How Publishers can Optimise Content for Apple News

May 2, 2023

As the popularity of Apple News swells, so too does the competition for reader screen time. This is increasing pressure on publishers to ensure content on Apple News is well-optimised for audience growth.

As a preferred provider for Apple News, we’ve learnt a few things over the years about how publishers can optimise their content and drive audience growth. So here are the concepts you can use to maximise the performance of your Apple News channel.

How does Apple News surface content to readers?

To understand how to optimise content for Apple News, we first need to understand how the app decides which content to show readers. A wide range of methods are employed in various parts of Apple News. Three of them are standard features of the app, and one of them is a bespoke feature for FlatPlan publishers.

Human editors

In a world of AI and algorithms, the use of human editors provides a fresh angle on content curation. Indeed, not many other news apps use human editors. But journalism is serious work. That’s why Apple uses editors who have extensive journalistic experience to curate their Top Stories in the Today feed.

Top Stories feed in Apple News
Top Stories feed in Apple News

This gives Apple News content credibility, protects it from algorithmic bias, and ensures readers are getting high-quality journalism in their feeds. As a result, publishers who get featured as a Top Story will see massive spikes in views, reach, follows and just about every other measurable metric.

So how do you get featured in the Top Stories feed? By adhering to standard news editing guidelines to guarantee content is accurate and professional. That means stories should be topical, well-researched and relevant to the big issues of the day. Any stories that cover sensitive subjects must be thoughtful and nuanced – avoid clickbait, rage bait and ill-informed opinions.

But it’s not always about the heavy stuff. The editors also mix in lighter features with longer investigations in a bid to present Apple News in much the same way as you’d expect from an authoritative broadsheet newspaper.

Topic feeds

Topic-based feeds show content based on user-selected topics and allow readers to have some control over what content they are shown. Topics can span a wide range of keywords from all the usual ones like sport, technology and entertainment to more niche subjects like philosophy and crochet.

Publications that focus on being a domain authority are the ones most likely to benefit from topic feeds as people would want to read about their favourite subjects from an authoritative source. But on the other hand, publications that cover a wide range of topics might see their reach increase as they are casting their net wide to reach readers across a variety of subjects.

Topic feed in Apple News
User-selected topic feed based around music


Most of us are familiar with algorithms but that doesn’t mean they’ve become any easier to manipulate or understand. In truth, algorithms were never meant to be gamed, but it’s still useful to understand them.

In Apple News, the algorithms surface content based on user interaction on the app. So if someone has been searching for particular topics via Siri or reading a lot about a certain subject, it’s likely any other related stories will be shown to that reader. This is especially true for stories that appear in the For You section. In this instance, there’s not much to optimise. The algorithms work in the background to recommend content where appropriate.

For You feed in Apple News
For You feed in Apple News

But content that has been shared and engaged with a lot on social networks could also see a boost in how often the algorithm shows that story to other readers, especially in the Trending Stories section. In this case, using the lessons learnt from shared content will help you recreate past successes. 

FlatPlan recirculation widgets and in-article follow actions

Publishers who work with FlatPlan gain access to a variety of CTA elements which can be placed anywhere within their content. One such example is recirculation widgets. 

While Apple News does provide recirculation links, they are all at the very bottom which readers might not scroll far enough down to see. Whereas FlatPlan’s recirculation widgets can sit strategically in the middle, or immediately after the final sentence to optimise the click-through rate of these links. 

Furthermore, publishers have control over where these recirculation links point to. This means publishers can use the lessons learned from recirculation links on the website and replicate them in Apple News.

On top of that, in-article follow actions allow publishers to create rapport with new readers and encourage them to keep seeing that publisher in their feed thus boosting visibility.

Reach new audiences in Apple News with FlatPlan

As preferred providers for Apple News, we empower publishers with bespoke conversion tools that turn curious new readers into regular subscribers.

Speak to the team to find out how

Optimising headlines, standfirsts and copy in Apple News

We recommend keeping your headlines between 80-110 characters to avoid becoming truncated. But as links to articles appear in a variety of different places in Apple News, sometimes with less space available for the headline, it’s best to aim for around 90-character headlines.

Example of an article headline in Apple News being cut off
Article headlines over 110 characters will get cut off

The Sky News article in the left-hand column has been cut off at 110 characters, and this will inevitably affect click-throughs to the article. This part of the Top Stories feed is quite generous with its spacing too, which is why we recommend erring on the side of caution and aiming for 90-character headlines instead to ensure headlines display in full no matter where the article is surfaced in Apple News.

Standfirsts on the other hand should be between 130 and 305 characters long. They don’t always show up in Apple News, but when they do, they are an important tool for publishers to leverage and drive click-throughs. 

There’s space to tease readers into your articles here. But short, sharp, punchy copy can also set the tone for the piece and catch readers’ attention. So feel free to use your current editorial guidelines for standfirsts in Apple News.

Standfirsts in Apple News
Standfirsts in Apple News

As for the rest of your content, from copy to imagery, you can follow your editorial guidelines to ensure articles are informative, engaging and relevant. The editors at Apple will likely be following similar guidelines you already use for qualifying the merits of a story.

If you’re looking to get picked up by topic feeds, just ensure that all your content is accurately categorised. But this is also something that FlatPlan checks thoroughly for all publishers.

Once you have all elements of your content optimised, you can also make use of the Promote feature in Apple News to give it a boost. This will allow you to raise the visibility of up to six articles per section to maximise reach and audience growth.

Use FlatPlan’s bespoke conversion tools to drive engagement

As well as helping publishers to optimise their content, FlatPlan also provides a range of conversion tools to monetise new readers. One example of this is the branded footers we develop for all publishers.

Bespoke conversion CTAs available with FlatPlan
Bespoke conversion CTAs available with FlatPlan

There are several purposes for these branded elements. Firstly, they help readers recognise and become more attached to the brand, promoting loyalty. Secondly, they serve as a chance to introduce readers to other channels the publisher has, like social media. Lastly, they can be utilised to direct traffic to other areas of the publisher's content ecosystem, including newsletters, podcasts, or subscription content.

This elevates Apple News beyond a discovery tool to help publishers reach new readers. It’s also a commercial tool to help deliver an additional revenue stream. The footers are completely bespoke so you can drive new readers to any part of your website or network.

Key takeaways

  • Familiarise yourself with the different ways in which Apple News surfaces content so that you can use this to inform editorial and commercial decisions
  • Headlines should be no longer than 90 characters
  • Standfirsts should be between 130-305 characters
  • Follow editorial guidelines you already use for qualifying the merits of a story
  • Ensure content is well structured and categorised
  • Make use of the Promote feature in Apple News
  • Use FlatPlan bespoke conversion tools to drive action from your readers

If you want to find out more about how Apple News can support your media business, chat with our expert team at FlatPlan. But if you want to continue learning about Apple News in your own time, download our free Apple News eBook.

Next steps...

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.

  1. Are you an existing Apple News publisher?
    Our expert team can audit your existing Apple News channel to ensure your integration is stable, determine how optimised your channel is, and provide recommendations that will help you make the most of your setup. Book a free audit now.
  2. Looking to integrate Apple News with your media business?
    Leading publishers use FlatPlan to grow their media business by leveraging the power of Apple News. With help from reader engagement tools, we help publishers reach new readers, nurture them into loyal followers and then funnel them to first-party data strategies on owned properties. Book a free consultation now.
  3. Still learning about Apple News?
    We're always providing insider knowledge and expert advice to our network of publishers. If you want to access that same material, head over to our Article pages, download our free Guide to Apple News eBook or subscribe to our monthly newsletter.
  4. Know someone who might find this article useful? Share it via email, LinkedIn, Twitter or any other social network you use.

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