It’s getting harder—much harder—for media companies to acquire engaged audiences. There are two major reasons behind this trend: there’s a lot of content floating around the Internet, and readers’ attention spans are spread thin as a result. Not to mention, audiences will often find content through feed-style engines on Facebook and Twitter or through search engines when they’re looking for information, in-the-moment.

Publishers need a competitive edge in boosting circulation and cultivating new audiences, and sadly, there are no tricks or shortcuts—just good, old-fashioned engagement. You need to go back to the basics in building relationships at scale and bringing fleeting eyeballs back to your website. Here are 3 suggestions to guide you: 

Leverage Inbound Marketing to Build Relationships

Inbound marketing is a technique that B2B, finance, travel, and ecommerce companies have been using for years. The idea is simple: build an audience by creating great content, and nurture these audiences through channels that bring them back to your website, over and over. Example inbound techniques include email campaigns, targeted offers, and continuous engagement in social media. The bottom line is that you want every top-of-funnel interaction to spark a more in-depth relationship.

As a publisher, you have step 1 down: you’ve already built an audience. The challenge is that these individuals might be slipping through the cracks after their initial visit. They may not recognize the value in signing up for your email lists, liking your pages on social media, or downloading a piece of sponsored content. It’s up to you to make this relationship-building opportunity clear and to demonstrate the value that you and your advertisers provide.

Here are some steps that you can take to grow your audience base with inbound: 

Step 1) Keep Your Value Proposition Front-and-Center

Why should your audiences continue to visit your website, share your content, and sign up for your email lists? Chances are, you know the answer to this question better than anyone. Maybe your team creates the best type of content in a particular vertical, or maybe you have the funniest listicles on the web (yes you, BuzzFeed). Regardless of your answer, you need to spell it out for your viewers who may be learning about your company for the first time.

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As an example, check out Curiosity, a site that curates bite-sized, inspirational learning content. Front and center on the website’s homepage is the site’s value proposition: “The top 5 things to learn on Curiosity, delivered every day.”

It’s a short, to the point message that encapsulates why audiences should stay engaged with and keep coming back to the site.

Step 2) Engage Audiences Like a Marketer

It’s time to stop relying on fleeting sources of web traffic. These short-term audience building opportunities aren’t a healthy monetization strategy: when people are discovering content on social media, for instance, they’re not necessarily looking to browse ads, or join a sponsored webinar. They want to catch a brain break, discover something new, or be entertained.

It’s this reason why publishers need to think like marketers. Rather than driving clicks to advertiser campaigns or other monetization sources like paywalls, know your advertisers and your own business’s full conversion funnel. Figure out what it takes to engage audiences over the long-term, and pinpoint the people who are most valuable to you and your advertisers. Figure out what steps your audiences are taking from discovery to conversion, and understand what counts as a conversion event. Make sure that your sales teams are on the same page so that they can translate this value to your advertisers.

Look for purchase intent in all of your content assets, from newsletters to webinars and articles on your website. In a publisher’s case, purchase intent means that someone is showing interest in a product, service, or even topic that a potential advertiser has to offer a solution around. These signals include visiting a certain area of a website multiple times, volunteering a piece of personal data, or downloading a product-centric guide.           

Laser-focus on search intent. Reach is important, but you should really be interested in your audiences who are actively searching for solutions that your advertisers can help with. That’s the money. That’s what you should really want to know. Because those needles in a haystack—those are the people that your advertisers are trying desperately to identify and reach.

Step 3) Educate Teams Internally 

An inbound strategy applies to more than your marketing team. You need to get your entire organization aligned around the common goal of engaging audiences over the long-haul: top-of-funnel visitors need nurturing to become high-value needs, and your organization needs to commit to the investment. 

This balance can be tough for publishers to reconcile—especially ones who have been relying on ad revenue for monetization. Inbound traffic takes time to convert and requires patience. Not to mention, you’ll need to have some level of marketing automation and analytics software in place, to get to know your website viewers on a personal level. 

This investment is worth it, but it can take time for a chief financial officer or chief revenue officer to fully grasp and get comfortable with. It’s a scary transition for almost any media company but one that will pay off in the long-run. 

Final thoughts

The dynamics of the media ecosystem may have changed, but the same basic principles hold true: loyalty is your most valuable audience-building asset. Stop relying on fleeting attention spans. Use inbound techniques, keep your value proposition front and center, and think like a marketer instead.                            

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