Digital publishers hoping to move their readers from social and search channels onto their own websites would do well to take a look at what The Daily Beast has been up to.
The IAC-owned news brand lures 40 percent of its 22 million monthly readers to its homepage, and it drives 44 percent of its traffic every month from direct visits, up from just 28 percent two years ago. While the Beast gets its fair share of traffic from Google and Facebook, it focuses more on getting those readers back via email (its subscriber base has doubled in the past year) and its app than on maximizing the reach of content it publishes elsewhere. It has eschewed Google AMP and, after a brief dalliance with Facebook Instant Articles, has stopped using those too.
“We don’t need to fall for that idea of over-optimizing,” said Mike Dyer, The Daily Beast’s president and publisher. “A lot of news publishers, when they get on these platforms, spend a lot of time optimizing their content for them,” Dyer continued. “We specifically don’t do that.”
To some extent, the site benefits from habits ingrained in its most loyal readers. A large portion of the Beast’s direct traffic comes from desktop computers during working hours, although Dyer did not elaborate on how much more came from desktop as opposed to mobile.
That doesn’t mean the site has a fuddy-duddy audience — about half of them are millennial, according to comScore — and it also doesn’t mean the site rests on that comfortable bed of desktop traffic. Last year, the Beast overhauled its mobile site to make it faster, and today the Beast’s mobile site loads in just under three seconds, according to Mobitest. That makes it one of the fastest mobile news sites around, per Dyer. It also keeps the Beast’s mobile site under a crucial threshold: According to research published by Google last week, more than half of all smartphone users close a mobile web page if it doesn’t load within three seconds.
Getting that number down without stripping out all the files and tools that help sites make money was a process. But it was worth it. “Google and Facebook would like us to remove everything,” Dyer said. “Making money on a page is slow if you do it the wrong way.
“We have successfully balanced those things.”
It has also invested time and energy in how it keeps those readers on its site, revamping the philosophy (and the algorithms) it used to surface content for new readers. For example, readers visiting the site to read about politics might once have been deluged with articles and offers related to related political content, Dyer said that overemphasizing content of that type just didn’t work. “Publishers overinterpret the first pageview,” he said, adding that overloading a reader with news about a single topic is “antithetical” to the way that most people consume news now. “They’re not going deeper,” Dyer said. “They’re going broader.”
“Since that change in philosophy, the number of pageviews per session has leapt 20 percent, and Dyer said that it’s continuing to optimize around that, to the point that it’s affecting editorial. The most successful Beast stories, he said, bridge topics and points of interest from multiple verticals.
But for all the optimization the Beast’s performs for its site’s readers, Dyer said he doesn’t plan to slice and dice that audience too thinly. “We don’t spend a lot of time optimizing it for an insane number of subsegments,” he said. “We put a lot of care into the homepage.”