How to Measure Loyal Audience

How to distinguish your loyal visitors from the majority of those who are just passing by.

Loyal audience is the core of any successful digital media resource (newspaper, magazine, blog, etc.). Every newsroom or editorial team strives to identify and understand their audience by determining their average reader profile. In this case, the first question is: how do you track and measure audience loyalty? IO is going to tell you here how to distinguish your loyal visitors from the majority of those who are just passing by. We have been conducting in-depth research on loyals for 1000+ publishers for the last 3 years, so here we’ll share with you some of the results of our observations.

Why Focus on Audience Loyalty?

Inc. writes that most digital media businesses spend on average between 5 to 10 times more money on acquiring a new customer than on selling a new feature or a product update to an existing client. They furthermore go on to say that loyal customers usually spend 67% more on purchases from the business than new visitors do. This information would serve to demonstrate that, while attracting new business is certainly vital, it’s equally important for revenue growth that we work on establishing them as long-term, loyal customers.

At the same time, companies can’t bring about audience loyalty just by waving a magic wand. Building strong B2C relationships is a complex and arduous path that requires substantial investments of time and money. Long-term relationships are key for growing your loyal audience segment.

How loyal audience differs from others

Evolution of Loyalty

Here is the progression of the path from ‘average visitor’ to ‘loyal customer’:

  1. Strangers can be attracted by content about your brand published on blogs, social media, landing pages.
  2. After strangers learn more details about your product, they become visitors, and you gather more specific information about them.
  3. Visitors can be converted to leads. Use calls-to-actions on your site and landing pages, registration and subscription pages, and everything that helps you gather your visitors’ contacts.
  4. Correctly organized interaction with leads helps turn them into customers. Regular Email contact, open lines of communication, and supporting leads on their way to understanding your product in further depth increases their engagement and helps grow trust.
  5. After your customers are happy with your services and their onboarding goes well, they may evolve into promoters. It means their loyalty grows to the point that they begin to publish and share their positive experience with your company. These loyal customers are often called ‘brand advocates’. Such loyal clients can spread the word about your business and products to others and respond to negative feedback written by unsatisfied customers.
    This last category generally consists of loyal audience members, though a large part of your regular customers can also be called loyal, without necessarily taking an active role in online discussion of your business or products.
How customers become loyal

Loyal Audience = Engagement Rate?

Engagement is the base for building your ‘loyal’ segment. How to measure this is no secret to publishers, as there are established metrics that tell us about levels of involvement and viewer interest.

Publishers usually pay attention to social actions such as comments, likes, and shares, and metrics like page views, engaged time, etc.

Still, engagement is just one side of the prism, and engaged visitors do not always equal loyal visitors. For example, someone finds your story on social media, likes and shares it in his timeline, but never visits your website again. This person showed a good initial engagement rate, but they didn’t become loyal. So the question becomes, What brought this about? Why did they leave the website without any further visits or actions?". Answers can differ regarding your site CTAs and the specifics of the article he visited.

Measuring Engaged and Loyal Audience

Summing up everything we have shared so far, engaged visitors have a great chance of becoming a loyal audience, if they are being appealed to and engaged consistently.

Here are the metrics for determining this audience:

  1. New and Returning Users

    The more returning visitors you have, the higher their engagement rate. People like what you publish, they are ready to spend time on your site.
  2. Average Time on Page

    This means engaged time. How much time do your visitors usually spend on site? Readers can spend hours on your site when reading attractive, well-crafted articles. Note that the IO dashboard indicates both time spent on page and time needed for full reading of the article.
  3. Recirculation Rate

    This tells us how many visitors have gone on from one article they have viewed to another article on the same site. The higher this rate is, the more engaged your visitors are. This metric is the opposite of Google’s bounce rate and can be used for measuring viewer engagement. It can tell publishers how engaging their articles are and if they impell readers to go further and explore their website in more depth.
  4. Read the Article Through

    This is a drill showing how readers scrolled your article and how much of the content they read before leaving. Check out how many readers read your texts till the end, and how many of them left without finishing.

Although useful, the above are just bare metrics, so we have to actually dive deeper into the topic to interpret them and identify & determine what works for publishers.

8 Live Examples of Measuring Loyal Audience

A great deal of analyzing the experience of well-established publishers with viewer growth has allowed us to select the most interesting and impactful ways of combining the various established metrics and find the magical formula for loyal audience growth.

  1. Hearst

    Hearst Newspapers’ president of digital media Rob Barrett told Digiday that SF Gate and Chron, both Hearst publications, switched their focus from increasing the number of uniques to upping the amount of regular or returning visitors who come back to the website at least 10 times per month. Barrett shared their finding that a growing loyal audience has also increased the overall number of visits.
  2. The Times

    Publications like The Times, The Seattle Times and The Boston Globe (and many others as well) measure their loyal audience in subscribers. According to Digiday, focusing on subscribers allowed The Times to grow their digital subscribers base by 55%, to over 33.000 during 2017. The Boston Globe’s Senior Manager of Audience Development even named pageviews a vanity metric, underscoring the importance of measuring subscriptions first.
  3. The New York Times

    The New York Times also employs the same approach as many of the other ‘Times’ newspapers. Turning random visitors into engaged and loyal ones is one of the major goals of this newspaper. They have created a team of 10 people to focus on the first 90 days of a new reader’s subscription. Michael Golden, the President of The New York Times, describes their aim as pushing readers further down the engagement funnel, turning them from "one and done" visitors to engaged, loyal readers.
  4. The New York Times engagement funnel
  5. The Financial Times

    The Financial Times works hard on cultivating a whole new approachcultivating a whole new approach to user engagement and loyalty. FT has even created a new audience engagement team in their newsroom, who assert that "engagement can be broken down into three main metrics: recency (when was the piece last read), frequency (how often is the piece visited), and volume (the number of paid articles consumed by a reader).

    They calculate the rate using the formula (R x F x V) for each user. It looks over the last 90 days to see how recently a reader visited, how many times they visited, and what amount of content they read over this period.
  6. The Guardian

    The Guardian has their own analytical solution called Ophan, which is interesting because of its unique nature. They use their own personally developed metrics to find out how engaged their audience is. The Guardian highlighted one particular metric - ‘reader trajectory’ - that shows three types of users:
    • those who went from this story to another article on the Guardian site,
    • readers who returned to the homepage,
    • visitors who 'bounced' – left the site without viewing any more pages.
    In addition to this, they track traditional page views, explore reading habits, and attention time.
  7. Contently

    Contently states that the core of loyal audience are returning visitors. They use the returning visitors rate (RVR) to observe and determine that everything is going smoothly. They suggest calculating this rate by dividing the amount of returning visitors by the number of all uniques for a certain time period. For instance: 3.000 (returning users) / 10.000 (total unique users) = 30% RVR. They call RVR a thermometer of audience loyalty.
  8. Chartbeat

    Chartbeat starts off their work on engaging loyal visitors by tracking the ‘engaged time’ metric, just as does. This can tell publishers how suitable to the audience their content is. This metric strongly correlates to visitor loyalty. Ultimately, they define loyal visitors as those who have visited your digital media resource on 8 or more out of 16 days total, or those who keep returning to the site every other day or more.
  9. IO Technologies

    The IO Approach to defining loyals resulted from multiple years of experience and research, which helped us create our own formula for defining loyal visitors. Here is our classification system for readers:
    • New: Someone who has visited the website over 30 days ago.
    • Returning: Someone who has returned to the website within 7-30 days.
    • Loyal: A reader who regularly returns at least once every 7 days.
    So according to this approach, we assume loyal audience to consist of visitors who come back to the site once a week or more frequently. It is obvious that when people visit your site several times per week, they enjoy reading your content, and this is what keeps them glued to the articles, keeps them returning for more information.

    The insights from these metrics allow us to define who is our core audience, the best segment for us to target.
A reader who regularly returns at least once every 7 days is loyal

An alternative way of defining loyal audience

Everything that has been discussed here regarding measuring audience loyalty is based on metrics which can vary in every single case. Even in the case of a standard, well-known metric, for instance, returning visitors, the numbers will vary depending on the parameters being used to measure this.

In light of this, aside from the first IO approach detailed above, we also suggest an alternative method of defining loyal users or even potential loyal users. Our experience of working with data and analyzing editorial processes from the inside has led us to the conclusion that the majority of a loyal audience usually enters a website through a direct source or through search engines.


1. People who search your website using the ‘brand keywords’ that usually include your brand’s name are already aware who you are and what you do. They enter your homepage on purpose and they know what their goals are. This kind of targeted search is generally carried out by an audience which is closer to your loyal one.

2. ‘Direct’ traffic should not be confused with traffic from undefined sources ie URL links from other websites. Direct traffic here means those who click your link from their bookmarks, and direct enters via the address bar. Both these types of traffic are people who are already acquainted with your brand. They generally enter your website with a specific idea already in mind of what they want and what they will do there.

So that’s our new approach: defining audience loyalty based on direct source traffic. How does this sound? Do you agree with it?

Wrap Up

Achieving these results may sound simple but they require plenty of work and time invested in order to bring about. Now that you’ve examined the methods for measuring reader loyalty, it’s time to put them into practice. Here is a short ‘To-do list’ for you:

  1. Measure your audiences and define your core one.

    Use the metrics listed above to find out your loyal readers who spend large amounts of time on your site. Feel free to use one of the approaches from the various sources, which we’ve shared in this article, or grab our first one (see above, example #8) and start specifically monitoring who keeps returning to your website each week.
  2. Create your target segment to further working with it.

    Collect data about your readers who are most engaged and can be defined as loyal. This is something (audience segmentationand case studies on this topic) which we discussed at length in our last section. Essentially, you should examine and divide your audience into segments according to their demographic, geographic, behavioral and psychographic parameters. Knowing your ideal reader will make all your editorial decisions data-driven, and your articles more effective among your chosen audience. Measure what works with the metrics you define for your business. Feel free to use our formula, if you would like.
  3. Produce content which your loyal audience appreciates.

    Once you know the characteristics of your most engaged readers and know what makes them loyal, use this data! By the way, this may be useful both for growing your ‘Loyal’ segment and for obtaining insights for improving the quality of your content, which will attract new visitors. People are ready to spend lots of time on whatever they feel is valuable for them, and they are willing to pay for it too, which is certainly the key factor concerning monetization for publishers.
  4. Produce content which your loyal audience appreciates
  5. Track your success.

    Once you have defined your loyal audience and come up with which type of content is most suitable for this segment, track its performance. Use the same metrics to measure whether your new targeted content strategy boosts your business.