Badische Zeitung uses local newsletters to build reader habits

By Markus Hofmann

Badische Zeitung

Freiburg, Baden-Württemberg, Deutschland


Engagement and loyalty are key drivers of a successful subscription business. Engaged users become loyal readers, and loyal readers become paying subscribers.

So, building habits and maximising the visibility of the best content should be at the core of a sustainable growth strategy.

German newspaper Badische Zeitung (BZ) publishes a highly automated personalised newsletter to maximise media time and loyalty. This newsletter became an important tool to grow the subscriber base.

Badische Zeitung (BZ) is one of the biggest newspapers in the southwest of Germany. The headquarters of the newsroom is located in Freiburg at the edge of the Black Forest near France and Switzerland. The newspaper’s subscriber base is around 117,000 customers, and 37,000 subscribers pay for digital products.

The newsletter “BZ am Abend” is published at 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
The newsletter “BZ am Abend” is published at 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Niche newsletter

The newsletter is published from Monday to Saturday at 7 p.m., which is why we call it “BZ am Abend” or “Badische Zeitung in the evening.” More than 175,000 people receive the newsletter, which is free and has a strong local focus. “BZ am Abend” gives an overview of the most important stories of the previous 24 hours.

Typically, the daily newsletter contains 10 to 12 stories, and the top story is always the same story that is at the top of the Web site at the time the newsletter is published. But the curation of most of the other stories depends on where a subscriber of the newsletter lives — giving the newsletter an individual local flavour. Altogether, Badische Zeitung publishes around 200 local variants of “BZ am Abend” on a daily basis. This is only possible by personalisation and automation.

One hour before the newsletter is sent, an algorithm gathers all the stories published on the Web site in the previous 24 hours and sorts them by engagement metrics and local metadata. It’s important to note that most of the editorial content of BZ can be assigned to a specific town, and there are around 200 cities and villages in the area of Badische Zeitung.

The algorithm compiles the best local stories of each town and its neighbourhood supplemented by very few regional or national top stories. Before the newsletter is finally published, an editor from the news desk does a quick check of the selected articles in the queue. This normally takes only around 10 minutes; the rest of the work is automated.

Making personalisation possible

It’s only possible to deliver the newsletter on such a highly personalised basis because many of the recipients share their postal code when they subscribe to the Web site or e-paper or when use the registration wall. Any registered user who wants to read plus-content agrees to receive “BZ am Abend” and gives an opt-in.

In this case, personalisation means getting the best current content of your hometown and neighbouring villages or districts. Thus, the most engaging local articles of Badische Zeitung are sent to the inbox of 175,000 readers every day.

A look at the data shows building habits is a major challenge for any publisher. Having analysed the user journey and user history of many new subscribers, Badische Zeitung found it usually takes more than a month to convert a new reader into a subscriber. On average, a new subscriber:

  • Visits our Web site 17 times.
  • Consumes the content of 61 page impressions.
  • Spends 34 minutes on the Web site until the conversion.  

This analysis was supported by the German publisher collaboration Drive, a digital revenue initiative of which Badische Zeitung is a founding member.

For the news desk of Badische Zeitung, the newsletter is an important tool to build habits and grow loyalty. When there’s a breaking news, the newsroom instantly publishes an extra edition — which always is a huge traffic driver.

In general, more than 7% of our Web site sessions are fueled by “BZ am Abend,” and engagement metrics prove the newsletter significantly increases both media time and visit frequency of its recipients. What is even more compelling is that the conversion of around 10% of all digitally acquired subscribers of Badische Zeitung can be assigned to the newsletter.

About Markus Hofmann

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