer’. Anything over three words is a long tail search term; often specific questions for which users want specific answers. As such, they drive fewer clicks but tend to be of a greater value, making them of equal importance to short tail. Let’s say someone searches ‘when is Slipknot’s new album released’ - an article with the headline ‘Slipknot Announce Release Date for New Album’’ is a shoe-in for their click as it guarantees an answer to their question. As they’re often questions, long tail keywords tend to begin with prepositions, making the aforementioned Answer the Public a handy tool for identifying them. A site hosting plenty of pieces optimised for both short tail and long tail search terms will find itself a domain authority with persistence and patience.

We also discussed headlines, title tags, subheaders and meta descriptions with Kerrang!’s team. The title tag is the headline of the page as seen by Google and Google users. It’s first seen within a relevant search result. Title tags should feature the main keyword, and not be too long: Google typically displays the first 50-60 characters of a title tag. The rules for headlines are the same and often the headline of a piece of journalism will serve the same purpose as its title tag. 

Meta descriptions aren’t a Google ranking factor, but can impact a page’s click-through rate. They should never exceed 160 characters. If they do, they’ll be truncated by Google and won’t appear in full. Subheaders are valuable when they include the chosen keyword. Appearing in sequence below a headline that also features the keyword reveals to Google a complex ‘headler hierarchy’, signalling a wealth of information on the topic covered.

Craft, the CMS Kerrang! was built upon, makes it easy to categorise and tag content, so a strategy was devised to ensure Kerrang! builds a complex, sophisticated network of internal links in order to become an authority on the subjects it covers. Jumping into the CMS we took the team through the importance of image SEO, showing them how to quickly edit filenames and alt tags to help readers find content through image search, and introducing tools like ImageOptim that minimise file sizes without harming image quality.

The team set about integrating our SEO advice into their day-to-day work, and quickly developed a deft ability for writing journalism that a reader would never guess had been optimised for search.

Manual SEO updates to existing content

As the Kerrang! team creates content with search in mind, we’re focusing on analytics, making SEO improvements to existing content and suggestions on areas for the team to tackle in the future.

Our Data Analyst starts out by surfacing stories that have performed well on-site, but have gained a suspiciously low click-through rate on search engines, suggesting that they may be in need of optimisation.

This data is then passed onto our Growth Officer, who analyses the list to choose articles to tackle. Because we’re optimising to maximise long-term growth we always ensure that the pieces we tweak are evergreen, or can be tailored to be. That way, we ensure that every piece we revise has the potential to drive great traffic in the long term, not just the short. Naturally, we tend to optimise long-form features more often than news. 

Next we look at potential terms a person may search for, using tools to measure the amount of times a phrase is searched for each month and the amount of competition. We find terms that are relevant, popular but realistic in terms of competition - when we spot a good opportunity we get started on optimisation.

Each story is carefully edited to maximise its traffic-generating potential. With our analytics research as our guide, we restructure headlines, subheaders and body copy, image alt tags, meta tags and internal and external links. Where feasible we add extra context, videos or additional content to stories, presenting our suggestions to editorial for sign-off before pushing them live. Particular attention is paid to ensuring the tone, message or house style of the story is never affected by our changes.

The result of this approach is an increase in high-quality visits to the website through search. Director and musician Rob Zombie receives 201,000 monthly searches, and this Kerrang! article optimised manually by Mathematics ranks highly on the first page of Google’s results page for searches of ‘Rob Zombie’. It’s the highest-ranking result from a publisher by a long shot. Rob Zombie directed Halloween, so a Kerrang! article about him regained traction at that time of year, leading to a huge increase of traffic.

Testament to the seamlessness with which Kerrang!’s team integrated editorial SEO into its practice are the results for searches of ‘Green Day’. The band receives 165,000 monthly searches. A Kerrang! article appears on the first page of results as the highest-ranking publisher. That win stems from the team’s skill as writers, and the fluency they now boast with SEO:

Green Day editorial SEO search ranking

As well as reworking content, we look for opportunities using analytics. By tracking search trends, click-through rates and overall changes in traffic, we’re able to advise editorial teams on artist biographies to create and topics to cover. This bolsters a publications overall domain authority and creates a web of internal links; an enormous SEO help. After identifying high-impression, low-click queries with Google Analytics, Google Trends is used to filter the number of queries down to a reasonable amount. We send the team a list of suggestions for biographies to assemble and add to an artist/band’s hub page. 

The world of SEO is a famously tumultuous one. We can never stop adapting to the frequent updates made to Google’s core algorithm. Kerrang! has competitors nipping at its heels, some of which focus on news over features. There are countless reasons why complacency is the same as losing the ranking battle.

So, we’ll continue to make our weekly updates and offer our guidance. Luke will keep feeding this back to his team, who’ll ensure it slots neatly into their daily editorial workflow. It’s a symbiotic relationship that ensures Kerrang! remains ahead of the curve. The technical stuff’s on us, while the writers get to focus on what they do best: brilliant music journalism. 

Rubicon and Telaria Merger

Rubicon and Telaria Merger: What it Means for Publishers

Rubicon Project and Telaria have announced plans to merge to create “the world’s largest supply-side platform”. Rubicon will own 52.9% of the new company to Telaria’s 47.1%. “Together, Rubicon Project and Telaria will enable thousands of publishers to connect with hundreds of buyers and brands, creating a global, independent alternative to closed players in the ecosystem”, read the joint announcement.

How will the Rubicon and Telaria merger benefit publishers?

This deal will benefit publishers in the form of reductions on fees; higher volume leads to lower transaction fees. The size of Rubicon and Telaria’s combined arsenals should lead to increased availability of inventory. Rubicon’s digital ad buying, selling and header bidding is renowned, and Telaria’s model allows them to specialise in video; Telaria’s product is software that allows publishers to effectively manage video advertising.

“We want to be the lower-priced player in the market, the scaled player, the efficient player,” said Michael Barrett, Rubicon CEO and chief executive of the as-yet-unnamed new company. “You’ll continue to see that play out as the market contracts: there will definitely be a lowering of the ad tax.” 

It seems as though this new company is aiming to tackle Google’s status as the king of supply-side platforms. Google currently dominates the market in terms of both buying and selling ads.

The rise of header bidding - which lets publishers offer inventory to multiple ad exchanges simultaneously - has transformed the behaviour of many SSPs, throwing the priority of many services they provide into question. So, many have shifted their focus to new areas of biddable media, like TV and audio. The areas on which Rubicon Project and Telaria have focussed previously mean this new company will be an industry leader across the wide spectrum of digital ad buying and selling. 

For publishers wishing to work with Rubicon, they can get in touch here. Rubicon will tend to only work with publishers who can prove they yield over 5 million page views per month. Whether the new company will lower, raise or maintain these requirements remains to be seen.

Rubicon and Telaria’s deal is expected to close in the first half of 2020, and we hope that simultaneously, a doorway will open to publishers hoping to develop their advertising strategies easier and more powerfully than ever before. Only time will tell.

Apple News Analytics: Introducing FlatPlan Notify

Our mission with FlatPlan is to aid publishers to build a large, valuable audience on Apple News. We strive to illustrate the importance of Apple News analytics for our clients when helping them drive growth on the platform. As part of these efforts, we’re pleased to announce FlatPlan Notify - instant Apple News analytics notifications for editorial teams.

What is FlatPlan Notify?

Our notifications allow your teams to be informed instantly by email whenever your articles are featured or boosted by Apple News editors, selected for inclusion in Spotlight or Top Stories sections, or make it into Trending Stories. Your team will also receive alerts when an article ‘spikes’ through an influx of traffic.

These emails are ideal for alerting your teams to content that resonates with Apple News editors and readers, with each email including actionable next steps for editorial, helping them attain further growth from this content and plan future coverage that will play well in Apple News.

Barney, our Data Analyst, explains the rationale behind this new feature:

The aim of these email notifications was to provide feedback to publishers as quickly as possible to give them an idea of what content is performing well on the platform at any given moment. Being featured by Apple News editors can earn significant returns for publishers, so it’s important that these events are not missed. FlatPlan Notify aims to circumvent this.”

A FlatPlan Notify Apple News Analytics notification
A FlatPlan Notify Apple News Analytics notification

Here’s what HELLO! had to say: 

"The notifications we receive from FlatPlan Notify provide invaluable insights into what content resonates strongest with Apple News’ editors, algorithms and our readers. They’re a quick, simple way to discover what works on Apple News." - Ainhoa Barcelona, Acting Website Editor, HELLO! Magazine

FlatPlan Notify is available within the new notifications package - get in touch with us if you would like to activate this new service on your account.

Three people pointing at a laptop

How Publishers can Find High-Value Email Subscribers on Facebook

For news publishers, creating a solid, valuable email subscriber list is more important than ever. Among their many benefits, email newsletters help drive traffic to your site and promote brand loyalty. An audience in the habit of regularly checking a branded email is more engaged, and therefore more valuable. Growing a huge email list shouldn’t necessarily be the endgame, though. For the vast majority of publishers, the ultimate goal should be to cultivate a list that’s high in both quality and quantity. In this post, we examine the methods through which publishers can most effectively gather high-value subscribers with the help of Facebook, through “Content-to-Capture”.

What is Content-to-Capture?

Content-to-Capture is an approach developed by Keywee. It’s a Facebook ad campaign that offers a Facebook user a free article in exchange for their email address. Once the user has entered their email they are directed to the publisher’s site, bringing two benefits to publishers: you acquire new email subscribers and drive quality traffic to your site. 

Here’s a Content-to-Capture success story from Kiplinger.

“Within a few months of using Content-to-Capture, Kiplinger acquired over 30,000 high-value newsletter subscribers at an average CPA of about $1. Given that the publisher earns around $3 per email subscriber, Keywee helped Kiplinger achieve 3X ROI on its email acquisition efforts.”

“We sustain that [subscriber] list and grow that list largely through Facebook now, we find that to be very good ROI.” - Andy Nolen, Kiplinger’s Director of Digital Operations & Advertising, in a conversation with Digiday

Let’s walk through the steps you’ll need to take in order to implement a Content-to-Capture campaign:

Locate a strong piece of your content that represents your brand. Open Facebook Ad Centre and create a “Lead ad”. Follow the steps to create an ad that collects email addresses, either through a form hosted on your site or through a form on Facebook. Enter your link, an eye-catching image and copy for the ad. After targeting an audience that are highly likely to be interested in your content, set the ad live.

The audience will be met with an ad like the below:

content-to-capture campaign example

After clicking the post’s call-to-action - ‘Subscribe’ - the user is presented with an extended preview of the content and a form to fill out. The form automatically populates any information the user has already provided to Facebook.

content-to-capture pre-populated signup form

A signup confirmation will then show alongside a link to the whole piece on the publisher’s site. It’s at this point that new subscriber details can be downloaded from Facebook Business Manager or sent directly to a publisher’s mailing list via an integration.

content-to-capture signup confirmation

And there you have it. An elegant, demonstrably effective method of driving newsletter subscriptions using Facebook. The Content-to-Capture approach has been adopted by some of the world’s largest publishers, including The New York Times, Forbes, The Guardian and National Geographic - we’re looking forward to monitoring the effect it has on other publishers in the future.

Want to know how else Facebook can help digital publishers? Here's the latest on its News tab

Smartphone with amazon logo

Amazon Polly and Why it Matters to Publishers

Wouldn’t it be convenient if your readers could engage with your content whilst on their morning jog, making breakfast or driving to work, all without detriment to their routine? That’s the thinking behind text-to-speech engine Amazon Polly, unveiled in 2016. Sure, text-to-speech has existed in mainstream media for the best part of two decades, but it’s struggled to catch on in the mainstream, mainly due to its lack of naturalistic expression. However, with a company the size of Amazon behind it, Polly represents a massive leap forward in text-to-speech technology, as it’s by far the closest we’ve come to a realistic human voice in multiple languages.

Publishers’ interest in text-to-speech stems from consumers now listening to an average of around 17 hours of audio per week:

Average time spent listening to audio

So while audio still doesn’t compete with text or video, it’s quickly becoming a contender. Its convenience serves as a real asset.

Amazon Polly uses “advanced deep learning technologies to synthesize speech that sounds like a human voice”, which makes consuming journalism as audio all the more appealing. It’s a flexible service, with dozens of realistic voices across a variety of languages and even multiple speaking styles: “a Newscaster reading style that is tailored to news narration use cases and a Conversational speaking style which can be used for many use cases including telephony applications.” This hints at the future possibilities of Polly. That it was developed by a company as large as Amazon suggests a serious degree of support and resource for the application, so it only stands to develop and improve from this point. With that in mind, publishers looking to implement audio on-site or efficiently produce a new podcast may have just found their dream tool.

Reuters Institute for Journalism recently published a report entitled The Future of Voice and the Implications for News, in which it reveals that purchases of voice-activated speakers such as Amazon’s Alexa are growing faster than smartphones and tablets at a similar stage. The use of voice-activated speakers in the US, UK and Germany has doubled in the last year

Mathematics client The Face already integrates audio with its content. It boasts a bespoke audio player, currently used for specific features which are enhanced by audio, such as a transcription of songwriter and poet Arlo Parks’ ode to London:

The Face audio player

Amazon’s Polly could be an asset to your publication; the tool could dictate to users any article they wish, rather than specific features. Perhaps you pride yourself on the breadth of your coverage - Polly’s multiple language functionalities could be instrumental in expanding your readership.

Despite this explosive growth, the most effective audio monetisation strategy for publishers is still contested. One solution involves “a sponsorship message at the beginning of the listening experience. Esra Celebi for Purple Publish suggests “a 15 or 30-second ad could be one quick and easy way to generate revenue from audio content” but in reality most publishers won’t be able to put much sales resource into this area yet. Programmatic audio advertising is here, however, with Google rolling out audio ads to DoubleClick Bid Manager last year.

In all likelihood, much of the text-to-speech innovation built on Amazon’s Polly is still ahead of us. But, small-to-medium publishers would do well to start paying attention to the tool now. Audio is a tested and trusted way of consuming content and audio consumption is growing because consumers are rapidly realising its benefits. Whether you work for a blog or an internationally-renowned newsroom, audio is here to stay, and publishers would do well to take it seriously.