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How Digital Magazine Technology Can Make or Break Your Magazine Business
(January 2023)

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Are you paying attention to the three “Ds” of digital magazine technology? If you’re like most marketers you are probably focused on first two:

This, of course, makes sense. Without development—actually creating the digital magazine—there is no product. Similarly, without discoverability—i.e., building awareness for it—there is no audience. Each of these undertakings is important and difficult (especially discoverability, which we covered in this earlier post).

However, they take up so much bandwidth that marketers often fail to grapple with the third key element of success:

In the heyday of physical magazines, the importance of delivery was rarely overlooked. After all, it was clearly challenging (and expensive) to quickly get the latest print magazine or catalog to newsstands or post it via mail, so there was plenty of attention paid to infrastructure and efficiency.

These days, however, digital publishing technology has made the issue seem less important. After all, if a magazine is now just pixels on a screen, isn’t it easy to deliver? That, unfortunately, is not the case. In fact, in many ways, digital delivery of digital magazines has somehow become almost as challenging as physical delivery.


Let's explore why this is and what you can do about it!!

Digital Magazine Publishing Is Facing A Discoverability Issue

Enter the walled garden such as the Apple Newsstand and look around the homepage. You’ll notice a perfectly manicured collection of well-known brands familiar to anyone who has ever browsed a traditional newsstand full of magazines printed on paper.

This tiny sampling of product is usually made up of only well-known, large brands. It’s the “Rodeo Drive” of magazine racks. The online market is not like a shopping mall where you’re ensured your kiosk will have some, even a minimal amount, of foot traffic.

In the online marketplace, a potential customer has to know where to find you and once they know this, they then have to come looking for you. You can hope they’ll stumble upon you by some act of fate (in the guise of a recommendation engine,) but hope isn’t a viable strategy.

If you have zero visibility, being inside the walled garden means nothing. Douglas McCabe, COO of Enders Analysis, a leading online entertainment market research organization, recently spoke in London about case-study statistics that clearly show half of Amazon shoppers arrive onsite already having chosen what they’re going to purchase.

That’s huge! We’re talking about 50 percent who don’t read any of the forced marketing, nor do they click through on any links in the sidebar. These folks are only there to buy then fly.

In addition, only 10 percent of books sold on Amazon are purchased because of their ‘bought this/also bought that’ recommendation engine. A tiny three percent purchase something because it was found amongst the sea of all the other titles listed within a certain browsing category. According to McCabe:

“Amazon is a destination for purchase, the place you funnel your fans to, not a discovery mechanism in and of itself. People are simply not browsing for books based on Amazon’s recommendations, not in any significant numbers.”

Walled gardens such as Amazon and Apple’s Newsstand specialize in content saturation while putting the onus of discovery on the content creator. This poses a serious challenge, especially if your resources are limited to begin with.

The way you compete in a crowded market is to personalize the user experience. You can achieve this by leveraging your digital magazine as part of an overall content strategy — one that involves driving your audience to your branded website or community.

The inalienable truth is that people can’t consume your content if they can’t find it. The most powerful discovery mechanism for your digital magazine already exists. It is Google. It is Bing. It is every other search engine available.

There is a large benefit to be gained from taking advantage of web publishing technology. In the very near future, content from the pages of magazines published as web apps will begin showing up in Google searches and other SERPs. This is huge!

Search engines returning results found from inside publications will only drive more and more traffic from those eager to find out more. The app-within-another-app method of magazine publishing doesn’t offer anything comparable in terms of searchability.

Half of all online consumers already know what they want. Reviews, social media and word of mouth is what drives audiences and consumers.

It used to be that your brand was only as strong as its ability to be discovered. Now common wisdom dictates your brand is only as strong as the stories people tell about you. Social media already offers better and stronger tools to create awareness and consideration than any walled garden.

Digital magazine publishing is the future and the future is now. It’s all about better choices, fewer middlemen, faster publishing, ease of use and the right digital magazine technology.
Getting people to consume your digital magazine when it is delivered via Apple’s Newsstand (or offerings from competitors like Google) is deeply difficult, even when it comes to mobile users. For desktop users, it is virtually impossible.

This is true for all marketers, both large and small. Let’s take, for example, the difficulties luxury watchmaker Tag Heuer has with digitally delivering it’s WATCH Journal offering.

Difficulty #1: Downloads

Perhaps the single most frustrating thing about the currently delivery process via Newsstand is that digital magazines must be downloaded (“Installed”) to the device. On a fast connection this hopefully isn’t a big deal (unless the magazine comes in at 400Mb), but on a slow one it can be a major barrier to reading.

Of course, this problem isn’t confined to the Newsstand. Even digital magazines that bypass the store and deliver directly via PDFs still force users to experience longish downloads.

Is Your Digital Magazine Easy To Find And Access? For Real?

Difficulty #2: Re-Discovery

Once the consumer downloads the digital magazine they still can’t just start reading. One of the profoundly strange things about the digital Newsstand experience is that it segregates digital magazines to their own little world.

This means that even after someone has taken the steps necessary to find a magazine in the iTunes store and download it they must still take additional actions to access it (i.e., they must navigate from the home screen to the Newsstand, and from the Newsstand to their title).
Difficulty #3: Platform-Sharing

Now the consumer can finally read their digital magazine, right? Well, sort of. They can read the magazine on the device they downloaded it to, but if they switch devices they must go through the entire process again.

Clearly, these difficulties combine to make it extremely frustrating for consumers to access digital magazines. For publishers with long-time subscribers the issues may merely be nuisances, but for content marketers looking to reach first-time readers, they are often insurmountable.

However, things don’t have to be this way. There’s an easy solution to all these delivery problems: Select the right digital magazine technology and take digital magazines truly “online.” Put another way, instead of relying on apps (Newsstand) and files (PDFs), simply have your magazine live on a URL.

Instantly, the major delivery pain points will disappear. Marketing pushes can link directly to the content (rather than to the Newsstand), consumers don’t have to wait for long downloads, and multi-platform accessibility becomes much easier.

Basically, by taking one simple step (putting your digital magazine on an easily-accessible URL), you can make delivery a non-issue, freeing up time to focus on the truly important things: Developing excellent content and growing your audience.

Is Your Magazine App Easy To Find?

So you’ve created a terrific digital magazine with engaging copy, bold imagery, and a beautiful design. You’ve told your current audience about it and have even found ways to be included in app stores like Apple’s Newsstand. Yet, despite your best efforts, the readership numbers are consistently stagnant or worse, decreasing after a first flare. What’s going on?

Here is the good news: It may not be your fault.

Here is the bad news: The reason it may not be your fault is that there are some serious structural issues with most digital media stores that prevent your digital magazine from being found.

In particular, stores such as Apple’s Newsstand and Google’s Newsstand make it actually almost impossible for readers to serendipitously discover new content.

Now, to be fair, getting people to try something new is never easy. One study showed that half of Amazon’s book sales come from people who already know what they want, and it’s safe to assume that digital magazine consumers are just as (if not more) focused as
digital book buyers

However, this initial challenge is further complicated by how difficult discovery is within the app stores.

For example, let’s take a look at the “Audi North Scottsdale” digital magazine. This offering is clearly of interest to a very specific audience—Audi car owners, aficionados, and potential buyers in or around a part of Scottsdale, Arizona—but it is not a mainstream publication nor is it likely to be searched for specifically within the store.

This means that for an iOS user with an iPhone or iPad to stumble across your magazine the following things all need to happen:
Step 1) Find the Newsstand offerings
Often we marketers forget that there are plenty of consumers who don’t understand even the basics of how the Newsstand works. And, to be fair, who can blame them? On an Apple device all other offerings (games, weather apps, tools, etc.) appear together, yet newspapers and magazines are separated out into their own confusing world.

Moreover, to find new “newspapers” and “magazines” (which are really just apps) the user needs to somehow figure out how to navigate to the Newsstand, and then to the tiny “Store” button within that experience (or do the same via the general iTunes store).
Step 2) Navigate the homepage
If a consumer does somehow find the Newsstand store, they are suddenly confronted with a limited homepage showcasing mainly very popular, mainstream, choices (with a few semi-personalized titles mixed in).

For an Audi fan in Scottsdale looking for car magazines, there’s nothing here of interest, and so they must either search for a title (if they know exactly what they’re looking for) or navigate away from the homepage.
Step 3) Find the right category
To browse more niche offerings the user must now find the right category. In this case, it is relatively simple (“Automotive”) but there are many instances where the classification isn’t so easy.

For example, would a magazine aimed at mobile marketers live under “Business & Investing,” “Computers & Internet,” or “Professional & Trade”?
If the consumer has made it this far, there is still no guarantee that they’ll see your magazine, since the category pages also highlight primarily the most popular and newest titles.

In this case, “Audi North Scottsdale” is new but not new enough, and so it is relegated a few swipes away from the first set of magazines listed.
Step 4) Find the magazine within its category
Step 5) Discover the magazine
Finally, after three landing pages and dozens of swipes the user encounters this particular magazine.

Even here, the publisher is not out of the woods, since the consumer must decide to take a chance on “Audi North Scottsdale” based on a tiny thumbnail and a title with a limited number of characters.
Given all these challenges, is it any surprise that remarkably few consumers find new magazines via the Newsstand?

Now, this isn’t an issue unique to Apple’s devices. Yes, the design of its Newsstand is particularly clunky, and there could be better recommendations, but the offerings from the other major players (such as Google) are almost as complex and hard to navigate.

Ultimately, this is true because all of these companies face the same problem: They’ve created walled gardens that inherently limit how content can be presented and found.

So let me ask you this question: how likely do you think it is for your readers and prospects to jump through all these search hoops? Wouldn’t you rather be on the number one page of Google when people search for your magazine there?

This is why we’re so adamant at Readz about freeing digital magazines from specific platforms. By allowing access to your content via a standard URL you open up a world of discovery possibilities—search crawlers, lush listing pages, social media, etc.—that are simply impossible to replicate within the walled platforms.

Digital Magazines & SEO: Important or NOT?

Digital magazines offer many benefits to businesses, marketers and their customers including:
  • And building trust with customers and analytics.
  • Providing information and entertainment for customers.
  • Making a marketing appointment with them.
  • Offering the chance to tell your story your way.
But before you can gain any of these benefits your customers need to be able to find your digital magazines. That’s where digital magazine technology and search engine optimization (SEO) comes in.

SEO optimizes web content so search engines can index it easily and people can find it faster. In the last couple of years Google – the main search engine that most people use and care about – has made a lot of changes to its search algorithms. With the advent of Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird old-style SEO tactics have gone out the window. Google’s updates have demoted:
  • Low quality content.
  • Keyword stuffed content.
  • Irrelevant links and links to bad neighborhoods.
That’s bad news if you’re into black hat SEO, but great news for people who are publishing quality content in online magazines. The new search algorithms favor:
  • High-quality, in-depth and long form content.
  • Mobile-friendly content.
  • Content optimized for semantic search and voice search.
All of this has the aim of helping people find relevant, original content that they can use to answer their immediate questions. And it’s why you need to make sure your digital magazines are search engine optimized so both Google and your potential readers can easily recognize the relevance of your online magazine content to the information they are searching for. There are several areas to address to make this happen.
1. Optimizing Titles and Description
Keywords may be passé, but great titles still rock when it comes to hooking readers. Like their print counterparts, digital magazines need titles to attract eyeballs and inform readers about the content of the magazine. These titles can also appear in search engine listings. Both the magazine and individual articles also need good descriptions to encourage those who don’t already read your magazine to read and subscribe.
2. Mobile SEO
If you have great content, great descriptions and great titles, you also need to make it easy for mobile device users to access your content – and that includes digital magazines. One of the areas to focus on with your magazine is how quickly it loads on mobile devices, as Google has stated explicitly that it will look at mobile page load times as an SEO metric.

It is also important to optimize for semantic search where users ask questions and expect your content to provide the answers. This is also common with mobile device users, many of whom search by voice. Google’s recent integration of voice search into its Chrome browser for desktops shows that this kind of optimization will become more important.
3. Local SEO
Local SEO is also crucial. This growing sector of the search market is particularly important for the increasing number of mobile device users, many of whom search for local information they can act on immediately. Including a map and address details as well as getting your digital magazine listed in local directories are a good starting point for this type of SEO.
4. Building Authority
There’s one final thing that you can do to optimize your digital magazines. The new paradigm in SEO is about building authority. All Google’s changes have been geared towards identifying which content is authoritative and relevant and which is not. Obviously, you want your digital magazines to fall into the first category. That means taking care of other optimization activities such as internal linking within your magazine and to your blog content, using your content to lay the groundwork for link building (people always want to link to authoritative content), and optimizing it for social sharing which is another marker of relevance for Google. A digital magazine publishing solution which makes your content mobile friendly, findable and readable is the best way to tick all the boxes for online magazine SEO.

Digital magazine analytics: why you should track your readership

How much do you understand about the readers of your digital magazines? If you’re not using digital magazine analytics then you’re really missing out on a powerful tool to better target your publishing and marketing efforts.
Analytics help you:
  • discover which content resonates with your readers,
  • track and evaluate patterns of behavior,
  • measure success and
  • generally get powerful feedback on what users are doing on your site.
Using digital magazine analytics has become even more important to help you understand the differences between how desktop and mobile users interact with your content and your site. Looking after mobile usability is key as discussed in this article, and analytics can help with that.

As a publisher, analytics can also answer 4 key questions:
  • How long do people spend reading your digital magazine?
  • What devices are people using to read your digital magazine?
  • How many people are reading your digital magazine?
  • What actions are readers taking? Which CTA's are they clicking?
1) What devices are people using to read your digital magazine?
If you’re going to SEO-optimize your digital magazine then it makes sense to optimize it for the devices that people are actually using. There’s no point in fixing your content so it’s viewable on a tablet when most of your readers are using phones.

Find out what devices readers are using by navigating to the “Audience > Mobile > Devices” section of your Google Analytics dashboard, where you will find not just device brands, but actual models. Or, if you are using Readz's digital publishing solution, you can find this info in the analytics dashboard.

Then consider if they are enjoying the best possible reading experience. It could be time to consider an online publishing solution that works well for both mobile devices and desktop computers.

That’s important because people often use multiple screens throughout the day for business, leisure and social sharing as shown in detail in our “Who’s Reading When” article. Your digital magazine has to work well on all of them.
2) How many people are reading your digital magazine?
Readership is an important metric for any publisher, and using analytics can help you find those numbers to see if your digital magazine has the expected reach and identify any errors.

To get this information, navigate in Google Analytics to “Behavior> Site Content > Content Drilldown” and check out the “page views” and “unique page views” column. As well as the overall readership, you can find out:

  • whether there were any spikes in readership (hint: click on an article link to see stats for just that page).
  • your top pages or articles by number of reads.
  • your top pages or articles by number of unique reads
You can even compare other metrics (such as the correlation between page views and bounce rate) for even more insight into whether your digital magazine is hitting the mark. This data can help you troubleshoot your magazine landing pages and sales pages too.
Still in that section of your analytics report (see “Behavior> Site Content > Content Drilldown”), you can figure out which parts of your digital magazine are the stickiest by looking at the “Avg. Time on Page” column.

After all, there’s no point in creating a digital magazine if no-one’s reading it. Click on the column header to sort the report by time on page and you can see which content is keeping readers engaged. Click again and you can see which content is least attractive to readers.

This information is valuable in helping you to assess your content strategy. If readers don’t stick around, then you know you have a problem. And if they are spending plenty of time on your site, then you know you’re getting it right.

More analytics information for publishers

Want to get even more insight into digital magazine readers? Navigate to “Overview> Visitors Flow” and apply the mobile traffic segment to get a visual overview of where mobile users are landing and how they move from page to page.

Why mobile? Because as we mentioned recently, more than half of Americans own a smartphone. Brand publishers need to understand how these readers interact with mobile content. That’s why, in addition to the broad-based data on what people are doing, it can be helpful to create some custom dashboards to get even more detail.
3) How long do people spend reading your digital magazine?
Ultimately, you want your readers to take some action. Whether it is subscribing to article updates, clicking on ads, or requesting more information, these numbers are crucial to you.

In Google Analytics, the process is somewhat cumbersome, as you will have to set up a 'results' page, typically a 'thank you' page, and based on how many people access that result page, Google can tell you how many people clicked on your CTA.

A much simpler solution is offered by platforms such as Readz, where goal-based analytics are shown to publishers on a very granular level.
4) What actions are readers taking? Which CTA's are they clicking?
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