Google sign on office

Is Google Really Removing EU Publishers From Search?

In March 2019 a European Parliament vote dictated that, for the first time, publishers will have the opportunity to negotiate with major technology platforms such as Google for use of their content at a fair price. For digital publishers, the two most significant articles in the directive are Article 11 and Article 17 (formerly known as Article 13). The former states that search engines and news aggregation platforms must pay to use third-party content, while the latter makes platform owners responsible for any content posted without a copyright license. 

When first announced, Christian van Thillo, chairman of the European Publishers Council (EPC) claimed the directive “modernises copyright without stifling digital innovation. As press publishers, we would like to thank Europe’s regulators for adopting this important directive that acknowledges the value of the press to society and the need for fair remuneration for the commercial re-use of our intellectual property”.

Google’s response has publishers concerned. France is the first EU country to progress this directive into national legislation, from October 24th. However, as a result, it has become the first nation to fall victim to the directive’s loopholes. Google has refused to pay French publishers for links and has removed snippets and thumbnail images for publishers displaying content in France unless they have specified they wish to have this content shown in search results.

How could this impact publishers?

The intention of the legislation is to improve the rights and revenues of small to medium-size authors, content creators and publishers. But, the response of Google aims to circumvent this - by ‘opting in’ to show snippets and thumbnails, a publisher agrees not to require payment from Google.

After selecting to allow snippets and thumbnails the following message is shown, requiring confirmation.

This property will no longer be treated as a European press publication within the meaning of Directive (EU) 2019/790 on Copyright and Related Rights in the Digital Single Market. To the extent you have rights in this property under current or future laws implementing Article 15 of the Directive, you consent to the display of preview content with no further compensation to you in Google Search, Discover, YouTube, and other search products offered by Google in the European Union and the European Economic Area, and you confirm you have the authority necessary to consent on behalf of the property. You can re-add your property to the list of European press publications at any time through this checkbox. Changes may take a day to take effect.

Here’s how Google articulated their decision:

“At the moment, when we display news results, we show a headline, which links directly to the relevant news site. For some results, we also show you a short preview of the article, such as a few lines of text (also known as a “snippet”) or a small “thumbnail” image. Together, these headlines and previews can help you decide whether a result is relevant to your search, and whether you want to click on it.

When the French law comes into force, we will not show preview content in France for a European news publication unless the publisher has taken steps to tell us that's what they want. This applies to search results across Google services.”

How should publishers respond?

You may have received an email from Google related to this change, but this email doesn’t explain how to check or change your status. Here’s what you should do.

  1. Find out who in your organisation has access to Google Search Console - this is likely to be handled by your tech team, SEO team, product team or senior editorial team
  2. Ask them to login with this link
  3. Ensure a decision-maker from the business reads over the page and selects the correct option for your publication. Publishers are required to untick the box if it is ticked, ensuring they aren’t included in the list of European press publications
  4. The message mentioned earlier this article will be displayed, requiring confirmation
  5. Should you need to, consult your legal team before ticking or unticking this box

What else should we be aware of?

A politico.eu report estimates that French publishers alone lose up to €320 million per year because of Google and Facebooks’ influence in online advertising. Publishers expected this new legislation to be a significant bargaining chip to use against tech giants publishers feel should compensate their losses. Unless the EU finds a way around Google’s approach this legislation could be limited in scope, and as such, France is planning to create a tech regulator to slap sanctions and fines on the companies.

While unrelated to this change in law, Facebook has reached agreements with major publishers to pay them for content displayed in the upcoming Facebook news tab. Does this mean smaller publishers will start receiving a new revenue stream from Facebook? We’ll have to wait and see.

Further reading:

Google's European Press Publisher FAQ 


Orange speech bubbles

How Publishers can Master the Comments Section

As publisher ad revenue shrinks and we accept that Facebook traffic won’t return to previous highs, there seems to be a growing desire to create direct reader revenue through engaged audiences. Interactivity increases engagement and time spent: assets for publishers that are hard to come by in a time when Facebook can’t be relied upon like it used to, and before the usefulness of Facebook’s upcoming News tab can be understood. 

Comments sections are a tried and tested method of supplementing this interactivity, but they’re not without their downsides. Conversations concerning the ethics of comment sections (and how useful they really are for publishers, anyway) began globally around 2014, and soon, internationally renowned titles such as Reuters, NPR, Mic, and Bloomberg all dropped their comments sections. The thing is, these decisions were made on the back of the belief that social media was now the place for the kind of discussion formerly catalysed by comments. Now that publishers can’t rely on Facebook, is it time for them to reopen comments sections in the pursuit of increased engagement, and consequently, revenue?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple answer. In 2016, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers published a report questioning the purpose of comments, where it mentioned “potential brand damage”. Resident Advisor attributes the 2019 closure of its popular comments section to callous remarks made by trolls. The University of Texas’ Centre for Media Engagement found, in its recent study “Attacks in the Comment Sections: What It Means for News Sites”, that users who view news stories with high numbers of uncivil comments had negative attitudes towards the site. The site was viewed as less valuable than those whose comments sections boasted mainly positivity.

But, it doesn’t have to be this way. Andrew Losowsky, Head of Coral (an open-source project helping publishers build better communities around their journalism) at Vox Media, told What’s New In Publishing:

“There are compelling reasons why it’s worth investing in comments on your site. While they’re usually a small percentage of your total audience, commenters are often your most loyal and most valuable readers. They spend longer on the site, they come back more often, they share more links to your site, and they’re more likely to pay for subscriptions and other services. They’re also potential sources for ideas and stories.”

There are a few methods publishers can use to monitor their comments sections. Consider using a strong spam filter to keep spam sequestered in a spam folder, and feature a clearly displayed comment policy. You don’t have to resign yourself to old excuses, like “that’s just the internet”!

It’s difficult, however, to moderate comments at scale. One way around this is to only allow paying subscribers to comment on site. This is likely to deter trolls, and helps publishers keep a handle on moderation. Sanjay Sindhwani, CEO of Indian Express Digital, has previously acknowledged that “if packaged well, publishers can extract good value from comments by bringing out good ones and promoting healthy conversations with limited resources”. 

Thankfully, technology exists that can work in tandem with publishers to keep their comments sections home to constructive discussion. Perspective uses machine learning models to score the perceived impact a comment might have on a conversation. Developers and publishers can use this score to give real time feedback to commenters, help moderators do their job, and allow readers to more easily find relevant information. If you’re looking at interactivity methods to increase engagement and time spent, consider implementing Perspective. 

The aforementioned University of Texas study strongly suggests that publishers’ reputations and pockets would benefit from an overhaul of their comments sections. As Bassey Etim, Community Editor at The New York Times puts it, “The best thing you can do for a community is to actively show people that somebody at the organization is listening. The more you do on that end, the less intense moderation you need to have.”


Snapchat on iPhone with yellow background

Everything we Know About Snapchat's News Tab - So Far

Back in August, we heard that Facebook was to launch a dedicated ‘News’ tab, on which it would showcase top stories by a host of publishers. Now, social app Snapchat has followed suit, announcing its intention to introduce a dedicated news tab to its ‘Discover’ page some time in 2020. It’s a change that Snapchat needed to make if it were to find favour with publishers, and once live, this tab could provide some serious benefits for your publication.

Snapchat’s Discover page is famously chaotic; users must navigate all manner of stories in a seemingly random order to find news they’re interested in. They may find serious political news from a publisher such as The Guardian next to light-hearted entertainment reporting. Even chief exec Evan Spiegel told investors in a recent earnings call that the current approach is like going into a "supermarket without the aisles labeled." Clearly, the company is not shy about its desire for an overhaul of Discover, and its intention to work with publishers in a more serious way. A specific section within Discover that's dedicated to news would make it far easier for users to find what the stories they want. This news section is set to "...present real-time, breaking news from a handful of trusted news partners." This could be the moment Snapchat finds faith with publishers who were apprehensive about Discover before.

Discover received a redesign in 2018 to separate publisher content, but this marks the first of a number of changes. Snapchat’s parent company, Snap Inc, is already in talks with publishers about potential partnerships, where publications could create and distribute daily content optimised for mobile. So far, the company has partnered with a number of big-hitter publications, from Refinery29 to The Washington Post. Generally, though, Snap’s conversations with publishers are only just beginning. Their arrangements, which could include sharing of ad revenue or the payment of licensing fees to publishers, have yet to be agreed.

Despite of its flaws, some media companies have already enjoy successes in Discover’s current iteration. NBC News’ ‘Stay Tuned’ show has tens of millions of regular viewers. CNN, on the other hand, cancelled its daily Snapchat Discover news show way back in 2017, as it simply wasn’t generating enough revenue. 

An overhaul of Discover could do Snapchat some much-needed favours. While it appears to be returning to growth, it still struggles to match the numbers of the likes of Instagram.


Facebook on iPhone next to Macbook

Facebook is Looking to Hire Journalists for its News Tab

Last year, Facebook closed its Trending Topics section, which aimed to provide users with a quick news overview. According to the company it had become “less and less useful”, accounting for fewer than 1.5% of clicks for publishers internationally. This followed a dramatic dialing down of news content in user’s feeds, favouring posts from friends and family, reducing traffic to news publishers, bankrupting a number of publishers with it. Digital publisher LittleThings attributes its shutdown solely to Facebook's algorithm alteration, whereas publications like Topix and Bustle lost 35.3% and 29.5% of their traffic respectively.

Facebook’s next change for publishers is the “News tab”. In this post, we’ll explore what the News tab means for publishers and how it will operate day-to-day, and how publishers can capitalise on its addition to the world’s most popular social media platform.

How will the News tab work?

Facebook has decided to employ humans to facilitate and moderate a dedicated 'News' area on the website and app. It will be the team’s job to handle a ‘Top News’ section of the tab by curating breaking, national and international stories from a wide network of publishers, while the rest of the tab’s feed is populated algorithmically based on data Facebook has on the user.

Facebook is currently seeking partnerships with media outlets including The Washington Post, The New York Times, ABC News, Dow Jones and Bloomberg, though talks are ongoing. The benefits of partnership have not been explicitly stated, but it’s thought that Facebook will promote content by partnered brands in the News tab, meaning their stories are surfaced more frequently than others. But, the journalists in charge of curation may populate the tab with stories from any source. The addition of the News tab has not been said to alter the current functionality of Facebook’s News Feed in any way - yet.

According to the Wall Street Journal, these partnered publishers will receive a US$3 million licensing fee from Facebook licensing their content in the News tab. The idea for these partnerships was first raised publicly in a conversation Mark Zuckerberg had with Axel Springer CEO Mathias Döpfner earlier this year. Campbell Brown, head of news partnerships at Facebook, said in a statement:

“Our goal with the News tab is to provide a personalized, highly relevant experience for people. The majority of stories people will see will appear in the tab via algorithmic selection. To start, for the Top News section of the tab we’re pulling together a small team of journalists to ensure we’re highlighting the right stories.”

Brown also added that training those algorithms to personalise content is a resource-heavy exercise, in terms of both data and time. So, Facebook’s hired journalists will act as gatekeepers of the integrity and responsibility of the News tab, consequently accelerating its rollout.

How can publishers capitalise?

It’s likely the News tab will feel in some ways similar to other news curation services like Apple News, Flipboard or Smartnews, so learnings from these platforms could aid publishers here.

Facebook’s decision to hire an editorial team may open up conversation between publishers and that team, with publishers pitching to Facebook for features. Strong headlines and images will help publications jostle for space alongside each other, and it’s likely Facebook will take engagement on stories into account when deciding article prominence. Carrying (relatively discreet) branding on thumbnails could help increase brand awareness and clicks - see how The Guardian adds its logo onto each story. We’ll create an in-depth guide with more tips once we’ve seen the tab in action.

The Guardian's subtle on-site branding

Facebook isn’t the first tech company to enlist the help of professionals when curating the content visible to users. Click here to learn how Apple News’ editorial team works with algorithms to tailor the contents of the app.


Downton Abbey fashion designer Anna Robbins

Welcoming HELLO! to Apple News

HELLO! is a cornerstone of the celebrity news and lifestyle publishing world. Launched in 1988 by publisher Eduardo Sánchez Junco as an English equivalent to his already popular, Spanish-language ¡Hola! Magazine, HELLO! quickly became a household name known for its exclusive access to the British royal family and A-list celebrities, beautiful picture-led features and award-winning writing. HELLO!’s weekly print edition is one of the most widely-read publications in the United Kingdom, while its online version attracts millions of unique users through a fast-moving mix of news stories, features, galleries and videos.

Using FlatPlan, HELLO! was able to integrate with Apple News without requiring any changes to their core content management system. We enabled the editorial team to feed stories directly to Apple News from their CMS without any additional steps in their workflow, opening up a huge new audience for their content. At the time of writing, HELLO!’s team are feeding all stories to Apple News, displayed proudly on a channel designed to clearly communicate that this is a publication with a lot to say. 

Hello! magazine's Apple News channelKnown to be among the UK’s most popular celebrity news publishers for decades prior to the launch of its Apple News channel, HELLO! very quickly earned some serious authority on the platform. Already, the publication’s stories have been featured in Top Stories, Spotlight and Trending Stories dozens of times.

Stories in Apple News are presented with a ‘Related Stories’ section below, offering publishers the opportunity to appear alongside international publications with readerships of all sizes. HELLO! represents an interesting departure from the regular function of this feature; the magazine owns its niche to such an extent that Apple News’ algorithm regularly recommends it beneath its own stories.

How did we ensure HELLO!’s goals were met?

Apple News launched in September 2015, so whilst Hello! wasn’t among the first publishers to integrate with the platform, we wanted to ensure that its stories impacted both those familiar with the brand and those interested in what it covers who have yet to become fans. With that in mind, we introduced tasteful branding to Hello!’s Apple News articles, including fading logos while the user scrolls.

HELLO! from Mathematics on Vimeo.

 

Using Apple News, the HELLO! team hoped to open up a new space for their content and benefit from its monetisation potential, after enjoying significant returns on aggregation platforms such as Flipboard. This required a solid understanding on how best to approach content creation for the platform, so our team met with the HELLO! editorial team to offer guidance before launch, and are on hand every day to help maximise potential as the channel grows.

HELLO! aimed to use Apple News to target a new, younger demographic and direct this audience to their various print and digital channels. A useful tool for this is FlatPlan’s custom footers. These footers appear at the bottom of all HELLO! articles in Apple News, and can be tailored to direct users to specific locations. Currently, HELLO!’s footer invites the reader to sign up to its newsletter, and as the channel continues to grow this call to action will work to drive all manner of goals as required by the publisher.

Hello! magazine's custom Apple News footer

HELLO!’s Apple News channel has sustained very high numbers of unique users per month since integration, with stories living on elegant yet crystal-clear layouts designed by FlatPlan. Here’s how HELLO!’s articles are presented in Apple News’ desktop and iPad versions:

Hello! magazine Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan's entourage story desktop

Here’s that same story on iPhone:

Hello! magazine's Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan entourage story mobile

Moving forward, HELLO! plans to continue growing, with FlatPlan’s audience development team offering guidance on everything from increasing followers and dwell times, to using data to inform their editorial strategies. Our fluency in all things Apple News allowed HELLO!’s already popular reportage to find an even larger audience. A simple RSS integration into Apple News format was all it took for HELLO!’s stories to reach a large new group of readers with a hunger for the latest happenings in the world of the celebrity. 

But don’t just take our word for it. Here’s a quote from Sophie Vokes-Dudgeon, Head of Digital at HELLO!

FlatPlan has opened up our content to a wide new audience - crucially, without infringing on our day-to-day operations or draining our resource. We’re in regular conversation with their team, working to continually optimise and build our Apple News channel and audience.

Welcome to Apple News, HELLO!

If you’d like to find out how simple your publication’s Apple News integration could be, head to our site.


How UK Publishers can Master Apple News+

Announced with much fanfare at the Apple Keynote event in March, Apple News+ marked the most significant update to Apple News since its launch in 2015. Initially available only in the US and Canada, News+ adds a paid tier to the news aggregation platform, allowing readers to access digital magazines including Time, Vogue, People, National Geographic and The Wall Street Journal for a monthly fee.

News+ comes to the UK this year, and in this post we’ll give UK publishers a tour of the US version of the app, look into how US publishers have approached it and offer guidance on how UK publishers can master the platform.

So what is News+, and why does it matter to publishers?

Apple News is a news aggregation application that comes pre-installed on all modern Apple devices. It attracts 90 million monthly active users who notch up some 5 billion article views each month. It’s a free application, monetised by publishers through display and native advertising, with some support for paywalled publications. In the US and Canada the application includes a new section called News+, presenting “Issues” of content with covers, contents pages and stories, mainly from the print version of a publication. A single monthly subscription of $9.99 opens up access to around 300 titles.

Total subscription revenue is split 50/50 between publishers and Apple, and each publisher’s share is assigned according to article dwell time. Subscriber numbers and revenues are not public, but if News+ were to attract 2 million paying subscribers, split between 500 titles, each receiving 1/500 of total dwell time would receive around £19,980.00 per title per month. Assuming the distribution of dwell time were to follow the 80/20 rule, we would expect the top 20% of publications to receive roughly £79,920.00 per month, whilst the other 80% would expect to receive around £4,995.00 per month. Apple Music has 28 million paid subscribers in the US alone, and Apple will be hoping to replicate that success with News+.

Feedback on the launch has been mixed, with some publishers positive and some sceptical, but for many publishers, Apple News+ offers a new revenue stream, from a new format that also counts towards circulation figures for print. Approaching Apple News+ the wrong way could require significant resource for weak return on investment, but approached with a clear strategy and understanding of how best to monetise this audience, News+ could present a valuable opportunity.

How do readers find News+ stories?

So, as publishers are paid revenue based on dwell time, let's first look at how News+ stories are found.

The “homepage” of Apple News is called the Today Feed. This contains a stream of stories from all manner of publications, curated by Apple editors and the Apple News algorithm, which suggests stories based on a user’s unique interests, favoured publications and browsing history. In the US and Canada, this page begins with free Apple News stories, but a short scroll down introduces News+. News+ articles appear alongside free stories in “Topic” feeds and within suggested stories, but most prominently in a “Featured Issue” area. This leads with a magazine cover (which directs to a contents page) and four key features. This kind of placement is about as valuable as it gets for the publisher - a strong cover and selection of features in this area will notch up significant article views for a publication.

The UK version of Apple News contains a prominent tab in navigation named Spotlight; an area curated by Apple News editors each day. In the US and Canada this tab is replaced with a News+ tab, which allows readers to jump straight into the paid section. This News+ area displays the full catalogue of magazines hidden behind sub-navigation grouped in alphabetical order, by interest or by “featured” status, followed by a curated page of stories split into topic or publication.

Finding a title with sub-navigation tools can be a little fiddly. With no search function at present, a user wishing to find a title beginning with the letter G has to scroll through screen after screen of covers, with each title competing for their attention. They’ll find magazines by interest, too, but all-in-all, finding publications using sub-navigation requires plenty of intent on the user’s part, so readers are much more likely to find content through single stories within curated areas of the app. We’ll talk a little about how to use this to your advantage later in this article.

Outside the app, the Apple News editorial team collaborates to assemble email newsletters that are circulated every week. They consist of five of the week’s top stories and aren’t limited to a single set of sources or topics. Users can share stories with friends through socials and messaging apps, and email links to publications to friends.

The user who navigates to an issue or article is able to follow that title, but only by navigating to the main channel of the publication - this isn’t possible on article pages or even issue contents pages. Following a publication does a few things - it positions the latest issue in a prominent area of the News+ section, it automatically downloads issues when they come out, and it sends a signal to the Apple News algorithm that a user is interested in that publication. This increases the number of stories surfaced to the user as they make their way around the app. It goes without saying that this is a vital action, so we'll look at methods for driving that particular behaviour later in this article.

It’s worth noting that a user who hasn’t subscribed to News+ will meet a paywall prompt whenever they attempt to view a News+ article. Articles are also flagged as paid to free users, but Apple has to be careful about users hitting a paywall too often as it risks affecting Apple News UX, reducing usage. Those who haven’t yet tried News+ will be met with an offer of a free trial, however, so as a publisher, directing followers to your publication in-app could lead to conversion, particularly at launch. Apple hasn't released figures on the number of readers who have continued with News+ following trials, but have stated that "the road to monetization takes some time" and suggested "different trial periods" will be offered.

How are US publications approaching News+?

Publications on News+ are split into two camps - PDF publications that present issues as flat replica versions of their print titles and Apple News Format publications which allow the creation of print-meets-digital layouts optimised for screen, as well as features like animated covers and advertisements that click through.

At launch, around 50% of publications on Apple News were PDFs. Five months in, the majority of titles now appear in Apple News Format. This isn’t a surprise, as PDF publications aren’t indexable within the system, are unlikely to be featured, and offer a weak user experience compared to Apple News Format. 

Apple News Format publications generally present articles in two ways: non-features and features. “Non-features” tend to be presented in basic, repeated templates, whereas “features” tend to live on bespoke designs, which maximise the capabilities of ANF in layout, behaviour and media formats, often designed around the specific material of the article. Some of the best examples of this come from high-circulation titles like National Geographic, GQ, WIRED and Time. Articles such as these are prime candidates to be featured within the app - partly as they offer a wide appeal to readers, but the strength of design plays a big role here. Bespoke features offer the most compelling experience for audiences, which Apple takes very seriously.

Apple made quite a fuss about animated covers, presenting a beautiful selection at the News+ launch, but at present magazines don’t appear to have continued producing these. The use of covers on the Today Feed and within prominent areas of the app means animated covers merit experimentation, but creation can be time-consuming. At FlatPlan we can help realise this with minimal impact to the art team.

Advertising from the print product can be included in Apple News Format. The majority of publishers that have included print ads have simply reproduced a full page ad, occasionally adding a link to the image. The right type of publication - and the right type of advertiser - could take this much further, using animation, video or unique typography, but advertisers may prefer to book digital-style formats to run across both Apple News and News+ channels.

The News+ user interface has been criticised, as some users have reportedly found it confusing. It’s often difficult for the user to understand whether they are viewing a story in News or News+ - a cover, momentarily floating at the bottom of the article, is often the only difference. If a reader has clicked a story in their article feed, the only way to navigate to the full issue is to click this cover, and if they were to swipe right they would be taken to a story from a completely different publication. This presents an issue for publications, as a heavily-trafficked article doesn’t necessarily lead to time spent with the publication as a whole - we have solutions for this, which we’ll outline later in this post. Apple News uses “Recirculation” areas to drive traffic from page to page and publication to publication. News+ doesn’t include this functionality, so most current articles in News+ create a "dead-end" for users at the end of each article. We have solutions for this, too, also outlined below. 

How do publications get content into News+?

Apple News stories tend to arrive to the application through a CMS (at FlatPlan we use an RSS feed, after which we handle conversion and delivery), but the majority of News+ content stems from print publications, which are often not part of a digital workflow. Thankfully, workarounds have been devised for print-only publishers. Some magazines in the US and Canada export from InDesign, manually copy and paste their articles into a placeholder CMS, or use PDF extraction.

Extraction can be complicated in itself, but the interpretation of print elements into Apple News Format is where many conversions fall down. At FlatPlan, we can take care of integrations that deliver content from a CMS or PDF extraction that uses our unique machine learning system to ensure quick and precise conversion. Along with this we have a focus on ensuring that context within the articles to maintain the flow of the given narrative. Creating a News+ publication that retains editorial integrity and clear storytelling creates the best user experience, leading to increased dwell time, so context is key.

What opportunities does News+ offer publishers? What News+ advice do you have?

Mastering the presentation of your print content for Apple News+ is vital. It’s how you build brand recognition and loyalty. Where possible, this should mean more than adding the correct typefaces and colours to a basic template. Bespoke features will make much more visual impact, but a bespoke feel can be created from templates if flexible, well-designed templating is developed.

Columns or smaller features have to be tackled carefully. The majority of publications on Apple News present these in very basic layouts on pages of their own, often lined up side-by-side towards the end of an issue. This can create a frustrating experience for readers, which can lead to them bouncing to another publication, reducing dwell times across further pages in the publication. In many instances we recommend combining shorter pieces, using on-page navigation and strong signposting to lead readers and create a longer, better experience with that type of story.

While stories in News+ are organised into “issues” there is plenty of opportunity to be creative with current content and evergreen content from past issues. Each article in News+ gets its own unique identifier, making it possible to link to past stories or series’ - or even create buckets of content based on theme. Apple News directs readers using a "Recirculation" area but News+ doesn’t offer this functionality, so we recommend creating it as part of your channel build, signposting further reads at the end of features.

FlatPlan includes “footer” functionality that can display branded messages directly below content. We use footers to aid the user’s journey, and as an example, in News+ we’re able to display one type of footer to people arriving to an article within an issue and one type of footer for those arriving to a single article. Those arriving to a single article this way are lost to another publication when swiping right, so we can instead aim to change that behaviour to viewing more from the publication. We'll be using areas like footers to help drive that ever-important action of hitting Follow on a publication too.

For many publications we’ll be using footers in the free version of Apple News to help drive traffic into News+. We’ll do this using contextual messaging directed at readers already engaging with content, offering a strong potential for conversion. In FlatPlan these footers can be updated as often as required, so each new issue can potentially be promoted using covers and information on features. Data from existing channels can be used to help guide editorial decisions on the stories a publication decides to publish in News+, with our team recommending types of story based on metrics like dwell time, article views, shares and reach. Combining this with data from News+ content to inform adjustments can lead to strong performances with News+ audiences.

Carefully monitoring article data and user behaviour in News+ can help drive other decisions around content. If certain types of story show traction with Apple News audiences, they can be amended after going live to include further content that will increase dwell time. Are additional images available from the shoot? Is there a video to be used? Could extra context be added? These additions can be added as part of your Apple News content plan ahead of publishing, but Apple News also allows them to be added after going live. This is particularly useful if you find specific stories are performing well.

By carefully considering content conversion, having a focus on the importance of design, using elements like footers, monitoring data and thinking strategically about how to drive audiences around your own publication it’s possible to build an environment that takes your publication further than others on News+. Where other titles may concentrate on just delivering stories into the app, there are opportunities to create a unique environment in News+ - one that offers a good return on investment.


Apple News Knowledge Base: Everything Publishers Need to Know

Pre-installed on some 1.4 billion Apple devices internationally, Apple News opens up a huge and potentially lucrative audience to media businesses. At FlatPlan, we help publishers drive growth across Apple News and as such we have created the Apple News Knowledge Base. It introduces Apple News to those yet to integrate with the platform, but more importantly it's designed to assist publishers to increase audience growth and maximise the potential of Apple News. Within, we take a look at everything from how Apple News' editors work in tandem with the platform's algorithms, to how analytics work to guides on running ads within the platform.

Apple News Top Stories, July 22

Here's what the Apple News Knowledge Base covers:

Getting Started with Apple News

Getting Started with FlatPlan

Growing

Resources

If you’re still not 100%, why not discover five reasons to get your publication on Apple News? If you’d like to integrate your publication with Apple News with the help of FlatPlan, click here to access the Apple News Knowledge Base and begin your Apple News integration.


Welcoming Kerrang! to Apple News

Kerrang! is one of the most widely-read rock music publications in the world. First published in June 1981, it’s carved out a niche at the heavier end of the spectrum, specialising in hard rock, punk and metal styles. As the biggest selling music weekly in the UK, Kerrang! has welcomed some of the world’s most successful musicians to its pages, from Kurt Cobain to Iron Maiden to Bring Me The Horizon. The print edition exists alongside their hugely popular website, which hosts a great deal of online-only content, like videos from Kerrang!’s event series, The K! Pit. 

Three-Kerrang!-Covers

Kerrang!’s loud, bold branding reflects its niche. Its digital and print editions contrast bold colours with bold personas, and its trademark ‘!’ punctuates not just the logo, but everything the publication covers and stands for. Here’s a title that strives to stay ahead of the curve in a fast-moving young music scene.

Apple lets any publication integrate with Apple News by providing an RSS or Atom feed, as Kerrang! had already done. But this form of integration offers very little presence on the platform - to illustrate, here’s the warning Apple offers when publishers try to do so:

Apple News RSS integration warning message

A full integration by FlatPlan means all stories are created in Apple News Format - which is what we did for Kerrang! This opens them up to Apple News’ analytics platform, allows them to run ads and build an audience, and most importantly allows their stories to be surfaced in the app through Apple News’ algorithm.

Despite the loudness of its branding, it’d be a mistake to assume that Kerrang!’s voice is aggressive, or musically purist. The team cover stories from all points on the rock spectrum, never shying away from the inherent playfulness that comes with rock’s theatricality. A perfect example of what I mean is Kerrang!’s Apple News channel at the time of writing:

Kerrang!'s Apple News channel

Motörhead’s Mikkey Dee Has The Coolest Lawn Mower Of All Time’ alongside ‘Exclusive Stream: Season For Change Are Championing Hong Kong’s Hard Rock Scene’ and ‘Dark Funeral’s Stage Outfits Have Been Stolen’. A funny news story, a rather more serious news story and a feature proudly displaying the brand’s passion for their niche. That’s Kerrang!.

Focusing on one specific niche plays to Kerrang!’s advantage in Apple News. It allows Kerrang! to be a leading Apple News publisher in the world of music, and this authority dictates that its content be suggested alongside other leading music and entertainment publications. See this example, where a Kerrang! article was recommended beneath a Billboard story:

Kerrang! as suggested content below Billboard in Apple News

How did we ensure Kerrang!’s goals were met?

Considering Kerrang! is a niche publication, the team’s goals were clear: to depict and maintain the integrity of their inimitable brand as strongly as possible. Kerrang! wanted us to help them carve out their own niche within Apple News; an extension of that which the publication has spent decades calling home.

The focus of Kerrang! makes for a loyal and devoted audience that dwarfs those of competitors. Kerrang! has been featured by Apple News’ editors since its FlatPlan integration on May 9th, and has sustained high numbers of unique users per month since integration. This illustrates the brand dedication of Kerrang!’s readers; itself the reason we ensured that the Apple News channel remained totally faithful to the brand. Here’s a desktop/iPad story:

Kerrang! Apple News story on desktop

Here’s that same story on iPhone:

Kerrang! Apple News story on iPhone

Kerrang! is well on their way to creating a strong, valuable audience on Apple News. The team continues to reach new audiences, who are exposed both to the brand and to the ads they traffic on the platform. What’s more, the users who followed Kerrang!’s initial RSS feed were carried over into their FlatPlan channel, giving the publication a neat head start on Apple News. Our knowledge of Apple News allowed Kerrang! to turn a default integration into a full Apple News Format integration that fires on all cylinders, meeting a new audience of music lovers on Apple devices with a beautifully branded channel that showcases their great content.

But don't just take our word for it. Here's a quote from Luke Morton, Kerrang!'s Digital Editor:

At Kerrang! we’re always looking for new and exciting ways to deliver our content to a wider audience, and within a short space of time we’ve seen a huge uptake on Apple News. Mathematics understand our audience and how to make Kerrang! work on different platforms. The team made our move onto Apple News really easy, handling all the tech development work, while we focused on providing the best stories for our audience. Working together, our Apple News audience has rocketed in the first two months and it’s still continuing to grow.

Welcome to Apple News, Kerrang!

If you'd like us to help integrate your publication with Apple News, click here.


Facebook News Feed's Optimal Post Rate

What is the Optimal Facebook Post Rate for Publishers?

If you’re in our industry, you’ll doubtless have spent the past couple years trying to avoid an endless barrage of gloomy predictions concerning Facebook’s ‘meaningful interactions’ algorithm. More specifically, the ways it favours surfacing almost everything except publisher content in users’ timelines.

And yet, paradoxically, a recent Digiday survey indicates that with no alternatives of similar stature, 70% of publishers contend that Facebook still delivers the best content reach of all platforms.

Which platform provides the greatest reach for paid or promoted campaignsEven for unpaid content circulated organically, 45% of publishers agreed that Facebook was still top dog.

Which platform provides the greatest reach for unpaid posted content

So we sat down with our analyst Barney Perkins to work out how specifically to use the platform to your advantage.

Buffer, the social media management platform, have found that posting five times a day maximises post engagement. Read more about that here. However, we have decided to focus our investigation on the metrics most easily monetised - reach and sessions referred to the website.

Since the algorithm changes, Facebook’s official suggestion is that post rate should not have an effect on reach. This is because the way content is allocated to a user’s news feed depends on relevance.

“Post frequently - Don't worry about over-posting. The goal of News Feed is to show each person the most relevant story so not all of your posts are guaranteed to show in their Feeds.” - Facebook

Even if this is true, post rate might still influence the visibility of a publication's content by diluting its average relevance and/or increasing the competition in users’ News Feeds - from the publication and from competitors.

The below analysis looks at the daily total reach (taken from Facebook Insights) and number of posts of a publication’s Facebook page (from Social Insider). It also displays the number of sessions referred to the publication’s website (from Google Analytics). Though there is some ambiguity about whether reach or sessions are more valuable metrics, both are given equal preference.

By conducting a simple linear regression of both reach and sessions on the number of daily posts, we found that there was indeed a negative correlation between post rate and reach, as well as a positive correlation between post rate and the number of sessions.

Model 1: Reach

Aggregated graph of a publication's Reach to Posts Per Day

Model 2: Sessions

Aggregated graph of a publication's Sessions to Posts Per DayBy aggregating the above graphs, we found that the optimal number of Facebook posts per day was 11. But, make some considerations here. Firstly, the model specification is not a perfect fit of the data. In other words, it’s unlikely that had the publication started posting 40 times a day, there would be <0 reach, indicated by the red line:

Aggregated graph of a publication's users to posts per dayOne model we experimented with suggested an optimal post rate of 16 posts per day but behaved very strangely in the extremes. As total followers increased the optimal number of posts would drop down to <1 with an absurdly high expected reach.

In conclusion, the model we’ve focussed on here suggests that publications should aim to post to Facebook 11 times per day, with an exception for content that might have a considerably broad appeal. Perhaps questions of optimum post rate are also questions of what content is most relevant to the highest number of the publication’s followers.


Welcoming The Face to Apple News

After months of hard work by a world-class editorial team, iconic British title The Face recently relaunched with the help of Mathematics. As the project progressed we discussed integration with Apple News and the team’s desired outcomes from their Apple News channel. We were acutely aware that here was a publication described by The New York Times as ‘a magazine that changed culture’, so with the weight of a great reputation bearing down, we were careful not to compromise The Face’s iconic brand. So, we designed an Apple News channel to communicate The Face’s position at the vanguard of British youth culture, harnessing the exposure Apple News offers by surfacing stories to users based around interests and browsing behaviours.

What did The Face require?

The Face aims to circumvent “feed culture” - they don't have a Facebook page and instead of posting quickfire articles regularly they deliver a small amount of content to a consistently high standard. This bold approach requires building loyal audiences that come to The Face through quality platforms like Apple News.

The Face’s focus is on youth culture, but one needn’t be a young person to enjoy its content. The team covers such a breadth of culture that any reader is able to quickly find an article pertaining to their interests. Unlike other publications of the same genre, The Face was relaunched as an already-influential brand. As such, its deeply-ingrained principles were well known, and the first task for us at Mathematics was assuring that they were never compromised.

Music, fashion, film and art are the areas most widely reported on by The Face, though the publication’s remit extends beyond the creative industries. For instance, here’s the piece leading their Apple News channel at the time of writing:

America's Scariest Motel story on The Face's Apple News Channel BORDERThis plays to The Face’s advantage in Apple News. The platform’s algorithm works to learn a person's interests, and its UI surfaces stories of interest to that person. This, coupled with the variety of its content, broadens The Face’s opportunities to appear as a ‘Related Story’ suggestion below content from huge publishers of all types. Content will also appear in a person's personalised news feed, based either on context or personal taste.

The editorial team had to work doubly hard to launch with heaps of content worthy of The Face’s reputation;  the last thing they needed in the planning and development stages was more work. Therefore, it was essential that Apple News integration was as simple and as smooth as possible without interfering with the team’s hectic schedules:

"We worked on setting up The Face on Apple News at the same time we were launching the website, so we needed experts to handle the integration without draining our resource at such a critical time. Because the Mathematics team have so much experience and insight with Apple News, we completely trusted them to lead the project, which they did brilliantly. They were able to handle all the tech work, while also translating our overall design identity to work on the platform." - Bridget Mills-Powell, Digital Director

Naturally, a publication so devoted to style has to appear elegant in all channels. Our FlatPlan integration system offers The Face the total control over the look and feel they require, in turn allowing them to maintain the integrity of their brand however they see fit.

How did we ensure The Face’s goals were met?

We began by considering how Apple News can help meet The Face’s overall goals. Then, we offered their team our hard-earned insights into how best to approach growth with the platform. These conversations revolved around the various types of content The Face publishes. On its site, The Face hosts audio and video content, and it was paramount that these formats be seamlessly incorporated into the publication’s Apple News channel. As such, The Face channel on Apple News contains more audio than any other channel we've seen - an exciting new addition to the platform.

Casey Spooner audio excerpt on theface.com
Casey Spooner audio excerpt on theface.com

Unique to FlatPlan is the ability to add custom footers below each article so we added a footer to direct their audience to The Face newsletter. This helps them own their audience, and direct them to wherever The Face’s goals must be met:

The Face's custom Apple News footerAll the editorial team need to do to surface stories on Apple News is publish a story to their site, and FlatPlan automatically maps content according to category, so stories are automatically grouped into the relevant section with The Face’s Apple News channel. We designed page templates to perfectly replicate The Face’s look and feel, and built them to be effective across mobile, tablet and desktop. This assures that The Face’s content portrays their iconic branding, irrespective of platform. Here’s a desktop Apple News story:

The Face's Skepta review on Apple News for desktopHere’s the same story on Apple News for mobile:

The Face's Skepta review on Apple News for mobileAnd here it is for tablet:

The Face's Skepta review on iPad interfaceFrom a technical perspective Apple News integration usually requires CMS-level development and heaps of QA testing but FlatPlan’s simplicity meant that Mills-Powell was able to say: “To be honest, the integration was so easy on our resource I barely knew it was going on”.

Ideal! Our knowledge of Apple News allowed The Face to make their start with a focus on building a loyal audience. It’s early days, but the team have already earned some great results.

Welcome to Apple News, The Face!

If you'd like us to help integrate your publication with Apple News, click here.