Digital Publishing: What Does the Future Hold?

Matching our fast-paced lifestyles and expectations, digital subscriptions to a variety of media sources have become increasingly attractive as an alternative way of delivering news. But as the industry stabilises, like print, online publications are reaching scale and hitting new challenges – traffic growth is stagnating, and ad revenue simply isn’t enough anymore. In this piece, Christophe Bize (pictured below), VP data and mobile analytics at Ogury, explains that using a correct balance of data is key to to reaping benefits.

Consider Buzzfeed – despite its massive success, its readership figures were flat between the months of June and August 2017. Publishers are now looking at different routes to increase readership and revenue online. USA Today, for example, recently introduced a new personalised mobile site which has increased time spent per article by 75%. This might be the next step on this ongoing quest for more money and readers, but it will also bring about a variety of challenges that publishers will need to adapt to, specifically around data use and privacy.

Here’s what publishers looking to do the same should watch out for in order to overcome the challenges and ensure they achieve the best results possible in the long run.

Understanding the initiative: Smart content

Before we explore personalisation as a topic, it’s important to understand why digital publishers are struggling to reach readers when so much of the content we consume nowadays is digital. This can easily be credited to walled gardens – in 2015, Facebook’s traffic to top publishers fell 32%, likely a key reason for generally decreased online traffic to digital publishers.

Christophe Bize, VP Data & Mobile Analytics, Ogury

In the face of this monopoly, digital publishers have had to come up with alternate strategies to increase reader engagement. USA Today has pursued personalisation, one of the top hot topics within the world of digital. It’s really quite simple – website owners collect consumer data whenever someone accesses their website. This data is used to show targeted content and the more time consumers spend on the website, the more accurate the content becomes – i.e. content that gets smarter the more you interact with it.

While this has primarily been used for advertising in the past, the USA Today initiative proves that it might be the new way forward for digital content, like articles or news stories.

The pros: An ‘internet of me’ experience

We spend so much time on the Internet that it’s no wonder that companies have begun to adapt our experiences online to our likes and dislikes: Netflix tells you what you might want to watch, Facebook shows you what you might want to see, and Amazon tells you what you might want to buy. In fact, 86% of UK brands use personalisation for their marketing.

Digital publishers can easily jump on this bandwagon. The USA Today case study serves to demonstrate this – thanks to personalisation, time spent per article has increased by 75%. And the higher the time spent per article, the better the advertising revenue.

This is all part of the 'internet of me' phenomenon through which websites tailor your experience online to what suits you best. It holds the key to revolutionising digital media, because wouldn’t the internet be a better place if it only showed you what you are interested in?

The cons: Managing your data

While personalisation may be the way forward, it does hold a variety of challenges. Collecting data and using it rigorously to create a one-on-one relationship may bring repercussions in the long term. There are several things to consider: Where is the data coming from? How are you using it? What are the data privacy implications?

The EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – the result of four years of work by the EU to bring data protection legislation into line with the new, previously unforeseen ways that data is now used – is set to affect the standards of collecting data, placing more responsibility and accountability on companies handling it.

So, here’s my advice to all publishers looking to implement personalisation strategies to boost their engagement and traffic: make sure that the data you use is sound, research your data provider, and make sure that they adhere to data privacy rules. If you’re going to collect the data yourself, keep an eye on GDPR, as it’s set to change the data collection landscape significantly in the coming years.

The ultimate key to success

What was your passion yesterday may not be your passion today. Personalisation can help you reach the holy grail of customer experience, as well as massive revenues, but you have to make sure that your customers aren’t pigeonholed. Think of it this way – just because you want to read about Brexit one day doesn’t mean that’s all you ever want to learn about. You might develop new passion points, and data should consider this. So, it’s important that the data that you use isn’t only accurate, but also collected constantly. This way, you’ll be able to have better insight into your customers and provide them with content that fits their changing personalities.

You should also keep an eye out on the level of personalisation that you’re providing. There’s a lot of fear in the market that personalisation will verge on ‘creepy’, with data often toeing the line. Customers often don’t mind you using their data to offer them a better experience, but just don’t take it that step too far or it might become a problem. Amazon, for example, tailors and customises customer experience, but it never feels intrusive. However, it knows the repercussions of it well – a recent glitch in their system sent out baby register emails to the wrong customers, leading to widespread confusion!

USA Today may be one of the first digital publishers to take the step towards personalisation, but it likely won’t be the last. In an era when Google and Facebook dominate digital advertising and consumers demand better experiences, personalisation provides the perfect avenue for growth and increased revenue. If you do use this approach, however, make sure you do so carefully – take care on how you collect data and how you use it, also do so regularly enough so that it’s sufficiently up-to-date, but doesn’t verge on ‘creepy’.

Sounds rather complicated, right?

The truth is – once you find the correct balance you should be able to reap the benefits. Welcome to the fascinating world of data!