Why publishers can’t afford to ignore deliverability

Tony is CEO of PostUp.
From Lena Dunham to TechCrunch, it seems like everyone is getting into email newsletters these days. It should come as no surprise that email is becoming the new darling among publishers, since mobile users love to kick back and read a curated digest of great content every day.
As newsletters take off, it is important that publishers not just focus on click-through rates, but keep deliverability, inbox placement and readability top of mind. These factors could be the most important details in email marketing, yet are often overlooked by publishers who are blinded by clicks. However, an email that is not delivered to a subscriber’s inbox is effectively worthless; if a subscriber doesn’t get it, they can’t click through.
Engagement is one of the key factors that impacts deliverability. The ISPs look at what you are sending and who you are sending it to in order to determine whether or not it should be placed in the inbox or some other folder. The fact is that you don’t get placed in the inbox if people don’t open and click your messages. If your recipients are engaging with the communications that you are sending because they are well-formatted and providing valuable information, then the ISPs have no other option than to deliver your messages to the inbox. Engaged recipients are reinforcing the idea that the message is relevant and deserves good placement.
Creating a strategy around engagement will improve deliverability, which will lead to a more successful email program. To boost engagement, you should consider the following points:

  • Have a clear email-specific strategy. Don’t just dump web content in an email and call it a day. While publishers are very good at creating content, they are often challenged in determining which content makes the most sense in an email. Publishers need to make decisions about content based on who is signing up and customer behavior. Unfortunately, by not considering deliverability, publishers often end up formatting emails that are optimized to their website rather than considering how it would best generate traffic to the website. Instead, publishers should adopt a well-thought-out communication strategy for the email itself to improve deliverability and inbox placement.
  • Design for mobile & execute campaign previews. As mobile engagement continues to grow, previewing becomes a necessary task before you hit send. Viewing how an email will look across webmail clients and mobile devices using rendering reports can help publishers optimize the creative, which in turn makes the message more clickable. This helps to optimize the creative before you send which in turn increases the chances of driving engagement. Better engagement equals better delivery rates.
  • Use targeting techniques to increase engagement. Unfortunately, a lot of publishers have a “batch and blast” mentality and send emails to anyone who has ever signed up for their list, and the emails become irrelevant for many. This can negatively impact deliverability rates. For example, if you have a million recipients on your list and you always send to the entire list, you could hurt your delivery if an overwhelming majority of those recipients never engage. It tells the ISPs that you aren’t sending relevant communications and could eventually lead to spam folder delivery. Because engagement affects inbox placement, targeting plays a role in deliverability, and publishers that want to land in the inbox should consider targeting their messaging.

Publishers have to send relevant, engaging content that people will open and click. If you send something that people don’t open and click, you will have challenges. If you don’t consider these elements, then you are not likely to find the inbox because poor engagement will lead to poor delivery rates. Don’t forget: if the email doesn’t make it to the inbox, no one will open it, no one will click on it, and you won’t make money.

Facebook’s new Notify app merges RSS feeds with push notifications

Facebook has released a new application called Notify that will allow its users to receive push notifications about breaking news, new movie trailers, and more.
The move into real-time news is significant because could help Facebook achieve two goals: It could make the company more important to the media, and it could increase the traffic it sends to publishers. Now, whether the app will be successful or just something that clogs up your phone’s notifications feed is another set of questions all together.
But as for the app itself, Notify users are tasked with choosing “stations” they want to follow. These are divided into categories from sports and politics to health and entertainment. Stations are managed by sources like the New York Times or People Magazine. Every source can offer multiple stations devoted to different areas of interest.
That might sound confusing. An easier way to think about it is that Facebook has basically taken the RSS feeds publishers used to have on their websites, renamed them, and made it so they can send push notifications to their followers’ phones instead of quietly updating in the background of those followers’ RSS readers.
It’s also brought them into an application it can control, and which will receive credit if publishers get extra attention for their stories. Facebook is essentially appropriating RSS feeds — a freely available tool any publisher could use — the same way it took the Web page and sought to replace it with Instant Articles.
Facebook has been transparent about its efforts to become the only platform that matters to large publishers. Instant Articles promise many benefits, especially the speed with which they load on mobile devices, but their primary function is keeping Facebook users engaged with its platform instead of the broader web.

Many publishers have bought into this scheme. Startup companies like Vox Media quickly supported Instant Articles, and even old media publishers like the Washington Post have decided to publish all of its stories directly to Facebook. Facebook is already the most important referrer to most news sites, and it offers publishers a cut of advertising revenues — so, why not give Instant Articles a try?
Notify makes a similar value proposition. The notifications sent by the service appear on someone’s phone almost instantaneously; most RSS readers don’t offer similar mechanisms. Modern readers are all about speed, and making it so they don’t even have to load a website to read something is as fast as it gets.
Push notifications could also help Facebook bolster the traffic it sends to publishers. Digiday reported earlier this week that referral traffic to large publishers fell 32 percent between January and October. Such a large decline seriously threatens the control Facebook is able to exert over the media. But that’s only if people have stopped clicking on article links while also avoiding Instant Articles. The fall in referral traffic could well have been influenced by the rising popularity of Instant Articles, Digiday reports, because they’re specifically meant to keep users inside Facebook’s products instead of sending them away.
There’s also a bright side: Instant Articles are reportedly shared more often than links to outside websites. Facebook might have damned the media industry by making publishers rely on its service for traffic, but it might also have provided the solution by creating a content delivery mechanism its users actually prefer.
The same principle could hold true for Notify. The app will buzz people’s phones when one of their stations shares something, and those people could then share that notification to Facebook. (They don’t even have to unlock their phone to do so; a “share” option is available right next to the notification on the lock screen.)
All of which means Facebook could funnel more users into its products instead of other solutions, just like it did with Instant Articles. In the process it could benefit publishers who support it and condemn the publishers who don’t because its users would rather share things via Notify than another service.
Notify is restricted to iPhone owners in the United States at launch. It’s not clear when it might expand to other platforms or locations — Facebook only says that it’s “excited to explore this evolving medium with participating sources.” This most likely means Notify’s performance in the US will dictate any expansions.

NYT partners with Google to show newspaper subscribers the future

The New York Times is fast becoming an online publication that happens to print a daily paper, but that doesn’t mean it’s giving up on all the people who prefer to get the news from a stack of dead trees and dried ink instead of an app.
The paper has partnered with Google to offer that company’s virtual reality headset — which is really a glorified hunk of cardboard in which people can stick their smartphones into to get a taste of what VR can do — to its print subscribers. An app made to work with this headset will be available on November 5; the bundle of Google cardboard will be shipped to newspaper subscribers the following weekend.
This might convince some people to expand their subscriptions from the daily newspaper to the New York Times website and mobile applications. It’s also yet another way the publication will attempt to reward people who buy its paper, whether it’s by shipping this headset to subscribers or by giving newsstand customers access to its digital editions for a single day, without extra charge.
Both are win-win propositions for the Times. It recently celebrated reaching more than 1 million digital subscribers with a section dedicated to tooting its own horn. Increasing that number by convincing people to augment a print subscription with digital access or to sign up for the website after using it for a day will help the company’s revenues, image, and ability to thrive on the web.
But it seems like the New York Times is trying to keep its real, honest-to-god newspaper available for a while. That’s hardly a surprise: the paper’s public editor, Margaret Sullivan, has reported that print revenues accounted for 70 percent of the New York Times’ revenues in 2014. That could fall as ad revenues in the physical paper fall, but the printed paper is still an important product.
Catering to people who buy that paper is supposed to keep them interested in purchasing the New York Times’ moneymaker. Last week it was about giving people limited access to the website as a reward for buying from the newsstand; this week it’s about giving people a glimpse into media’s future, with Google’s help. What else might the company do to continue printing its newspaper?
It’s clear that the New York Times cares about its digital subscribers. These last few weeks have shown that it cares about the physical paper, too, even if it’s not quite as important as it was when the publication didn’t even have a website.

Medium wins the fight between Amazon and NYT

Today was a pretty good day for Medium.
A cynic might think that the Medium spat between Amazon’s Jay Carney and the New York Times’ Dean Baquet is little more than another indication that the platform is becoming a soapbox on top of which #brands pretend to be people. This isn’t a fight between Carney and Baquet so much as it’s a public relations campaign from a tech company fighting against the paper of record’s reporting.
But there’s another interpretation: This fight, and the ones that will undoubtedly follow it, show just how pervasive Medium has become as a viable publishing platform.
Amazon could have released Carney’s remarks as a press release. Hell, it could’ve given all the information to a sympathetic publication that wouldn’t have minded to take the New York Times down a peg. Instead its senior vice president for global corporate affairs at Amazon decided to publish what looks like a personal blog post on a network popular amongst Silicon Valley workers. (Update: And now, yet another response from Carney.)
The decision is even stranger from the New York Times’ perspective. It’s not like the company doesn’t have a publication — most of it is a publication, for crying out loud — it could’ve used to respond to Carney’s list of complaints. Instead it made a Medium account for the paper’s public relations team, had the executive editor write a letter of rebuttal, then published it on a nascent social platform. The paper did link to Baquet’s letter on its corporate website, but that’s it.
“As you point out, we did a post on our press blog, PressRun, where this kind of response would normally live,” a New York Times spokesperson said when asked why Baquet’s post was published on Medium, “But we linked to Medium because we thought it made the most sense to continue the conversation where it had began – on that platform.”
Countless news pieces will be written as a result of this spat. (This is the second I’ve written in as many hours.) These stories will link back to Medium — unlike these anxious bloggers at the tops of some of the most influential companies in the country, most writers link to pieces they discuss or respond to — and could maybe convince readers to click around to see if anything else is worth reading.
There are all kinds of metrics one could use to gauge Medium’s success. The company says it prefers to use the amount of time people spend reading the posts shared to its platform. Others might look to the $57 million in funding raised by the company just last month.
Perhaps the fact that these two posts, from a company known more for its “no comment” responses to press inquiries and the man in charge of the country’s leading newspaper, were published on the platform is the best indicator for how important Medium has become.

EBay and the marketplace of ideas

To survive, traditional news organizations need to figure out how to become real marketplaces of ideas, not just part of a metaphoric one. Ebay is not be a terrible model to riff on as they try to figure it out.

Flipping out over aggregation

A conceptual problem arises from thinking about Flipboard in publishing terms (an error Flipboard itself encourages), when its actual role in the value chain is much closer to that of a traditional re-seller of goods, in this case news content.

Putting readers first

The long-term survival of traditional news-gathering organizations such as the post depends on figuring out how content originators can participate financially in the value exchanges that occur around their content once it is released into the wild.