July 2, 2024

The Days of Blindly Feeding the Algo Are Over

For AMO readers throughout the United States, I hope you have a nice Independence Day later this week. I’ll be taking advantage of the quiet time to finish up a large chunk of the agenda for the AMO Summit. Tickets are selling nicely, so be sure to buy yours today.

British GQ finds less is more

Press Gazette published a deep dive with GQ’s European director of audience development and social talking about the brand had moved away from publishing a lot of “short-form news.” As Patel told Press Gazette:

It meant that we had a lot of churn, a lot of people coming in for that hori content and then leaving again without really accessing the broader spectrum of what we do as a brand.

Many publications across the internet produce more content in the belief that it will generate more traffic. However, while that belief is technically true, Patel’s point about people not accessing the broader spectrum of “what we do as a brand” is important.

According to Press Gazette, British GQ has seen traffic drop yearly from ~1.2 million pageviews in May 2022 to only 888,000 in May 2024, a 25% drop. On the surface, that’s a massive hit, but when compared to its two competitors, Esquire down 51% and Men’s Health down 40% in the same time frame, the drop is less dire.

The metric that has British GQ particularly happy is its average time spent per user. In May 2023, it was only 1.83 minutes, but a year later, that had grown to 2.52 minutes. Compare that to Esquire which was only 1.4 minutes in May 2024 and Men’s Health, which was 1.88 minutes.

There are a few ways to judge the quality of a brand’s relationship with readers. The first, as Patel shows, is the time spent on site. The longer this is, the more likely readers are engaging with content across the site. It’s a bit of an archaic metric, but pageviews per user can still be a good barometer that users are deepening their relationship with your brand.

Another way is to judge the source. Are people coming to your site via search or are they coming to your site directly? The stronger your brand and the more integral it is to the reader, the more likely they are going to seek your site out. I wrote about this last year when BuzzFeed News shut down:

84% in total came from other people’s sites. What’s ironic is that, BuzzFeed News had seen its traffic increasing over the past three months with 19.6M visits in January, 21.7M in February, and 23.1M in March. I don’t have historical data, but I suspect this was incredibly variable.

Compare this to some of its competitors like The New York Times or Wall Street Journal. NYT gets nearly 59% of its traffic direct with search accounting for another 32%. WSJ gets 58% of its traffic direct with about a quarter coming from search. This is a much healthier traffic profile.

Maybe it’s not fair of me to compare BuzzFeed News to the large, legacy brands. Vox, which started three years after BuzzFeed News, gets 40% of its traffic direct. Axios, started six years ago, gets 40% as well. And Politico is 50%.

Ironically, HuffPost, which BuzzFeed also owns, has an even stronger traffic profile. 65% of its traffic comes direct with a little over 20% coming from search and about 8% coming from social. That makes sense, though. HuffPost is a well defined brand to its audience.

What would be interesting to see is the percentage of users who access a publication’s website by googling the brand’s name. I consider that a direct visit as well, though the source is technically Google. Ironically, this is a place where British GQ is struggling, with Patel telling Press Gazette that 70% of its traffic comes from search tied to the service content the publisher creates.

But that’s not a bad thing as long as we take efforts to convert these people into brand lovers. That’s where the time on page factors in again because it is a signal that perhaps people are sticking around long after that first piece of content.

Editorially, we should all ask whether we are creating content for the type of reader that we want or if we’re simply chasing traffic. This self-realization is necessary because traffic numbers are going to drop. And so, the conversation must shift from trying to maximize traffic for the sake of it to converting users from flyby to more loyal, long-term readers.

That means, yes, we should do smart SEO and ensure that the site can rank competitively, but there needs to be a deeper purpose here. And it also means we need our editorial strategy to represent a person. Patel told Press Gazette:

“Audience development has always really been thought of as just like strategy and stats, and I don’t think that’s true,” she said. “It’s really about storytelling. I always say put the humans back into audience development, but essentially, like, who is your reader? And what do they want? And what do they want on the different platforms you’re on?”

Those are great questions to ask. Who are we creating for? What does that person care about? What are their objectives and goals? What information do they need? What makes them happy? These questions are not all pertinent to every brand, but some variation of them are. This is how you pivot from chasing traffic to being an audience-first company. You can still seek out millions or tens of millions of readers, but it’s done with a clear person in mind.

AMO PRO: SMS Could Be an Interesting Channel to Explore

When we consider owned communication with our audience, we default to talking about email. Newsletters are such an integral part of our businesses because it gives us a means of pushing information rather than simply waiting for a user to seek you out. And I don’t believe that’s going to change.

However, I am increasingly of the opinion that publishers should be exploring SMS as another channel. There are big risks, including large fines if you’re a spammer, but if done correctly, it could be a channel that drives material engagement. And the numbers back that up.

AMO Pro members get to read the full story as part of your subscription.

AMO PRO: What Decides the Fate of Publications’ Sub-Brands?

In an effort to acquire new audiences, brands create sub-brands to target a new niche. BuzzFeed has done it with Tasty; Haymarket did it with PodPod; and the LA Times did it with De Los. The goal is to push the right content to the right user.

But why do some brands survive while others disappear? PodPod, for example, no longer exists after a 1.5-year test. On the other hand, The Scotsman’s Scran is continuing to see success. In this piece, AMO reporter Chris Sutcliffe explores the various fates of sub-brands and why some go on to live versus others getting folded back in.

Read the full piece here.

Don’t Miss: AMO Podcast With Tagg Henderson, Co-CEO of BNP Media

Thanks so much for reading today’s piece. A few things to call out:

  1. Become an AMO Pro member to get access to all of the content published across A Media Operator.
  2. Purchase your ticket to the upcoming AMO Summit held in NYC on October 15th.
  3. If you want to put your brand in front of the AMO audience, click here to learn more about advertising.

Have a great week!