March 11, 2021
Where does publisher brand strength come from?
The strength of your publishing brand comes from the diversification of your traffic sources
How should you frame diversification in the shoes of a publisher, or in the shoes of a brand?
Every business knows the importance of its brand. Especially if you’re a publisher, the strength of your own brand name comes in large part from the diversity of its traffic sources. “Brand strength” for a web property is measured in three ways: branded search and direct visitors to your site, returning visitors to your site on a monthly basis, and engagement from your audience. If you are focused on and growing each of these, then you likely have tangible synergy and a defendable moat. Traffic diversification in its simplest framing is a solid mixture of: Direct, organic search (in particular branded search), paid search, organic social, paid social, email, and push notifications.
What are the right metrics to measure for diversification in the shoes of a publisher, or in the shoes of a brand?
Measurements and the metrics for diversification of traffic can become incredibly complex, burdensome, and unhelpful. However, if you stick to the basics, the value is real. Simple, out-of-the-box tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console (with the right implementation), can provide a great snapshot of where each of these traffic sources , both in real time and historically. An initial goal might be keeping any single source below 50%. Over time (unless it is direct traffic), the ideal would be 20-30% max from any single source, exactly in line with the reason most investors want a company with no more than 20% of revenue from a single customer.
Why does this matter?
Solely depending on SEO is a trap. Depending only on a single paid traffic channel like Google PPC or Facebook holds similar risk. There is potential for margin compression if you are dependent on a single paid traffic source, and for Google SEO risk when Google alters their algorithm if that is your lone source of traffic. Diversified traffic is the key, as are product offerings, moat and brand around your business. Media properties have key advantages IF they have a strong existing brand that they invest in maintaining. Prime evidence of this shows in the volume of traffic that hits the site directly, via branded search, and from newsletters and push notifications. Without a strong brand, media companies and commerce companies face challenges in succeeding in the future of digital media/web and E-Commerce. No business should ever rely on a single vendor for business critical resources (in this case, traffic).
Any property, publication, or entity that claims to have an incredible “brand” must be able to support that claim with branded search, direct traffic, newsletter traffic, push notification traffic, returning visitors, and audience engagement. A “brand” that is reliant on Google organic search for non-branded terms for over 90% of their traffic is not a brand at all. For example, Henry Blodget has built a great business at Business Insider, but it is not yet the Wall Street Journal. Everyone knows this intuitively, but it is also borne out by at least one metric: branded search, which you can see from Google search trends (below). What Blodgett is building may well surpass the Journal in the future via their focused investments in digital first, but they are not there just yet.
A strong web publishing brand, supported by a diverse range of traffic sources, can expect to drive more revenue from its advertisers and subscribers. Diversified traffic is less vulnerable to algorithm tweaks or competitor activities and it builds an ecosystem of returning traffic, boosting rankings and conversions. Targeted notifications and newsletters can increase the lifetime value of each of your visitors, encouraging engagement and repeat visits. Of course, all of this depends on great content
Is your site on the right path? Are you measuring, evaluating, incentivizing steps in the right direction?
Ben is a Co Founder and CEO of AdVon Commerce. AdVon harnesses ML / AI to create value in E Commerce. Prior to AdVon Ben was a Co Founder at BestReviews, which was acquired by Tribune Publishing (TPCO), and later Nexstar (NXST) for $160M in November of 2020. Ben's additional experiences and schooling include: LinkedIn, Tesla, Harvard Business School, the Iraq War, West Point, the US Army, and Ranger School.