The Top Five Things Digital Publishers Need to Know About Audience Loyalty

audience watching a show

Wondering what you need to know when it comes to thinking about your strategy for growing loyal audiences? Here’s a  crash course from’s CEO Sachin Kamdar.

1.) Loyal readership comes from building strong relationship between you and your reader.

Audiences don’t become loyal readers just  because your headlines are crisp and your UI is well-designed. Those things play a role, but it’s part of a bigger picture. Casual or one-time readers turn into loyal readers through an individual relationship that you build by providing them with unique value.

Your job is to successfully provide this unique value, which usually meets some sort of existing need readers already have. When you do that well, they come back because they trust you; you’ve created a  relationship. This requires understanding what needs your readers have (quick access to vital information? uplifting and shareable videos? in-depth, explanatory exposes?) and then determining the best way to provide them with information and content. And you will also still need crisp headlines and a good UI.

Jeff Jarvis has proposed a shift in the way we see content, currently as an end in itself, to an ends of a mean of knowing and understanding the reader.

Content is not the end-product… it also has value as a means to learn about a person: what she is interested in, what she knows and wants to know, where she lives, what she does — all signals that can enable a news organization to deliver her greater relevance and value and earn more loyalty, engagement, and revenue in return.

Read more about Jarvis’ take here:

2.) Audience loyalty translates to success in a number of business goals.

Part of the excitement, and the fear, running through digital media circles right now is how to create a long-term, sustainable business model. Encouraging loyal readership helps to  achieve these  business goals. Need to sell subscriptions? Loyal readers are more likely to pay.  Need to sell ads?  Information about your committed readers makes for a more  valuable  proposition to brands. Ultimately, an engaged audience creates a positive feedback loop where you deepen your relationship with your readers as they receive more value from your website.

How valuable? Ask sites like Google, Facebook or Twitter. Or consider the Q&A site Quora. Though not the first, or only, Q&A site, Quora has created incredibly loyal users, by putting an emphasis on making sure that the content everyone creates in their system would meet the expectations of their other readers. According to co-founder Charlie Cheever they did this by:

  • Educating new users upfront so that new content coming into the system requires less attention to get in line with Quora policies and guidelines
  • Doing more to identify content which probably doesn’t need a human to look at it
  • Empowering more people to make the first assessments about which content is good
  • Giving the people who keep quality up on Quora the ability to focus their efforts on the parts of Quora that they care about

Every site from Quora to the local news will find profitability comes easier if there are growing loyal and committed audiences.

3.) Audience loyalty signals that digital media companies are more focused on long-term sustainability versus short-term optimization.

These solutions to create and deepen relationships with readers aren’t quick-fixes. They can’t be gamed by clever headlines or boosted  by slideshows. They require longer term commitments and investments in research and understanding of audiences that’s shared throughout the organization.

In what is easily the best titled piece in years, “Can you answer these 4 questions and save the media industry from Taylor Swift?  Vox’s Nilay Patel argues that what we’ve considered “clickbait” for all these years is really just a way of providing scarcity in an overabundant market, and that the test isn’t the click – it’s the unique value offered after the click.

Thinking what the reader does after they click: their next action, their next share or their next visit needs to be considered by editors and sites as they create their pieces. This is committing to readers for the long-haul.

In other words, maybe the real problem with most clickbait is that those clever headlines and questioning tweets often lead to disappointing content. And yet the blame often falls more heavily on marketing than the people churning out stuff that sucks.

Read more about the discussion here.

4.) Getting a loyal audience requires different approaches for different sites and types of content.

Another complex piece of the audience loyalty puzzle? There isn’t a one solution fits all answer. To fulfill a unique value, you must have a unique solution.

At we often talk about our car metaphor: that you wouldn’t judge a Formula One race car by the same standards you would a family minivan, except for one thing: are you going to want to get back in and drive it again? Other than that, everything that makes you want to get in each of those cars is different.

Take Upworthy and Business Insider, both great clients of ours. Both incredibly successful, though Business Insider posts upwards of 300 articles a day, while Upworthy doesn’t even break 50. They sell ads differently: Business Insider has banner ads, sponsored content, recommendation widgets and events while Upworthy engages in partnerships with brands that match their social missions.

What do both publishers have in common? They each understand who they’re talking to, per the Upworthy website,

Basically, “The Daily Show” generation. People who care about what’s going on in the world but don’t want to be boring about it.

And they each understand, through rigorous research on how to meet their audiences’ needs through content, how to deliver it. Per the BI site:

Aggregating, reporting, and analyzing the top news stories across the web and delivering them to you at rapid-fire pace.

5.) Don’t miss the forest through the trees when it comes to audience loyalty.

The digital environment makes things like testing and optimization much easier than in other media, and any good marketer, designer or developer should be deeply invested in these practices.

But when it comes to creating content? It’s easy to get bogged down in the challenge of optimizing for a single metric, while missing the bigger audience loyalty opportunity. Says who? Buzzfeed.

So there’s not going to be one metric that you look at. I love metrics and I love thinking about optimization, but I think that the optimal state is being slightly suboptimal because as soon as you try to actually optimize, particularly for a single metric, you end up finding that the best way to optimize for that metric ends up perverting the metric and making the metric mean the opposite of what it used to mean.

— Jonah Peretti, in an interview with Felix Salmon

One way we’re helping our clients see the whole picture is with our new Audience Overview report (see the screenshot below), which looks at how loyal readers are on your site. We show anyone on your team in one quick glance if you’re doing a good job of delivering a unique value to the readers. This report is in beta right now, but will be released widely soon. If you’d like to give it a try or see what it looks like for your site, let us know! Audience Overview Report

Interested in growing audience loyalty on your site? Join us in NYC on July 22 where we’ll be discussing how analytics can help your efforts with Bloomberg Media, The Atlantic Digital and The New Republic. Register here: