October 11, 2023
While human editors curate the top stories of the day in Apple News, the algorithm surfaces relevant content to readers elsewhere in the app. Apple gives us a clue about how the algorithm works when they tell readers: “The more you read, the better Apple News gets, with suggestions for relevant stories that you can easily find throughout the app.”
Reading between the lines, we can see that reader retention and active reader time are strong indicators to the Apple algorithm that readers want to see more of your content. Therefore, these are the metrics publishers should be monitoring to determine their weight in the Apple New algorithm.
But what tools do publishers have at their disposal that can push readers to stay on their content for longer?
One of the best ways to bolster your signal in the Apple News algorithm is to encourage readers to follow your publication. FlatPlan enables this with the use of inline Follow mechanics.
These branded CTAs sit within the content of your articles, giving them high viewability and encouraging action from readers in their most engaged state – when they’re in the middle of consuming your content. Once clicked, the Follow button sends a signal to Apple News to surface more content from that publisher around the app, while strengthening that publisher’s weight in the algorithm.
The effect of moving from a casual browser to a Follower is powerful for Apple News publishers. Followed channels will be seen much more regularly in personalised areas of the app and will even get whole sections dedicated to them in the Today Feed, as seen below with ITV News, thus boosting reach and discoverability massively.
The result is dramatic. Many Apple News publishers that move to FlatPlan’s solution see a 30-40% increase in Followers within the first 3 months.
Another key signal to Apple is the amount of time a reader spends with your content. You may already be utilising reader retention mechanisms on your website to keep readers on your content longer. FlatPlan can replicate these for your Apple News channels too.
Any internal links in the body of the content or Read More links will direct to your other articles in Apple News, which creates this self-reciprocating cycle where your content is surfaced more because it’s read more. That’s why these devices can really help to increase article views, especially when they are contextually relevant.
FlatPlan can take this further. If you utilise graphical ‘Trending’ or ‘Related’ areas on your website, our engineers can build devices like this in Apple News as well. Here’s a look at how we created a super-clickable ‘Read more’ section for Middle East Eye. These are populated automatically from a part of each article on the Middle East Eye website.
In last month’s newsletter, we talked about how the ‘Promote’ feature can be used to push certain articles to the top of your Sections for 48 hours giving them more visibility and views. You can leverage this feature by Promoting articles with high Average Active Time. Your most engaged articles are the ones boosting your weight in the algorithm, so it’s worth helping them reach more new readers.
Shares, Likes and Saves are functions that readers can use to bend the algorithm to suit their interests. Shares allow readers to distribute a story themselves. Likes help indicate preferences. And Saves bookmark articles for reading later.
When used, all three of them tell the algorithm that a particular story captured the attention of the reader, and would likely appreciate seeing more of it. So publishers should encourage new readers to take one of these actions while reading their content. With FlatPlan’s tools, we make that quick and easy for you to do.
We can create designed Share buttons for you that sit more prominently within the body of the content to increase the chances of people sharing your stories.
Publishers who can get readers to spend more time on their channel may get parts of the Today Feed devoted to them. You’ll see below an entire section dedicated to Metro, even though I don’t follow them, but simply because I’ve been reading their content a lot recently. Apple News will even ask me if I want to start following Metro. This is the algorithm in action trying to gain loyal readers for publishers.
Likes are also important an action to encourage from your new readers. FlatPlan can help enable this with a larger, more branded Like button at the bottom of your articles saying: “Hit Like to see more stories like this.”
You’ll be able to see how successful these additions to your channel are in News Publisher – the Apple News analytics platform. Not only does News Publisher show how your channel is performing on Likes, Saves and loads of other insightful metrics, but it even tells you which specific articles are generating the most Shares, Likes and Saves. You can then determine which types of articles are worth replicating to boost your signal in the algorithm.
In Apple News, sports publishers get a dedicated ecosystem with the My Sports tab. Ever since Apple introduced this new area of the app in late-2022, sports publications have seen up to 50% more unique views.
Readers who navigate to the My Sports tab can choose to follow their favourite teams, their preferred sports and even specific leagues that they’re interested in.
This gives a lot of visibility to sports content, and the sheer amount of categorisation means there are plenty of opportunities for your content to be surfaced in this area of the app. Even the smaller nations during tournaments get a whole page dedicated to them. If nobody is writing about the Zambian women’s World Cup team, you’ll almost certainly be featured in that part of the My Sports tab.
As we all know, thumbnail images play a significant role in whether a reader clicks on an article or not. FlatPlan can help you optimise your choice of thumbnail images in Apple News by pulling in images from your CMS to test which is most click-worthy. This is a great way to optimise your image choices without investing loads of time doing it.
Another reliable way to influence the Apple News algorithm is with your publishing schedule. You may already have a publishing schedule for your website that works well and would translate to success on Apple News.
Experience tells us that posting during the afternoon for UK readers allows US readers to pick up the stories in the morning during their commute. Some of our publishers have found success with this schedule.
You want to publish content during busy times of the day to will increase the number of views you're getting, which in turn will boost your signal in the algorithm.
Article cadence is also important in Apple News, so we tend to recommend that publishers deliver all content instead of cherry-picking stories. It’s easier for the algorithm to understand the content of a channel when lots of stories are available, which is why we always launch new channels with existing content instead of starting with an empty channel.
Join leading publishers who use Apple News to reach new audiences and drive them to owned properties. Speak to the FlatPlan team to find out how Apple News can help you grow.
No matter what stage you're at in your discovery of Apple News, we'll help you get the information you need to make the right decision for your media business.