From personalizing the homepage on your website or mobile app to increasing the relevance of email mailings, personalization has become an essential element in your news roadmap. But it’s not easy to do it right, so which strategies should you adopt to maximize its impact?
Strategy 1: Focus on engagement, not conversion
This might sound counter-intuitive at first glance, but it does make sense. Conversion is important. I’m not arguing that point, it’s a good goal and a great KPI to measure. However, you can only convert engaged readers. So, before you can convert people, you need to engage them. This means encouraging them to visit your service often – and stay for a while when they get there. As soon as people see the value that they get from your news service, they’ll convert.
The other advantage from focusing on engagement is it increases the size of the pool (or lake, if your engagement has gone well) that is ready for conversion. It’ll also have a similar effect on your existing subscribers, reminding them of the value of your news service, so they’re less likely to trip.
Strategy 2: Personalize high impact positions
Simply by putting relevant and personalized content in high impact positions – email subject lines, top of emails, top of your homepage – people will see articles they’re interested in, increasing engagement (and potentially conversion).
It’s not enough to simply add a “recommended for you” box after three scrolls at the bottom of a personal email. Most of your audience will only look at the top of the email, with only a tiny proportion scrolling down to the bottom. That’s why the high impact positions make a difference.
Of course, it’s not easy. On one hand you’ve got AI in the form of your personalization engine, and on the other hand, you have humans in the newsroom. Finding a way to successfully combine them so everyone is happy is definitely challenging, but it’s a worthwhile goal. However, having said this, this strategy is often too big of a leap for a first step, so we recommend starting with strategy 3 and then coming back to tackle this one.
Strategy 3: Win over skeptics by starting small
Change is always difficult. It’s almost impossible to get your whole organization on board behind a personalization strategy from day one because that’s just how people are. There will always be skeptics. But, that’s not a bad thing. Skeptics have their role to play, and it’s important to take that into account.
So, how can you turn your skeptics into believers? Start small. Create a success story in a tier two position, in other words, something lower down the webpage or in a less frequent email. These positions are often already automated, for example with popular articles, so people are more likely to accept a proof of concept here. The KPIs you achieve with this success story will help you convince the skeptics to allow you to go for a high impact case where you can do something that really matters.
The important thing is to set the right KPIs for the first success story, remembering to take into account that you can’t expect your subscriptions to dramatically increase from small action. Instead look at metrics that represent lower impact cases, for example, the CTR of the personalized position or increase in session length. Based on these results, it’ll be easier to convince your skeptics to try a high impact case.
Strategy 4: Use different strategies for fly-byers and loyal visitors
First of all, what do we mean by fly-byers and loyal visitors? Fly-byers visit your site just once a week, compared to 2-10 times a week for regulars or over 11 times a week for your loyal visitors. So, when you’re faced with one person visiting your site multiple times a day – and expecting to see something new each time – and another person only stopping by once a day or once a week, you need to develop different personalization strategies.
What typically happens in a news service is the headline articles change four or five times a day to give loyal readers something different every time they come back. This doesn’t mean the fourth headline is more important than their first one, it just means the news service is focusing on their loyal readers. Unfortunately, this strategy doesn’t make anyone happy. Loyal readers come so often that, even when the headline articles change five times a day, they still see the same thing again and again as they visit your news service more than five times a day.
And the fly-byers also miss out. Did they see today’s most important news story during their only visit of the day? Your news service needs to personalize its homepage to show the right story for the fly-byer at this point in time, not just based on the topics he reads but also based on the number of times he’s visited your news service today. It’s a simple idea, but extremely valuable. Plus, it’s just a small variation on one that newsrooms already understand as they’ve been selecting the main headline article for the front page since the first newspapers were printed. But, how do you expand from one important headline per day to multiple important headlines that change depending on the visitor and his visiting patterns? Simple: personalization via an algorithm.
Strategy 5: Find the right combination of local and international news
It’s a similar story when it comes to finding the right combination of local, regional, national and international news. Local news can now get the prominence it deserves – and never receives in a printed newspaper. Why has local news been overlooked? A printed newspaper delivers the same experience for everybody. But, as everybody comes from a different location, local news can’t be on the front page. Personalization engines change that. It’s now easy to read your local news from your hometown alongside the regional, national and international headlines that interest you.