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Local publishers distribute automated articles to drive relevance for readers

By Cecilia Campbell

United Robots

Malmö, Sweden

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What makes a local story newsworthy?

The answer to that question used to be determined by newsrooms alone; the point of view was purely journalistic.

Today, thanks to data-driven journalism, a particular story’s newsworthiness can also be gauged by its proximity to the individual reader. In other words, stories closest to home are the most newsworthy. This is the driver for most of the local publishers United Robots works with.

Automated content can be highly advantageous for news publishers if they are able to personalise the content for the right readers.
Automated content can be highly advantageous for news publishers if they are able to personalise the content for the right readers.

High volumes of automated, hyper-local articles based on regularly published data on topics like real estate, local business, and sports can be publishing gold, for readers and publishers alike — if you can get the right story to the right reader. Here, we explain the basic building blocks needed and some digital distribution ideas that work for our local media publisher partners.

Understand what drives consumption

In local publishing — in any news publishing — there are two ways to drive article consumption: By providing content that’s relevant to the reader, and by optimising the distribution of that content.

In other words, with the Web site being your vehicle for distribution, you want to increase the number of actions readers take while there. With a high volume of automated texts on topics such as sports, real estate sales, and traffic incidents, local publishers have an opportunity to get particularly relevant stories to the right readers at the right times. This is where the value of content automation lies.

Matching content to readers

The key to strategic distribution of the automated content lies in the metadata — the metadata associated with the content as well as the reader.

With first-party data on readers generated through subscription/registration or in apps, publishers have a way to track users. This can then be matched with the content.

Let’s use real estate content as an example: The articles can either be tagged per neighbourhood, or be geo-positioned. Knowing where a reader lives, it’s then possible to push only the most geographically relevant house sales to each person, thereby engaging them.

Another way to match content with readers is to track user behaviour on the site. By running a script on the Web site, a publisher can, for example, track the fact that a particular reader clicks on content relating to a particular sports team and, therefore, push relevant stories.

You can also let readers set their own preferences, such as where they live and what team they support, to get the right mix of stories.

The handshake between the content metadata and the user metadata is key to deriving value from automated content. Once that is in place, publishers can start to work out how to best distribute and promote the content.

Ideas for distribution and promotion

Content distribution is key to driving value. Without good distribution, the automated content will not fulfil its potential in terms of driving consumption KPIs. These are some of the strategies in the distribution playbook.

  • Start simple: set up a topic section: Most Scandinavian local news media host real estate articles in a dedicated site section, vertical-style. That way the content has an easy-to-find home and can be mixed with reporter-written stories.
  • Drive discoverability: With the section as a base, they surface relevant stories in a box or carousel on the home page and link to similar stories on article pages. Some publishers also offer a search function, so that readers can look for property sales by street or zip code.
  • Go hyper-local: If you have the option, publish articles in hyper-local sub-sections, per town or village. For publishers like Gota Media in Sweden, this has become a path to success. Use the metadata to get the distribution right.
  • Reach in hyper-local clusters: Publishers like Swedish Everysport and Stavanger Aftenblad in Norway have a strategy of building reach in small clusters of very engaged sports fans at local level. Maybe each game is only interesting to 50 people, but if you publish match reports for all matches of all divisions, you get a high total reach of readers who really care about the content to boot.
  • Let readers set their preferences: Some Swedish publishers let readers actively choose the geographic location in which they live or favourite sports team to get a local tailor-made mix of content.
  • Utilise newsletters: Some of our publisher partners have developed new newsletter products off the back of automated content. Advance Local in the United States combines reporter written real estate stories with hyper-local house sales in real estate newsletters. Sports content is also well-suited for distribution in newsletters, where match reports and stats can be delivered according to readers’ team preferences or active newsletter subscription choices.

If you want to learn more about how Advance Local is thinking about this, join our March 1 workshop at INMA’s Media Subscription Summit in New York, where Lamar Graham, vice president of content strategy, will share insights from deploying and scaling automated content across the group’s digital news titles.

About Cecilia Campbell

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