Subscriptions analysis: How content attribution impacts conversions

Our ongoing analysis of 2020 trends has led us to consider how content attribution patterns drive readers to subscribe. In particular, we wondered: How could we best assign a weight to a piece of content as a measure of its effect in driving reader conversions?

More on our findings below.


A case study on content attribution

The concept of content attribution (or multi-touch content attribution) is not new. However, we wanted to identify any notable trends when considering all content viewed by a reader in a specified window of time.

For our research, we worked with a publisher to analyze approximately 10,000 subscriptions over 20 weeks, attributing subscriptions each week to the sections or articles viewed in the seven days prior to the subscription. Here’s what we found:

1. We saw notable differences in the content found to have the greatest influence on conversions when we included reader engagement in the attribution approach, as opposed to only pageviews.

2. Breaking News, Puzzles, Politics and Opinion content tended to be key drivers of conversion for all readers, regardless of whether a reader is a guest on the site (i.e., new visitor) or is a registered user (i.e., returning or loyal). However, we did see differences in terms of the specific authors of the political or opinion pieces.

3. Readers engaged, on average, almost 2x as long with the first page they touched after converting as compared to the last page they touched prior to conversion.

What does past subscriptions attribution research tell us?

Reader conversions by device

The last bullet point on reader engagement led us to think about our previous research on the impact of mobile user experiences on subscriber conversions. In that analysis, we looked at subscriber status changes (i.e., conversions or churns) by device that took place across publishers.

bar graph on subscriptions by device

We saw that tablet and desktop users comprised the most subscribers (as a proportion of total audience size on each device) and, compared to mobile, were the most likely to convert. 

For publishers, this points to an opportunity to shore up their mobile UX and subscription flows, thereby improving the likelihood of subscriber conversions. This is particularly important on mobile devices, given that those sites are now the predominant way new users experience publishers’ sites, though so few are being converted.

Content types that drive the most audience engagement

When we analyzed readership during the pandemic last year, there were similar trends among the content topics and types that kept audiences engaged.

Similar to our conversion findings, world and U.S. politics comprised the highest levels of reader interactions. Similarly, breaking news and live blogs have been among the most engaging content types, reflecting the conversion data we analyzed in our case study above.

Analyzing content’s impact on conversions: Our takeaways

A few more thoughts from our conversions research:

1. It’s not incredibly surprising that we saw engagement play a significant role in conversions, as our data has surfaced the connection between engagement, loyalty, and the propensity to subscribe. That said, we are continuing our analysis to look at whether this holds true for other types of actions, such as site registration and newsletter signups.

2. Authors, and not just content topics, also that impact subscriber growth, particularly when it comes to political and opinion pieces. This underscores the importance of a very deliberate approach to strategic decisions around political and point-of-view content, as well as site curation, so that these pieces can be easily found by new and returning visitors.

3. The difference we saw in engagement before and after conversions suggests that understanding patterns of content consumption immediately after the reader takes action may be valuable for driving content strategies.

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