Removing the Guesswork From Building a Loyal Community

How can publishers deepen audience relationships? What's the secret to higher engagement, longer time on-site, and increased retention?

Quality content comes first — but what comes next?

Insight From The Industry

of publishers reported that creating quality content and improving the user experience was their top annual priority.

The Most Powerful User Experiences Are Rooted In Community
At OpenWeb, we know that high-quality conversations are the best way to get people reading, contributing, and coming back for more. High-quality conversations drive more active
users (those who read, like, and/or comment) —which leads to more page views, time on-site, and higher retention.

Publishers are always on the lookout for features that increase stickiness—there’s a reason the New York Times just acquired Wordle for a price “in the

low seven figures”: as an addictive puzzle game, it more or less guarantees a huge influx of new readers visiting the Times’ site every morning.

“Conversation serves the same function: it turns publishers into destinations, building communities that readers want to constantly check in on.

Editorial engagement with reader communities is one of the most effective ways to foster conversations, drive user participation, and build loyalty. In today’s publishing landscape, reader loyalty matters above all else.
The more a reader returns to your site, the more valuable first-party data they provide. With the cookieless world on the horizon, little matters more for publisher sustainability.

“So — how should publishers move forward?

1
Make it easy for users to engage quickly with your content
Not every user is going to take the time to leave a comment. But there are other, less time-intensive ways for readers to engage, and these can yield huge dividends for publishers.

A simple one-click poll, added to the top of the conversation can go a long way towards driving engagement.

Reactions and polls also provide a rich, actionable store of first-party data, which they can use to improve content offerings, more precisely target advertisements, and more.
2
Give your readers real-time updates
People flock to social media during big-ticket events: awards shows, playoffs, prestige TV finales. They like to follow the action alongside voices they know and trust.

Live Blog turns faceless bylines into actual people — personalities your readers can actually get to know. It deepens the bond with your audience and keeps them immersed in your reporting.
3
Provide a
direct line of communication to experts
Authentic engagement is all about making readers feel like a part of the process — like their voices actually matter. A well-executed AMA — or Ask Me Anything — can be a hugely effective way to bring readers into the fold, connecting them with staff writers or special guests.

Reader questions are also valuable for informing your editorial strategy. If you’re seeing the same kinds of questions crop up over and over again, that’s a good sign it’s a topic of interest among your readers.
4
Join the conversation to boost engagement — and quality
When editors or staff writers join the conversation around their articles, it helps to focus the discussion and keep it vibrant.

Designated badges can help identify editorial staff, whose contributions can then be highlighted. Meanwhile, our ‘Best’ sorting feature keeps the best comments towards the top, positively influencing the overall discussion.
Editorial involvement leads to
reduction in toxic comments
5
Let readers track the content that matters to them
Only a handful of readers are going to be interested in everything you publish. More likely, readers will turn to you to stay informed on specific interests — basketball, say, or local politics, or (as with Wordle) puzzle games.

With OpenWeb’s Topic Tracker, users can actually follow and receive notifications on
the topics they care about the most. That way, content relevant to your readers’ interest doesn’t get lost in the daily churn.
6
Curb toxicity to build loyalty
Respectful, moderated conversation is the most potent tool available to publishers looking to deepen their relationship with readers: it leads to 35% more time on-site and 200% more pages viewed by active users.

The calculus here is simple: toxic conversations repel readers, respectful ones bring them in.
7
Allow readers to leave reviews
Everyone’s a critic — and you should turn that to your advantage.

Readers love leaving reviews. When you give them the option to do so, it boosts engagement across the board: the reviewer spends more time on-site, as do the people who read the review, some of whom will leave reviews of their own.
8
Surface your top content to your users
Helping readers find the content you know is working — the content trending on your site — is a surefire way to boost engagement.

That’s why we built Popular in the Community — a tool that doesn’t just highlight articles: it also draws attention to popular, high-quality user comments. This sets reporters and readers on an equal plane, and shows readers that their contributions are valued — not as an afterthought but as an integral part of your site.

Notably, highlighting UGC also dramatically increases the quantity of clickable content on your site at any given time — giving readers even more reason to stick around.
Among users that register with OpenWeb, we see:
9
Encourage readers to register
All the tools we’ve discussed so far are designed to keep people on your site and engaged with your content. But engagement is just the first step. The more time users spend with your content, the likelier they are to deepen the relationship by becoming a registered user.

Think, again, of Wordle: whether the Times paywalls it remains to be seen, but the increased daily engagement will inevitably boost registrations and subscriptions either way.
OpenWeb users who engage with content that’s trending:
10
Pay attention to what your readers actually want
When you’re responsive to your audience’s desires — when you can serve up more of what they like, and less of what they don’t — you are inevitably repaid in kind: with more visits, more time-on-site, and a greater degree of brand loyalty.

Data insights are delivered via real-time Slack notifications or weekly digests on trending topics, articles of interest, engagement, and more.
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Bonus tip:
Take advantage of contextual targeting
With the imminent demise of third-party cookies — Google is set to phase them out of Chrome in 2023 — contextual targeting has become freshly relevant. This is good news for everyone involved.

Contextual ads, unlike third-party ads, are displayed based on what a user is actively looking at, as opposed to their past internet history. In other words, they’re less invasive — and as a result, they can help to nurture a sense of trust between you and your readers.

Plus, contextual targeting thrives on first-party data — which is precisely what most of the tools discussed here are designed to generate.

Let's have a conversation.

We help publishers gain independence from traditional social media by fueling millions of high-quality conversations across thousands of communities with more than one hundred million monthly users.