Whether it’s Margarita (or Hamburger) Day deals or innovative story formats, audience strategist Amalie Nash has content ideas to keep readers coming back.
Nash, who works as part of the US Local Media Association’s Family and Independent Media Sustainability Lab, says people don’t care about what the holiday is and how it came about: “They care about where the best deals on margaritas in my community are on that day,” she says.
And she urges experimenting with different story formats in an LMA checklist of ways publishers can keep their readers hooked and convert them into loyal subscribers, or grow their engaged audience.
From the “secret sauce” of high school sports coverage to reimagining news through alternative formats, she gives a rundown of five transformative strategies for that ultimate growth.
-Prep sports, especially fall high school sports, “are a gold mine,” says Nash, “ and consistently been a top driver for digital subscriptions.
“If you don’t already have a written strategy around this, you’re leaving subscriptions on the table,” she says, pointing to features such as ‘players to watch’, top 10 lists, analysis and predictions. Polls such as ‘Athlete of the Week’ can also enhance community interaction and even draw sponsorships.
-The art of the headline: “You have mere seconds to hook a reader, and that’s the goal of a headline. They must be compelling, informative and reflect the story’s core message.
“If you don’t know what your headline is while the story is being written, then you don’t know what the angle of your story is,” says Nash. “While writing headlines might seem routine, it’s an art that requires attention and practice. Effective headlines promise readers value, informing them precisely what they will get. SEO-friendly headlines can also be a game-changer, and tools such as ChatGPT might offer inspiration in crafting them.”
She cites examples that have been A/B tested:
Original headline: Governor’s announcement could change summer plans for kids
Better: Governor just reduced restrictions on these summer activities
Original headline: With class sizes as high as 40 students, can Arizona schools keep kids healthy?
Better: Arizona class sizes are high. How will that work with the coronavirus?
Original headline: Phoenicia to get sister restaurant downtown
Better: Restaurant to open in long-vacant Detroit building
-Rethinking beat assignments: Instead of reconfiguring the entire newsroom, select one beat and make changes there, says Nash. “Be they high-converting beats like dining, prep sports, or growth and development, there’s value in dedicating resources to areas with the most potential. Doubling down on popular beats or reassigning roles to focus on high-interest areas can yield quick results.”
She says completely changing the newsroom and reconfiguring what you’re covering and what beats you have, takes time. “And so I’m a big fan of just picking off a small thing that has the ability to do really well, and then the larger changes can come behind it. I also think the ability to incubate things is really important. So how are you thinking about taking one beat and trying something new, putting specific KPIs or metrics around that,” explained Nash.
An example: If a college sports beat isn’t yielding results, consider changing it from game coverage to a columnist role, with analysis and opinion. Or drop that beat and instead establish a sports enterprise or sports investigator beat.
-Go evergreen: “Evergreen content is not only timeless but also drives consistent traffic and subscriptions,” says Nash. “These stories have a longer shelf life and often cover highly searched topics.”
However, planning is crucial – to have a really good evergreen strategy, you have to plan around it; you have to have someone who’s in charge of it. It doesn’t just happen naturally.”
One essential is an evergreen calendar, “so you know when to resurface things year after year. Whether it’s tips for winter driving, a guide to the best local patios, or information about National Margarita Day deals, evergreen content keeps readers coming back.”
-Experiment with different story formats: Nash says traditional long-form articles are just one of many ways to convey information. “Alternative story formats like FAQs, lists, guides, explainers and rankings have proven to attract more engagement and subscriptions. These formats often come with clearer headlines, making them more attractive to potential readers.”
Getting started might involve challenging the entire newsroom and giving reporters a goal that 25 per cent of stories should be an alternative story format. And in other cases, they’ve said, let’s start with a team. “If we have a features team, dining and restaurants and entertainment and all that, let’s see how they do with it and then spread it across a newsroom. There’s a lot of different ways you can do it, but I think there’s a lot of potential within alternative story formats.”