Reading duration: 14 min

10 Features of a Successful Digital Magazine

Vee Banionis

at Grow your publishing business

Digital Magazine Design Pro Tips

New publishers can be daunted with a dizzying sea of decisions and directions. Especially when trying to offer a highly usable, highly readable, interactive digital magazine experience. Print magazines still sell. But the growth market is clearly in digital display for the upcoming audience demographics. These challenges hold true for more established magazines also. Even long-established journals can misinterpret the changing internet and media use trends. The challenge is only magnified for typically smaller staff and limited resources of newer or struggling magazines. Let’s look at the ways your magazine can thrive in today’s changing readership audience and it’s increasingly shorter attention spans.

Optimize for responsive design

Got responsive magazine design?

A common problem of flipbooks can be making them truly responsive to the reader’s device. The way to overcome this is by using responsive design to make your digital magazine optimum for reading. This can also allow better utilization of reading tools like highlighting text, making notes, and sharing by the article–all things that might not work with the common flipbook approach. Needless to say, your audience engagement will likely improve with the added ease of reading and note-taking. One thing’s for sure: if your reader can’t share your individual article, then your visibility will suffer ultimately in lost social media and search engines! Well, that’s not good. 🙁


Design intuitive, simplified UX

Responsive digital magazine layout
Layout design should be a team sport.

Less is usually more when it comes to UX. This may be contrary to what many have been fed in the early years of UX design. The simpler the navigation method offered, the more likely your users will remember them. Offering more than one navigation method can backfire.  Just as one becomes familiar, that memory can be scattered by the discovery of other ways to access the same content. You’ll probably want to look at how your competitors are doing it before you set your UX design to paper. Next, try to think about what you think those competitors may be doing wrong or that you think you could improve upon. Plan it out on paper. Then, let your teams comment and give feedback. Once you think you have a winning design, pass it on to Web Dev for implementation. You might also want to make sure that your editor understands the benefits of this navigation system.

This allows the editor to think up ways to arrange, tag, and cross-link content for maximum UX and SEO benefits. Also, don’t forget about accessibility, that is, ease of access for the visually impaired and other handicaps. Incidentally, Flip180 tries to cover all this with our own responsive magazine website design service.

Visual white space

We’ve talked about whitespace before in more depth previously, but the simplified version can be thought of as follows: Regardless of the topic area, your audience will consist of human beings. Human beings with a very typical amount of human focus capacity. As people move from one situation to the next, it can be difficult to adapt. They need help to “zero in” sometimes. Really, most of the time. Visual whitespace is the blank area around what you want to say. Visually, this can be a matter of paying attention to margins and the spacing of images in relation to the text. This is visual macro spacing. On the other end of the spectrum are more the more granular details of micro spacing. This includes considerations like the font typeface used for body text, and also things like the amount of space in between the letters. Depending on who designed your CSS for your website, the body text, for example, may not actually be appropriate for long-term reading. Having a font designed specifically for body text means one that is easy on the eyes and allows the text to flow into ideas in the mind of the reader. And last but not least, avoid clumping too many sentences together for your intended audience’s realistic literacy and focus. Less is more here, as well. When dealing with micro spacing options, keep in mind that it’s okay to copy one or more successful magazines out there at first. Right-clicking to inspect the CSS is a nice and convenient little cheat for this, BTW. Once you have a better grasp on granular micro space options, you can perhaps make some conscious choices to improve the flow of readability of the text from there.

Mental white space

A white space consideration less frequently discussed is mental white space. It’s just as important as the visual kind, though it is revealed only by the ways your reader is presented the actual information. This allows the magazine to keep content varied and colorful, while also keeping it focused. Writing guidelines can help. If it’s a commercial magazine focused on products or services, bear that in mind as content is outlined. Writers should typically stick to the outline and avoid tangents. The same could be true of avoiding product mentions in a topic that is general or instructional. Good mental white space allows the topic to stand out, not be cluttered with invading topics or genres of writing.

Successful digital magazines have quality content

Create quality magazine content for your readers!

What is quality content? Well, for starters, it means selecting topics for consideration carefully. A review board might be useful to help support the editor in deciding which topics need covering. How do topics get selected? Who should be the first link in that decision-making chain? Certainly, past successes should be a factor, but what about adding new sub-topics? Also there’s this consideration. And it’s a big one: How will you decide what your audience wants if you are still ramping up to meeting the need?

Using trending topics within your industry?

One great way to improve the quality of your content is to look at some research tools out there. Find those that speak to the popularity of trending topics. Match those with your audience using the alignment of relevant SEO keywords and the kind of tone that works with your target reader.

How do you use keyword trends to bolster magazine article titles?

You’ll want to check the keyword trends for social media platforms you hope to read the audience and new subscribers on. Don’t abuse them, but don’t ignore these goldmines of social media intent, either! You’ll also want to look at the search engine research tools available. Most of these can decipher how much search volume is searching for potential keyword phrases and the topics that lend themselves to meet such a demonstrated demand. SEMrush is a great all-purpose tool for all of these aspects, but it may not be the most intuitive or simplified for a writer or editor to use. There are plenty of others that limit focus. Social media tools like Hootsuite offer the ability to listen in on conversations. So just like the bigger, more diverse tools can, it also allows other features you’ll need to reach out to your audience on social media.

Don’t forget to fact-check.

If possible, try to make sure that little-known technical facts are referenced if your audience expects that level of exactitude. More general audiences may only need a link or two to reassure them you’ve done your homework. But if your topic is highly technical, your editor may want to insist on more stringent referencing for facts. This is especially true for the facts that matter most. It’s also true for for those that could easily be disputed by half your readership.

The right level of interactivity

Overkill? Or just right?

How many interactive digital magazine features can any one person really be expected to learn and remember? Some magazines offer almost no interactivity, such as a simple PDF flipbook. Maybe the audience justifies the format in some industries with large business focus, like for instance energy. But if your audience can be relied upon to read competing magazines with sophisticated interactive options, expect to need to offer something comparable. Being successful in the digital magazine space sometimes means keeping up with the Joneses. Make interactivity options simple and intuitive. As with the UX point made earlier, don’t assume your readers can keep up with a plethora of ways to do the same thing. They probably won’t. So videos and audio file attachments on the page can be a nice way to shake up the format and offer a more multimedia experience, but try to keep it simple. Fewer, larger buttons, for instance, can be far more inviting to push than a lot of tiny ones that could confuse with too much complexity.

An intimate grasp of your subject

Got expert content writers?

Unlike a lot of Web copywriting and blogging where research can fill in the gaps, when hiring writers for a magazine, it may pay to focus on past experience. At the very least, insist on some indication of demonstrated understanding of proposed topics. Experienced readers can tell when the information is sparse and fluffy or hits the target. When content is focused, This signals to the discerning reader that your magazine is serious about your subject matter and can deliver over the long term.

Planning quality content requires insights.

Planning quality content means planning for writers that can be popular with your audience. This means those who have a trajectory that can line up with your magazine’s general content direction. Look at how each writer’s most established related direction matches up with intent. What’s intent again? It’s what readers are looking for according to keyword and topic research covered above. Get comfy with that very important term.

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Fast downloads (no wait)

It may not always be readily on the mind of your reader, but when a page or file takes a long time to load, they notice. The same applies to images not optimized for the format or screen size (smart phone vs. tablet vs. desktop or larger). Use a tool to measure and keep tabs on how fast your content loads. When problems emerge, target them for optimization. In many cases, Google’s AMP optimizing tools can help keep load times under control.

Distraction-free silence (focus)

You’ve been there. Who hasn’t? You’re landing on a website and are immediately bombarded with a loud and intrusive video you really weren’t prepared for. Maybe you’re the only one up and your spouse isn’t too keen on being yanked out of a nice dream. Lesson here? Making multimedia and other elements muted by default is a good practice. The same applies to moving GIFs. For some magazines, maybe it fits your crowd. In that case, go at it. But in many (perhaps most) cases, a moving GIF may not be considered merely unwelcome to the eye. It may even say something negative about the seriousness of your publication. So if in doubt, maybe don’t go there.

Newsfeed access options

Got news and social media feed options covered?
Newsfeeds and social media feeds alert your audience to new digital magazine issues.

You earned your readers. It pays to try to keep them happy. Many readers signed up for your magazine just for a few things. While some mags out there are doing that, most generally lag behind in offering comprehensive notification options. Put your subscription email capture out front. How? With a clearly-defined call to action (CTA). Another way is to offer RSS feed info for those more technically inclined. A third way is to allow micro-notifications for personalized article delivery notifications. Micro-notifications are notifications that allow the reader to specially select those authors or topics they are most interested in. This allows the subscriber to skip the other notifications that just annoy them. These are configurable usually within user settings, so, they can be unintrusive. That said, notifying about specific articles can also offer a way for readers to avoid notifications for any other than the topics or authors that matter to them. And just as they become available. These kinds of notifications receive more clicks, ultimately, as they hone in on the exact writer or subject they’re standing by for. Too many readers only have so much free time for reading. Giving news feed options helps the reader to make your magazine more successful in the end, by allowing them to get the maximum possible value out of your magazine.

Use “freemiums” wisely to engage readers and build subscriptions

Offer a free preview for every type of distinctly differentiated, value-added service you can provide. If you have a long-term marketing strategy, you might consider a free first issue.Many of the bigger magazines offer this through their partners like Amazon’s website and via their Kindle service. Free samples are great for magazine consumption. They allow a taste of this or that author, this or that topic, this or that new direction or format your magazine dips into.

A magazine that listens

Be a magazine that listens!
Good digital magazines have team-supportive fireside chats…often.

Finally, a magazine that doesn’t listen is turning away subscribers–including long term customer. To find out what your silent majority of readers really care about, use analytics to understand what is working and what is falling through the cracks. Which authors get the most reads and from what regions? Which topics and sub-topics that your mag covers really garner the traffic? And which have the most bounces (only one page clicked before going off the site for good). That are actually many ways to exploit analytics for telling information on what your audience cares about and what may have them wincing. Page view counts for the same traffic can tell a lot about this section of your readership. Demographics insights are another major tell, as if female 20-somethings are eating up a certain author or a certain type of yoga on your yoga magazine.

Analytics reveal reader intent and social media engagement!
Is social media driving engagement on your digital magazine yet?

Check your digital magazine’s heat-map page click stats in analytics. Do this to know what sections and titles get the most clicks with your audience, with a certain demographic, or within a certain author’s on-mag oeuvre. This last technique can also ultimately apply to your email marketing creatives and ads–virtually any content you put out of any type. If in doubt as to whether your team is following these helpful rules, print out this article and make a checklist to ensure your team is following the best practices. The more of the above boxes you can check , the better you can engage your readers and turn them into subscribers along the way.


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