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April 19, 2017

How Publishers Can Use Audience Insights to Craft Better Content: NY Times Spotlight

Most media companies already leverage data and analytics for content planning. Publishers track the top keywords they rank for, their most visited articles, and the latest buzzwords and trends they should be covering—these metrics help them adapt their content strategy based on what they know works.

However, in order to be groundbreaking, innovative and anticipate the needs of their audience, successful publishers must understand who their key reader segments are, and what these segments want to know.
Who are they failing to speak to? What opportunities are they missing? Let’s take a couple pages to spotlight New York Times readers as an example.

Demographic Nuances of NY Times Readers

At first glance, NY Times online readership appears about even in terms of gender, with 52% male website visitors and 48% female visitors.

NY Times Graph 1

35-44 year olds are the largest age group for NY Times, and this segment is 23% more likely than the average person to visit nytimes.com.

However, when you break down NY Times visitors by both age and gender segments, it reveals a more complex picture.
Male readers are 49% more likely to be 35-44 years old, but female readers are actually less likely to fall in this age bracket.

Women NY Times readers are most likely to be Baby Boomers aged 55-64, and male readers are actually least likely to be part of this older age segment.

NY Times Graph 2

Understanding these differences can help the New York Times better shape and tailor their content strategy for different generations of male vs. female readers. They may learn that younger male readers (older Millennials and younger Gen X men) are most engaged with tech news, business and finance content, whereas Boomer women might be more interested in the arts, human interest stories or health news.

Getting Personal

Beyond basic demographics, understanding readers’ relationships and opinions can shape the content they consume. Examining their audience’s lifestyle can help content creators ideate topics, features or even entirely new sections based on themes that appeal to their readers on an emotional level.

The majority of NY Times readers (56%) are married, but the most over-indexed group (meaning, the marital status segment that is most likely to visit nytimes.com) were actually never married. Perhaps they could launch a column for this audience?

NY Times Graph 3

NY Times readers are also 201% more likely than the average person to visit a website in the Gay & Lesbian category. This is perhaps unsurprising considering the progressive bent of NY Times readers, however it is notable because Gay & Lesbian is the most over-indexed website category across all major Lifestyle website categories (including Politics, Fashion, Beauty, Home & Garden and more).

Based on these findings, the New York Times may want to hire more LGBTQ journalists, pursue a partnership with an advocacy publication or build this topic out into a separate section within their navigation.

Political Minds

NY Times readers are quite politically engaged, and care deeply about domestic and international issues. They are 40% more likely to be interested in international events and 24% more likely to be interested in other cultures. Over a third of them would participate in a civil protest for issues they feel strongly about. The Politics section is massively popular, and the only section that appears in the Google listing for the New York Times.

NY Times Graph 4

Donald Trump remains the key area of focus for NY Times readers, who are 226% more likely than the average person to search for “trump” and 116% more likely to search for “trump news.” The Times’ investment in covering Trump appears to be paying off: in spite of the president’s vocal disdain for the publication, their paid subscriptions have actually risen since the election.

The high liberal index of NY Times readers is hardly surprising, but NY Times readers are also 10% more likely than the average person to identify as Ultra Conservative.

NY Times Graph 5

The top ten political websites that NY Times readers visit include a hodgepodge of center-balanced, left-leaning and (quite a few) right-leaning publications, suggesting there is either authentic interest in multiple perspectives or a more conservative audience visiting the New York Times than one might expect.

NY Times 6

A Healthy Perspective

Political coverage always drives large traffic volume for short bursts, but let’s say the NY Times wants to invest more in evergreen content, such as stories for their Health section. How can audience insights provide a better understanding of their reader’s health interests?

36% of NY Times readers are overweight, and a quarter of them are obese, suggesting that over half of their readership could be interested in content about weight management.

NY Times readers certainly care about their physical health—over half of them exercise regularly and 71% of them agree that they are trying to eat healthier foods. They are 27% more likely than the average person to count calories, but remain wary of new diets or health foods; NY Times readers are 15% less likely to try new nutritional products and 13% less likely to be the first person to try a new health food.

Understanding the attributes and attitudes of an audience provide publishers with a more nuanced perspective on the personal goals and interests of their readers. Sure, NY Times readers are healthy eaters, but they’re not adventurous nutritionists or experimental dieters. They are progressive, but not exclusively liberal or avoidant of conservative media. Audience insights like these provide a richer perspective which can lead to smarter content strategy, targeting, and topic ideation.

Source: New York Times audience data was pulled from Hitwise’s AudienceView tool based on visitors to nytimes.com over 4 weeks ending 12/3/2016. “Trump” and “trump news” searches were pulled over 4 weeks ending 03/04/2017.