How to put your audience funnel to work

A primer on marketing funnel tactics for digital news outlets

A good marketing strategy takes the guesswork out of growth. As we discussed previously in our primer on the marketing funnel for journalist-entrepreneurs, there are many ways to structure it. Whatever breakdown of segments you choose, they have to make sense for you, based on what you learn about your audience. 

To do this effectively, each stage must be measurable. You may have some ideas about who your most loyal audience members are, and the type of people who wind up paying, but until you measure it’s only a guess. We need data!  

Here are some tactics for nurturing growth at each stage of your audience conversion funnel and some ways to measure success.

Top of funnel: 

The key question here is, how are you getting your target audience members’ attention so they become casual consumers of your journalism?

One common and important tactic at this stage is paid acquisition, or as Lenfest puts it “spending money to make money.” That’s because our funnel can only be successful if we’re bringing people into it in the first place. Once you make more people aware of the brand generally, it’s a process of re-targeting those who have already been exposed to your outlet’s content, sometimes described as a “warm” audience. The more you know about who the different types of people interested in your content are — where they live, what their income levels are, what interests they have — the more effective and customized your pitch to them will be, and the higher your return on marketing investment.

Key tactics: organic social content, organic search (SEO), optimization to ensure people find your website and stories, paid search (SEM), targeted or boosted social media posts (Facebook and otherwise), paid acquisition (email capture), collaborations with other outlets with similar target audiences, landing pages that describe what you do and the impact of your work.

Key metrics: Subscription growth, average conversion rate (sign ups for your email list, for instance), cost per click (CPC), webpage visits, social media page likes and followers.

Middle of funnel:

The key question here is, are we making people want to stick around and keep coming back? This can look like an onboarding email flow that explains your values and introduces your reporters to your audience. It can be additional news products that deliver added value. It can be delivering more frequent, quality content in response to questions from your audience so they feel invested and heard. It can be a dedicated Facebook group for your readers to talk and engage with you and your work after you hit publish, so you can listen, improve and repeat.

Key tactics: Frequency, quality and consistency of content, optimized on site experience and conversion (UX), welcome email flow (onboarding process), landing page, community engagement, key performance indicators (KPI’s) to track engagement that are unique to your outlet and audience. 

Key metrics: Site analytics (number of website visits, time spent), subscription rates, email analytics (open rates, click-through rates, unsubscribes) social media analytics (Facebook group membership).

Bottom of funnel:

The key question here is, are we making it easy for people to do our desired outcome? If it’s to have users become paying members, have we simplified the process, and trimmed the annoying asks like unnecessary logins or a mailing address we don’t need?

Key tactics: Frictionless checkout, regular and responsive campaigns, optimized non-campaign (passive) conversion, segmentation, customer service, clean billing, referrals. 

Key metrics:  Number of paying members, conversion rate (from subscriber to member, for instance), frequency and level of contribution, qualitative data from user interviews, surveys.


Finally, a funnel is only as good as the bucket you have underneath. Your bucket represents your most valued members, a segment you want to serve as a distinct group so that they’re happy, and stay. The driving question is: does this most loyal audience segment feel special and appreciated? Importantly, in the context of the media world especially, we’ll benefit from considering benefits beyond the narrow goal of paying for content. Extremely loyal readers who consistently engage with content online and share it with others provide core benefits to overall growth, even if they don’t pay for news. 

Key tactics: exclusive perks and benefits, a strong, inclusive onboarding process and thank you messaging, customer service, re-engagement campaign for likely churners, ‘win-back’ tactics for cancelled subscribers.

Metrics: churn (and causes), monthly retention rate, subscriber engagement.

By thinking strategically about each segment of our audience along their journey with us, we can develop and sustain growth. Remember that every segment of your funnel is important, and that it’s your job to refine metrics and strategies at each stage.

Sign up for the Indie Publisher newsletter

Get the weekly newsletter that demystifies news entrepreneurship.

Are you a news entrepreneur? Not sure where to start?

Schedule a free strategy consultation to discuss your news business.

This site uses cookies to provide you with a great user experience. By continuing to use this website, you consent to the use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy.

Scroll to Top