News & Media Apps: How to Engage and Convert Your Users


“Extra. Extra. Read all about it!”

We’ve all heard this familiar newsboy chant in films, shows and cartoons for decades. It was used in the newspaper’s heyday to promote a special edition to passers-by after a major event. However, due to the shift of news consumption from print to digital, we probably don’t hear this phrase anymore on the street corner downtown. So, how do we grab the attention of these modern-day passers-by? Until recently, websites have dominated in the distribution of news and media, but we’re in the midst of another shift: desktop to mobile. According to the American Press Institute, “mobile devices in the last year became the primary platforms for news.” The key to success in this mobile era lies in your ability to engage with people who consume news on the go.


Understanding Engagement

When it comes to user engagement, we’ve previously found that news apps are 3x more engaging than news websites. For example, a reader may find themselves on a website like the New York Times simply because it was the first listing on their search engine results page. This is great for bringing visitors to the site, but with the slew of available news sites, this doesn’t guarantee they will remember they saw it on the New York Times. When a mobile user downloads your app, however, they had to use valuable free space on their phone to install it. These readers tend to be more dedicated and engaged than web visitors.

The first step to understanding how your users are engaging with your app is to dive into your analytics. Here, you can discover conversion opportunities and also identify areas where users fall out of funnels, and metrics like retention and average session length can help you understand the user’s general app experience.

You can also track how many times specific articles are being viewed. You’ll start to notice trends on which articles are the most popular among your readers. From there, you can dig deeper into the individual news and media components like shared stories and popular categories.


Engaging to Convert: Creating App-friendly Interactions

Online marketers have spent countless years of research establishing industry-specific best practices to engage website visitors. These sites have evolved to accommodate the demands of these visitors. Features like Facebook commenting and media-rich articles have earned their spot on the world’s most popular news and media sites. But just when we thought we had it all figured out, a world of smaller screens and keyboard-free devices has emerged. App marketers are still trying to understand how to best serve their users while figuring out which lessons from the web can be applied to apps. Below are a few proven, app-friendly interactions that will encourage your users to engage and eventually convert within your app.

Create a Warm Welcome

When we visit someone’s house for the first time, we might feel a little anxious before we knock on the door, not knowing how the first interaction will be. If the host opens the door with a warm welcome, it creates a comfortable environment for the remainder of your time together. Apps aren’t much different. When someone downloads a new or updated app, a warm welcome can make the entire experience more enjoyable and less frustrating for the user.

For example, it can be incredibly irritating when users can’t find essential components and screens. Providing simple explanations about these key features and how they work will help keep your app from being uninstalled.

Below is a sequence of screenshots we took from the Yahoo News Digest mobile app that set expectations right off the bat and made it very clear how the app worked. More importantly, it explains why the app will give you one of the best and most unique news experiences available. It addresses what, where, when and why. Does your welcome screen answer all of these questions?

news app welcome screen

What is it? The best pieces of news combined into a story
Where is it from? Around the web
When does it happen? Twice a day (8am and 6pm)
Why does it matter? It’s the most important, need-to-know news

It’s Ok To Be a Little Pushy

Successfully executing push notifications does take some learning and practice, but almost seven out of 10 smartphone users have enabled them for their apps. Push messaging should be an essential part of your app marketing strategy because it can help “push” users over the edge of your conversion funnel.

People love to be the first to know about breaking news. There are plenty of times users won’t be interacting with your app when this happens. This is an excellent opportunity to grab their attention and bring them back to your app. But don’t stop there! Sending targeted push messages highlighting relevant news stories convinces users that you are the best place to find the stories that are most important to them.

Sports-App-Push-Notifications-White-MediumFor industries like retail or gaming, the onus is on the company to constantly create new relevant offers to re-engage the users (i.e. free gaming tokens or discount codes). With news and media apps, though, new stories are constantly being generated. If you’re the first to notify a user of relevant breaking news, this is incentive enough to revisit your app. No tokens or discounts needed.

The most popular sports news apps take full advantage of this by allowing the user to self-identify their interest in particular teams and types of news. This user attribute information collected from inside the app combined with data collected outside by app owners is referred to as user profiles. Sports apps leverage these profiles to send hyper-targeted push notifications about score changes, game updates and injury reports that they know their users are interested in.

A strong knowledge of the most popular features of your app coupled with user profile data can create a powerful push notification campaign guaranteed to resonate with your users.

Where is the Share?

A story that makes it viral could attract thousands of users to your app in a matter of minutes. But your article doesn’t have to go viral to gain traction in the social scene. According to, 57% of people who use Facebook use it to consume news.This is an opportunity you can’t afford to pass up. While there is no magic formula to Facebook fame or Twitter trending (without paying of course), there are some steps you can take to make your articles more share-friendly.

Along with the article being relevant and “snackable,” it must also be overly easy and obvious to share to social media. If one of your stories makes it big, it could bring an influx of users to your app, which is not only great for ad revenue, it’s an excellent boost to your brand recognition. That’s what makes a social share a great point-of-conversion for your news or media app. Be careful not to incentivize the share though, because Apple has recently started to crack down on apps that reward social sharing.

If we look at the difference below between the social sharing features on BBC vs. BuzzFeed, it’s easy to pick a clear winner. On BBC, it’s tough to tell if the article is shareable. Tapping the arrow in the top right corner may accomplish something, but what? In BuzzFeed, the sharing icons stick out, almost like calls-to-action. Granted, the content of the BuzzFeed article is written for shareability, this shouldn’t prevent BBC from providing sharing icons that pop.

BBC-vs-BuzzFeed mobile apps.png

Identifying the Conversions

Correctly tagging events in your app is essential to understanding how users like to engage with it. It’s even more important to identify which of these events are most valuable to your organization and monitor them as conversions. Some organizations benefit from their users taking advantage of properly placed tutorial and help buttons, while others may find more value in subscription sign-ups and social shares. As a news or media app, there are many points of conversion to consider. We’ve provided two potential campaigns for you to start with:

Campaign #1 - You want to earn more social media shares

  • Desired Conversion Event: User shares article on social media
  • User Segment: Users who abandoned the social media share screen
  • Execution - In-app message: First visit after social abandon, fire in-app message: “Introducing Click-To-Share: We’ve made it easier to share your favorite stories with your friends!”

Campaign #2 - You want to acquire more paid subscribers

  • Desired Conversion Event: Subscribe to a 30-day free trial
  • User Segment: Users who read at least 5 articles in one week
  • Execution - In-app message: Offer a free, 30-day trial for being a loyal user (auto-renews into paid subscription) - “Sick of the ads? Try a free 30-day subscription today!”



Optimizing Your Conversion Funnel

If you want to get a general sense of which screens users are viewing while they use your app, you can look at screenflow. Screenflow eventually lead to a conversion. By setting up conversion funnels using specific sequences of events, you can measure how many users are following the desired path, and if not, what you need to do to fix it.

While you do expect a fair amount of users to drop out somewhere along your conversion funnel, this doesn’t mean you should be complacent with that number. There is always room to improve your conversion rate, and many ways to identify the reasons for it.

Events Leading up to Conversion

Take a look at the events in each of your conversion funnels. You may find there is a huge drop-off between one event and the next. For those users who aren’t completing the desired action, you can drill down and see which events they did complete before and after each event within the conversion funnel. You may find a high percentage of users are dropping out and returning to a previous event within the funnel. If you pull up the screen containing this event, you may find that completing the desired next action isn’t quite as obvious as you thought.

Here’s an example:

You’ve granted premium access to a select group of users for free. Before their access expires, you send them an in-app message encouraging them to upgrade to the unlimited subscription plan for $14.99/month. You notice a 63% drop-off after users view the “Subscription Plans” screen. After diving deeper, you find that instead of picking a plan on this screen, 43% of those drop-off users are actually exiting the app. You visit this “Subscription Plan” screen yourself and realize that there is no easy way for users who are no longer interested to return to the article they were viewing (which means they are just exiting the app entirely).


Not all Conversions are Weighed Equally

Social shares, free trials and in-app purchases all accomplish different actions, yet they can all count as conversions. Make sure you identify which conversions are most valuable to your organization. You may have a high conversion rate for free trials, but if the vast majority of those users are cancelling the free trial before their paid subscription starts, then the value of that conversion is reduced significantly. If this is the case, you may want to take a deeper dive into why these free trial users aren’t becoming paid subscribers.


Smart Devices = Smart Marketers

The way in which we consume news and media will continue to evolve. We have to keep a keen eye on the landscape and find new ways to keep our users engaged. But one thing we do know is that news and media will always exist. Physical or digital, desktop or mobile, it will be here. As our devices get smarter, so must the app marketer. If you leverage mobile technology and take advantage of events that are constantly happening, you put yourself in a unique position of providing a personalized app experience to your unique user segments. Now that’s breaking news!