A Digital Publishing Checklist for 2019

Where is digital publishing headed in 2019?

It’s hard to say, especially when the path forward for individual publishers looks so different. For some, maybe 2019 won’t look so different. For others, 2019 may be the year they finally go behind a paywall. Still, others may try a tighter paywall meter or dynamic paywall or maybe even some kind of third paywall that hasn’t been invented yet—a content force field, perhaps.

Regardless of where you’re at in the last weeks of 2018, here are a few things to focus on as you work towards digital publishing success in the next year.

1) Reduce your reliance on traffic from platforms.

Facebook long ago lost its spot as the top referrer of publisher traffic, but their series of algorithm changes in 2018 pushed publishers even lower in the News Feed. While some publishers barely felt the effects of Facebook’s changes, some barely made it out alive. A few didn’t make it at all.

And while some have seen a significant rise in traffic from Apple News in 2018, the truth is that publishers can’t count on Apple News—or any platform—to meaningfully prop up falling traffic in the long term.

Ultimately, the future of digital publishing lies in building direct audience relationships, and relationships can’t happen through a platform. That’s why email is a fundamental part of audience development: it’s a direct line to your audience, free from platform interference.

In 2019, focus your social media efforts on converting fly-by traffic to email subscribers, where you can grow and engage your audience directly. Visitors from email spend more time on your site and view twice as many pages per session than those from social, making these audiences far more valuable than fleeting platform traffic.

2) Ensure you can deliver value to advertisers.

Even as platforms like Facebook lose favor among the public, the truth is that these platforms still hold all of the data (and therefore, advertising spend). Some publishers have speculated that things like mergers may help publishers compete with the duopoly for advertising revenue, but scale alone won’t give publishers the tools to compete with tech behemoths.

Instead, publishers must prove they can deliver value for advertisers. You might not have the boundless user insights of a Facebook or Google, but you can give yourself a foothold to earn advertiser dollars by putting your own first-party data to use. If you’re worried you don’t have enough first-party data to be useful, unlocking more first-party data can be as simple as digging deeper into your Google Analytics instance. With a bit of work using technology you already have, you can unlock actionable insights about the nature of your audience and where their interests lie.

These insights can prove particularly valuable to advertisers, both on your site and in the inbox. Email is an effective way to deliver targeted advertising in a focused environment, whether you use in-email advertising or dedicated promotional sends to monetize.

3) Deal with ad blockers.

Speaking of ads, ad blockers might not be the apocalyptic cloud hanging over the industry they once appeared to be, but they can still stifle ad-driven business models if not addressed.

While the best way to deal with ad blockers differs from publisher to publisher, dealing with ad blockers invariably starts with detecting ad blockers. With the technology in place to detect your ad-blockings visitors, you can experiment to find the ad blocking tactics that best align with your business model.

For instance, if you have a metered paywall, you could simply limit ad-blocking visitors to fewer articles unless they drop their blocker. Other publishers might find success simply nagging visitors to turn off their ad blocker, or even blocking access to content entirely.

Most importantly, you can leverage email to get the most value from your ad blocking audiences. When an ad-blocking visitor is detected, you can grant that visitor access to your content in exchange for their email. Not only does this provide value to your audience through the form of your content, it gives you a valuable link to reach your audience in the future.

4) Diversify your revenue streams.

With programmatic advertising no longer the freely-flowing source of revenue it once was, publishers must diversify their revenue to build sustainable business models. Fortunately, from events to ecommerce and everything in between, email can help build the relationships necessary to sustain just about any revenue source.

In particular, publishers with paid business models (or plans to try paid business models in 2019) should ensure email is at the core of their strategy. After all, there’s a reason that New York Times readers who receive a newsletter are twice as likely to become paying subscribers.

When everyone’s behind the paywall, the success of your paywall depends on your ability to deliver value that differentiates you from other paywalled publishers. Email newsletters can provide a steady, constant reminder of the value of your content, while premium newsletters may give audiences another reason to subscribe. Even better, once you’ve converted a paying subscriber, email is also a good way to ensure that your paid subscribers stick around.

5) Evaluate your technology.

A recent Publishing Executive report on buying technology found that “operational inefficiency is one of the biggest blockers to income generation.” From content management to identity resolution, publishers are turning to more technology, but as the publisher tech stack grows more complex, so does the publisher workflow.

Technology should alleviate inefficiency, not cause it. Publishers are pressed for time enough already, so if your technology is tripping you up, it’s worth considering other options in 2019.

When it comes to the hunt for a new email service provider, publisher email programs have unique demands that aren’t effectively addressed by many ESPs. Among other things, it’s critical that you find an ESP that integrates with your CMS and other existing technology, has the flexibility to fit into your editorial workflow, and is backed by a team who understands the publishing business model.

6) Don’t forget about the fundamentals.

Still, while you’re out shopping the latest and greatest in publisher technology, it’s important to keep sight of the basics.

And when it comes to email, there are a lot of basics to remember.

While simple on its surface, an abundance of inbox providers and email clients means that email can also be deceptively complex with regards to things like deliverability and design. If your newsletter template breaks on mobile devices, your audience may stop opening your emails. Meanwhile, if you’re having problems with inbox placement, your audience may never see your email in the first place.

Email is invaluable for growing and engaging audiences, but you can’t reap the full benefits without the fundamentals in place. As you plan for 2019, make sure your email efforts are contributing towards your success, even if you need to consult a team of email experts to do so.

7) Focus on your audience.

The New York Times declared 2018 the Year of Audience, but that doesn’t mean you can take your eyes off your readers come January 1.

For the digital publishing industry, It’s looking like 2019 will be the year of Audience as well. And 2020. Yeah, 2021 too.

The new reality of digital publishing is that an audience-centric approach is critical to success, and publishers must plan accordingly. From growing your direct audience to building a community with that audience, email plays a significant role in audience development.

And because having a user’s email address gives you a direct connection with that user, you can also use email to reconcile audience identity across devices. When you know audience identity, you can deliver a more personalized, engaging experience that keeps your audience coming back.

To learn how you can establish audience identity, collect actionable first-party data, and maximize email revenue, get PostUp’s Email Audience Enrichment solution guide.

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