5 Ways Digital Publishers Can Effectively Engage Readers

Unsurprisingly, publisher engagement peaked during the pandemic. 

For 80% of publishers, traffic was up by more than 50% from pre-pandemic levels. However, post-pandemic is a different story as publishers bid for increasingly busy, cash-conservative readers. 

An Echobox report found that creating quality content and improving user experience was the top priority for the majority of publishers (58%). Here are five ways you can improve reader engagement on your publisher site, from focusing on personalization to leveraging your platforms. 

How to improve reader engagement

1. Provide personalized content 

Harvard Business Review suggests that personalizing content for users can lift sales 10% and deliver 5-8x ROI on marketing spend. Everyone has unique tastes and preferences, so showing users what they want to engage with will help them navigate your site and improve the likelihood they’ll return for more. 

A study by Digiday found that 70% of digital publishers personalize the content they show to their site visitors. A personalized experience could include: 

  • Curated or niche newsletters that round up content that the reader might find interesting based on their reading habits
  • ‘Read more’ or ‘recommended articles’ that suggest content in a similar theme or genre as the current article they’re reading 
  • Relevant marketing: No annoying pop-ups or irrelevant content. Personalized experiences can be achieved through contextual retargeting instead of cookies, so you can ditch the third-party data and own your revenue channels (audience development, consumer marketing, ads, etc.)

Gautam Jhalani, Executive Director of Publisher Partnerships at Wunderkind, observes, “Personalization is the key driver in user interest. When you land on a homepage and you need to search for a while, your user will get lost. But if you can tailor that experience by knowing what they like to read about, those recommendations will resonate with your user.”

2. Build loyalty with personalized engagement 

Don’t just show readers what they want to see—make it interactive. Personalized engagement could include:

    • Notifications: Suggest ways the user can engage with your content to help keep you top of mind.
    • Comment sections: These are reported to be one of the biggest drivers of engagement on publisher sites, allowing users to share opinions and talk among themselves. Because of this, they’re also a low lift for the publisher. An OpenWeb report found that users who read, engage, and comment on articles view 8.7x more pages per session on a publisher’s site than non-active users.
    • Article sharing: Encourages users to remain engaged and distribute content to friends and family who may also be interested. 
    • Social media: Remind users to follow your social channels so they can engage with you outside of your site too. 

3. Improve the user journey

When user journeys are made difficult or confusing, your users will drop out—leaving revenue on the table if they bounce before making a payment or subscribing. Engaging readers throughout their journey makes it more likely they’ll revisit your site. 

Improving the user journey could include:

  • Bookmarking selections for users to save what they were reading. For example, add a favorites tab or a ‘to read’ section. Some publishers are experimenting with ‘save my article’ features, which sends the piece to the user’s email address for future reference. 
  • Signposting what the user has or hasn’t read, so they know whether they’ve already visited an article. 
  • Article recommendations at the bottom of the page to guide the user to the next article or content they may want to view. 

4. Follow up with suggestions

Following up with suggestions for your users will help them remember if they didn’t finish reading an article. According to a Chartbeat study, 60% of readers that leave your site will not return; encouraging them to revisit your site increases the chance of retention. Follow up with users by:

  • Notifying them about other articles they may enjoy based on their previous reading habits. 
  • Sending an email a few days after the user has read something, prompting them to continue their journey. “Batch and blast is a small way to get readers to engage, but you’ll impact some and not others. Provide curated content and personalized recommendations to really pique their interest,” Jhalani says.
  • Updating the user on the comments section of an article they were reading, so they can check out the discourse surrounding the piece—whether it’s a reply to their own comment or encouragement to start a conversation. 

5. Leverage your platforms

Leverage channels such as email and social media to show your readers relevant content and suggestions. Remind them of your site and the subjects that matter to them. Use platforms such as:

  • Social channels are ideal for meeting users where they are, as they may be looking through their feed already, and find content that matches their interests from your site. Echobox found that 40% of publishers made social engagement and followers a top priority. Creating discourse via social channels will help boost the organic reach of your posts too, driving new users to find your site. 
  • Emails encourage users to engage with content delivered directly to their inbox. 
  • App notifications are a highly personalized way to engage with your users, as you can send push notifications and tailor users’ homepage to their interests. 

Your readers are engaged. Now what?

“For every publisher, it’s going to be a very different strategy,” says Jhalani. “It depends on how you make money—is it ad revenue, subscriptions, or something else? The aim is to gain your users’ trust by giving them relevant content. You might then follow up with an email subscription. From there, it could be a paying subscription. 

“Publishers are starting to somewhat become eCommerce companies because for years they’ve amassed so much traffic on their sites, they now come up first in searches for products, and they can be more trustworthy for users than ads. Users will scroll through the search results to find a recommendation from a publisher they trust.

For every publisher, the key to success is increasing user engagement, so you become a trusted authority figure. Once readers trust you and continue to engage with your site, then you’re primed to drive revenue

“You can stand out through personalization and building up your brand to be 

something that resonates with the reader,” Jhalani says. Focus on contextual relevance, personalization, and establishing yourself as a thought leader. 

Find out how digital advertising experiences are evolving for publishers and audiences alike in our podcast, Individuality Unleashed.


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Emily Black

Emily has a background in writing, specifically in the technology and eCommerce industry. After completing her MA she entered the eCommerce space, writing reports, blogs, and whitepapers. She aims to cut through the industry noise to bring clear insight to the Wunderkind community.