It would be hard to find a newsroom that isn’t searching for sustainable growth right now, and it’s something we speak about often with our clients. Really, sustainability is intrinsically linked to how the audience values that publication - and that’s really down to how engagement is met and managed.

Badische Zeitung is no different, and in this client case we will dive into the way smartocto helps BZ to recognise and understand the most engaging (and therefore most valuable) content on its pages.

But first, a little about Badische Zeitung

The Badische Zeitung is a German newspaper based in Freiburg im Breisgau, and covers the south western part of Germany and the Black Forest region. It has been family-owned for decades, and is considered something of an institution by its readership. It has a circulation of 141k and a readership of 368k.

The main focus of Badische Zeitung - as it is for many newspapers - is to grow its online paying subscription base, particularly as advertising revenue in the digital age is increasingly less reliable and important. Markus Hofmann, BZ’s head of digital content has been using the smartocto tool at the newsroom since 2018.

Smartocto helps us to identify our most engaging content and to understand its success factors.

Markus Hofman

Markus Hofmann Head of Digital Content at Badische Zeitung

Three questions with head of digital content, Markus Hofmann

SO - In this article (published on INMA) you wrote about the main focus at BZ being bringing growth and increasing your subscriber base. Why is this important, and what were the challenges you were facing trying to accomplish that?

MH - The fate of most newspapers is defined by their ability to grow a paying subscriber base for digital content. This is crucial because in the digital world advertising revenue is no longer as important as it was in the age of the printing press - and it certainly isn’t as reliable an income stream. Our hypothesis is that the more relevant and engaging the content of a news company is, the better it can grow its subscriber base. Smartocto helps us to identify our most engaging content – and to understand which factors are attributable to its success.

SO - Were there any other (side) challenges you were trying to solve? (optimising digital distribution strategy, making the newsrooms more efficient or helping the editorial be more in-line with the audience demands …?) and why are these challenges also important to BZ?

MH - One of the biggest challenges of digital transformation is how editors combine good old-fashioned gut feeling with decisions which are data-driven. There is an assumption that these are mutually exclusive, but of course that’s far from true. Both are important in the digital newsroom, and our task is to help editors find space for both. Smartocto’s article score helps our editors to sharpen their eyes for the best content in a data-driven way - and it’s a non-threatening way to do so.

SO - Critically, did it work?

MH - Well, since May 2020 we can report that the total customer base of BZ [print and digital] is no longer shrinking. It’s the first growth we’ve been able to report with this metric for more than a decade. Our hypothesis was that the more relevant and engaging the content of a news company is, the better it can grow its subscriber base. You have to stay focused and produce really good journalism, but we’ve shown it’s possible.

"Smartocto is an important part of our paid content strategy"

A peek at some insightful insights

In working with BZ, the smartocto team took a significant sample of articles published between Feb and Sept 2021. These were articles which Badische Zeitung placed behind their paywall (as a result of smartocto notifying them of high engagement CPI* scores). We analysed the results by comparing them to average results of free-to-view articles from the same period. Here you see the most relevant graphs that prove that high engagement content behind the paywall helps to grow your subscription base.

Subscriptions and paid vs. free articles

Three tips from Markus & smartocto to help you optimise your content for engagement

1. Make good use of smartocto’s engagement score

On the homepage of our website, there is a module called ‘The Week’ (and, full disclosure, here we were inspired by Spotify!). The Week shows the most engaging content of the previous week to each reader on a personalised basis. We use Smartocto’s engagement score to curate these selections to ensure that they’re as appealing for our readers as possible

2. Identify the part of your site with the most potential for conversion

We found out that most of our users don’t see our best content because they don’t visit our website often enough. The Week is a showroom for our most engaging (and therefore most important) content. It helps us to transform casual users into devoted fans and subscribers because it enables us to connect readers with those articles proven to have high engagement markers.

3. Sharpen your focus and measure what matters - to you

It’s all about relevancy. Smartocto is an important part of our paid content strategy because the data it serves helps us to refine our website and make it more relevant. It enables us to work with laser-like precision.

If you think your newsroom could benefit from a little smartocto magic, get in touch. We speak your language, and we’re pretty sure we can help you turbo charge your engagement too.