Top user journey tips for publishers online: digital publishing UX 

Do your readers always find your content fast enough? Do people subscribe, share, and buy your content on a regular basis?

We know that trying to engage users online can be challenging. This is especially true when you are trying to get users to move down the digital content funnel.

Whether you are big publisher with multiple e-book platforms and sub-brands, or a specialist publisher with a smaller, more niche, offering, here are some ways you can improve your digital user journey.

Do you practice user-oriented thinking?

Publishers routinely get stuck in a rut when it comes to thinking of user journeys.

One of the biggest challenges is viewing your organisation and content from the ‘outside’. It’s easy to assume that readers will be able to navigate your content effectively, or that they can figure things out if they get confused. The truth is, people probably won’t stick around to find out.

Rather than put the burden on the user to understand how your content products work, you should be taking a proactive approach to helping them succeed.

Here are some basic tenets of user-oriented thinking:

  1. Reporting. How often do you report on user issues internally? Is there an easy way for users to flag issues as they come across them? The ideal way to report faults is often embedded within the digital products themselves, e.g. the ability to send crash logs from within a reading app.
  2. Frequently Asked Questions – how often do you review and collect them? This is not just about updating your FAQ page, but about really investigating user behaviours and creating materials to assist them. Common digital publishing FAQs revolve around reading material on multiple devices, subscription and billing questions etc.
  3. Technical support should be central to any digital product that relies on tech. Issues and downtime are inevitable, so ensure you have a way for people to engage with your support team (and follow up with the processes).
  4. Accessibility is an essential tenet of UX, and important in digital publishing in general, but some organisations struggle to deliver on their accessibility promises. We still see too many publishers resort to easy formats like PDFs when sharing online material. Remember, accessibility does not stop at e-books and the content materials themselves but is pertinent to your website as well. (W3C has a good primer on web accessibility).

How compelling is your offering?

Are you giving people enough justification to part with their time or credit card details? If you are trying to get people to sign up, download your content etc., you need to give them good reason to do so. This is especially true for gated or paywall content, as people are probably pretty saturated with existing content platforms, subscriptions, and offers. If you are looking for people to choose you, you are going to have to convince them it’s worth it.

  1. It sounds obvious, but it is best to spell it out. It can be surprisingly easy to not include selling points at key moments of the user journey. Do you know what features your users rave about? Why they choose to download and purchase your titles over another publisher? It’s a good idea to work with marketing, customer service, and technical teams on a regular basis to refresh key selling points.
  2. Are you selling the outcome as well as the product itself? Rather than just focusing on your offering, e.g. the material, focus on the benefits they will bring the reader.
  3. Product families and recommendations can help drive users towards engaging with your material more widely. Try to be dynamic with your product recommendations.
  4. Time sensitivity and urgency can help make your offering more compelling but avoid over-using this tactic. Time sensitivity works especially well for users who have already entered your sales funnel and need to be brought back in through channels like email or advertising.

Understand your analytics and data environment

As a publisher, it is important to understand data in general, but there are some specific pain points that you will come across when trying to accurately track users across your content lifecycle.

  1. Don’t get caught up in vanity metrics – for example, just tracking the numbers of sessions and users does not tell the whole story: zoom in on engaged users and sessions that last over a certain threshold.
  2. Use any opportunity you get to collect user data and feedback on texts and reading experiences. Go beyond standard review data and evaluate low and high scoring elements. Do certain e-books have a tendency to be abandoned before they are finished? Do you have online courses that often lead to other purchases? Try to gather usage data in a holistic way from multiple sources.
  3. Track individual clicks and follow links to see how users move around your content hubs. Explore how navigation buttons and menus are working for you. (In Google Tag Manager you can set some of these up as custom dimensions).
  4. Cross-domain analysis is an important facet of accurately tracking the user journey in publishing – this is something a lot of publishers will need to master when dealing with sub-brands, web apps etc.
  5. You can also combine internal tracking data such as logged in users and downloads with analytics data. This might help you track content trends on a geographic or institutional level.

Word of warning: be on top of GDPR and cookie consent issues when harnessing analytics on your websites and apps.

Visuals matter and users look for consistency

How well does your visual language match up with the material you are selling? Having a slick website that leads to a rudimentary e-book solution is going to lead to poor user satisfaction.

Invest in your UX in a consistent and all-round way so that the visuals and design elements of your brand are evenly distributed.

Keep updating your brand and pay attention to both big and small picture UX – you may want to give your logo a refresh, but how about that search box fix a few readers have also mentioned? Do not get distracted by corporate priorities when customer satisfaction is at stake.

The actual nuts and bolts of the reading experience are very important, and you are better of investing in an accessible and well-thought-out reading app than shiny brand messaging.

Keep an eye on load times and speed

Users are demanding and impatient when accessing resources online, that is nothing new. Online publishers need to work extra hard to ensure that readers get to their material quickly. And then, that the material itself delivers and does not crash.

Especially if there is lots of switching between systems and web apps, load times can easily escalate. This can be dangerous during peak hours e.g. when students are all accessing the same material at the same time.

Unfortunately, optimising for speed can be a complex process. You can easily end up in a loop, optimising for the wrong things. It is best to work with trusted developers and a well-maintained publishing ecosystem to start with, running frequent tests to create realistic benchmarks.

Remove friction from the buyer journey

Just when the user journey is getting interesting, it tends to also get a lot tougher to keep people engaged. When you start to really sell to your user is often when the user experience is pushed to its limits – here is how to avoid the drop-off.

  1. Acknowledging membership discounts and other deals should be as automated as possible. In general, do not make your users work hard for things that could be automated. Things like hunting down membership numbers is a guaranteed conversion killer and a customer service headache.
  2. Remove unnecessary hoops and barriers and only ask for data that is absolutely necessary to the transaction. Explore social and Google account sign-in options for a low friction way to sign up for your services.
  3. Delivery times and formats should be as expected. Make sure you clearly outline terms and conditions and provide detailed screenshots and guides if there is any complexity.
  4. Hidden costs, fees, steps, and unnecessary data entry – all guaranteed to turn your audience off. Don’t force people into creating accounts unless it’s part of the service.
  5. Hone in on CTAs and value props. Think about all the intangible benefits you are offering as well as the tangible ones. It is not just a course or e-book you’re offering, is it something more – it is expertise, saved time, prestige etc.

Creating a community

Do your customers and readers feel valued, heard, and appreciated? Do you ever offer loyalty discounts or bonuses? Do you have a VIP community?

Creating a community can be a long and arduous process, but it is a great way to ensure brand loyalty.

  1. Start slow and steady with a newsletter – email marketing is one of the most efficient marketing channels, so make the most of it. Personalise and segment emails as much as possible.
  2. Creating a signed-in service for your website is not as hard as you think. Even a native app is a lot easier to achieve these days, so consider using tech to get people to engage with a membership programme.
  3. A membership or loyalty programme does not have to be anything really complicated – start small and build from there. The key is to make people feel like they have a level of ownership.

Publishing online is a great way to expand your commercial horizons, but you will need to invest in user experience if you’re going to make a real difference. Keep in mind how many other demands people have on their time and attentions – aim to stay competitive by exceeding user expectations.

We at Timehouse offer you our strategic understanding of websites and the tech that drives them. We implement our services through both a consultancy and technological build model.

Contact us at: or call +358 207 491 449.

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