With many audience development teams looking for the best way to diversify their traffic sources, what are some of the channels and strategies worth considering?

With questions about the longevity of Facebook’s referral benefits for sites big and small, it’s a good time for audience development teams to review traffic sources to see where their readers are spending time.
A focus on diversifying traffic sources is something that many publishers will have been attempting to prioritise in 2018. While it might seem difficult at first to develop meaningful new referral channels when the balance is heavily dependent on one platform or another, through careful strategizing and experimentation, it is possible to change things.

The good news is that many sites have been reporting significant increases in referrals from a host of different sources so far this year. There are other content format avenues that publishers and readers have had time to experiment with.

One is Google’s AMP feature, which has been steadily increasing in importance for referring audiences to different websites over the last 12 months. By February this year, 31 million websites were using the accelerated mobile page feature, signalling its rapid adoption in the industry since launching in early 2016.

Google sent 466 million more page views to those publishers in the first week of that month alone that it did in the equivalent time frame one year previously — and remember that that’s almost entirely mobile traffic.

Tied into the AMP infrastructure is a ubiquitous yet often under-acknowledged Google Chrome article recommendation feature which automatically populates for users based on their interests and search history. Indeed, this ‘Articles for You’ addition is one of the fastest-growing referral sources on the web according to Chartbeat, up 21x in 2017.

Similarly, Instagram’s link feature in Stories has also been an increasingly important feature for certain sites over the last year. But Instagram has a key benefit in a very active and growing user base, which makes it an attractive platform for reaching audiences that may have left other networks behind.

Instagram Stories had around 300 million active daily users at the end of last year, and users can spend an average of upwards of 30 minutes on the app every day. There’s less data available on the levels of traffic that the photo app might be sending to external sites, and it’s obvious that those numbers will vary depending on the type of site and their audience.

Instagram Cosmopolitan UK

But for the sites that do have a lot of their audience on Instagram, the numbers are not insignificant. For UK lifestyle site Cosmopolitan, early referrals on stories from Instagram can easily outstrip those from Facebook, as viewers click into new Instagram Stories as soon as they’re posted.

Similarly, recent NewsWhip data provided to Digiday showed how BBC News grew average engagement per post on their Instagram page from around 10,000 in March 2017 to 22,000 in February 2018, partly thanks to a growing audience, some of whom also take the time to click through to the three headline stories that the page links as Stories each day.

Elsewhere, magazine and aggregator apps, seemingly around forever, are seeing something of a renaissance as the technology becomes attractive once again in a landscape shifting towards reader loyalty and subscriptions, rather than mass virality. Apple’s recent purchase of the magazine app Texture has also led to speculation that Apple will be soon launching a premium paid version of Apple News.

Meanwhile, the free version of that service itself has been posting impressive referral numbers for some publishers in the last few months, generating 50 percent of daily traffic to Vox.com on occasion. Another well-established aggregator, Flipboard, has also reportedly been driving a lot of traffic to certain sites.

Earlier this year, the Daily Beast’s director of audience growth Janaki Challa revealed how the the service had surpassed Facebook as a bigger source of referrals for the site for the first time, after a concerted effort to try and diversify audience channels. Even RSS readers like Feedly can prove to be fruitful avenues of audience engagement for many sites, with smaller but loyal and active user bases.

Then there are email subscriptions. Newsletters and other email round-ups are consistently one of the most effective routes to reader attention, and have never been more central to the digital publishing efforts of many sites, thanks to the control and ownership that the format provides, over algorithm-driven alternatives. Newsletters are responsible for around 12 percent of total traffic to the New Yorker’s site, as well as providing a signal about readers more likely to go further and pay for content. Meanwhile 

Optimising for multiple referral sources 

So, we’ve seen how there can be any number of significant traffic referral sources to content on your site. Now, how to compare each avenue in a manner that’s consistent, as well as being aware of the context of each channel?

It’s good practice to keep an eye on how things are evolving across the board. At the end of 2017, we took a look at German news site Bild’s ‘traffic light’ system helped its audience team in providing a uniform approach to assessing and appraising platforms which they place emphasis on.

Such a strategy has three key benefits; it helps to focus on what matters in your strategy on a daily basis, it provides a consistent means of tracking experience with different platforms, and it allows team members outside the data and analytics space to get a quick overview of how readers are engaging with content. To start, some of the questions worth considering are as follows:

  • What percentage of traffic to your site from individual platforms comes from returning visitors?
  • What proportion of your site’s ‘side door’ visitors have visited more than once in the past 30 days?
  • Are other developments, such as experimentation with new content formats and increased social engagements, having a discernible impact on traffic, dwell time, viewership, or other critical consumption metrics?

Taking these steps will help you get a grasp on where exactly different portions of your readership are coming from.

For a look at the content that audiences are engaging with across any niche right now, check out NewsWhip Spike.