TownNews’s ‘iQ Engage’ Sorts Through Signals to Help Publishers Keep Users Reading

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Most digital users are fast readers. Very fast. A publisher has milliseconds to stop them from bouncing away.

But says it has come up with a way for publishers to cut back on the bounces — the happy results being longer sessions which produce more click-throughs to advertising messages. That means more monetization for publishers and, ultimately, more users turned into consumers buying products and services. TownNews calls its news system iQ Engage.

In this Q & A, TownNews’ Director of Business Development Theresa A. Nelson and iQ Engage Program Manger Tim Turner tell how the service can quickly sort through a cluster of sometimes conflicting behavioral signals to find the strongest ones and thereby keep users from heading to the doors:

Tracking user behavior is not new. What’s new about iQ Engage that moves this process to a whole new level?
Because iQ Engage is fully-integrated with our content management system, BLOX CMS, we’re able to collect data and act on user signals that take place on a client’s website in a way that can’t be achieved with a third-party JavaScript widget that has no deep understanding of the events on a page or their context. We believe that this extremely inclusive data collection capability gives us a big edge on the competition.

This data is then converted into actionable audience segments, allowing the client to present users with content that meets their specific interests – helping increase engagement from both drive-by and returning visitors.

How did TownNews develop iQ Engage — through cumulative small steps or was there a “Eureka!”moment?
Cumulative small steps. Two years ago, when we launched our data management program, iQ DMP, our initial focus was on the advertising side of the house. But, using audience and behavioral targeting for content recommendations and site customization was part of our longer-term strategic plan from the start. And now we’re there!

We did a lot of research into other companies in this space, and polled our customers to learn what they needed from a customer data platform before setting our requirements. We determined that the focus of iQ Engage should be on increasing pageviews and reader time on site, and decreasing bounce rates.

Those are the metrics we’re zeroing in on because they can have a huge influence on our customers’ bottom lines.

What is the cost of iQ Engage to your clients?
It’s a usage-based fee. iQ Engage is priced to be extremely competitive — our clients should make a lot more with the program than they’re spending. For pricing details, publishers should visit .

Users whose behavior is “read” by iQ Engage will be served fewer ads. Will this pattern have a big impact on enhancing user experiences?
Serving fewer ads to your most valuable returning visitors is just one scenario that’s made possible by iQ Engage. Whether or not a site wants to do that really depends on their business goals, and we’ll work with our customers to help them decide what’s right for their particular situation.

iQ Engage also enables you to do things like present content based on a user’s behaviors, show more ads to drive-by users that you can’t monetize via other methods (like subscriptions), and promote your newsletters only to people who aren’t already subscribed, saving valuable page real estate.

iQ Engage is really centered around showing each visitor more content that interests them so they’ll stick around longer. When a user spends more time on a site and views more pages, they might see more ads, but the overall user experience is improved with behavioral customization.

 Targeted advertising often misses the mark because it doesn’t always succeed in filtering signals from the noise. Would iQ Engage help advertisers and publishers stop serving up hundreds of the same ads to users?
iQ Engage is focused on content targeting, not targeted advertising. However, ad targeting is part of our iQ DMP (Data Management Platform) program. And, if customers participate in both programs, they save significant money by only paying for the user data once, and re-using it multiple times in different contexts.

 Might another outcome, depending on the success of iQ Engage, be fewer programmatic ads in general?
In some cases, depending on a customer’s business strategy. For example, a publisher might want to increase content and decrease ads for loyal users who visit the site more than 20 times each month. By giving these valuable returning visitors a more streamlined experience, they’ll view even more pages and, ultimately, see more ads.

But, the goal of iQ Engage is to give visitors a better experience by presenting them with content or opportunities (newsletters, promotions, subscription requests) that are specific to their interests. It’s not just about advertising.

What about publisher CPMs. Would your new tool raise them?
Increased CPMs may be a side effect of increased engagement. Enhancing the user experience can lead to more traffic and more targeted, higher quality ads, which tend to have higher CPMs.

Are we entering a period where “machine learning” will be creating smoother and straighter paths on the “customer’s journey” to conversion?
Yes! Techniques like machine learning are relatively new to the news and media industry, but adoption is picking up fast. There are so many opportunities to improve the customer journey with machine learning and our plan with iQ Engage is to really push the envelope.

Tom GrubisichTom Grubisich (@TomGrubisich) writes “The New News” column for Street Fight. He is editorial director of hyperlocal news network Local America, and is also working on a book about the history, present, and future of Charleston, S.C.


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Earlier this month, “The New News” took another look at personalized news and information — where the content choices are made up front by the user.

In a Q & A last December, this column featured TownNews’ founder, Marc Wilson, who started the company in 1989 as an early-technology bulletin-board service for other weekly publishers in Montana.