The biggest viral publisher you’ve never heard of

What happens when you take an hyper-viral publishing model and apply it to a specific topic? Major traffic growth, for one.

Independent Journal Review, an ideological cross between Drudge Report and Upworthy, has rapidly become one of the biggest viral sites on the Web today. In the last year, the site has seen its traffic increase from 1.5 million uniques to a high of 12.9 million in January, according to comScore. Quantcast pegs it as the 45th-most trafficked site in the U.S., eclipsing even FoxNews and The New York Times.

IJReview has managed this, seemingly, by doing its best Upworthy impression. Its articles, which are rarely more than a few hundred words, combine scandalous, curiosity-inducing headlines (“This Guy Stops Black Americans On The Street To Hear Their Thoughts On ‘White Privilege’) with a focus on conservative interests (“What a Firearms Ace Can Do with Just About Every Kind of Gun Imaginable is Pretty Sick“).

It’s a formula derived from the tradition of old-school conservative email chains, which combine a taste for the conspiratorial with a general distrust for mainstream media. The site’s most popular post —  “When Cars Started Sinking Into The Street, People Gathered To Watch. But The Last 15…Wow!” — was viewed nearly 9 million times and generated 487,000 shares.


“We pulled this off by putting the right information in front of the right people,” said Bert “Bubba” Atkinson, Independent Journal Review’s editor-in-chief. “We think politics can be very entertaining, and it clearly has viral potential, but it’s traditionally been projected from an inside-the-beltway viewpoint that doesn’t necessarily lend itself to social sharing.”

IJReview’s success over the past year came just as Facebook moved to clamp down on viral sites’ reach on the social network. After months of consistent growth, traffic to Upworthy and Elite Daily, for example, dropped 51 percent and 47 percent, respectively, from November to January. IJReview’s traffic, too, has taken a 50 percent dive from its highs in January, and for good reason: 69 percent of IJReview’s desktop traffic last month came from Facebook, where it has 69,000 likes. (The site also runs the “I Am Conservative” Facebook page, which has more than 5 million likes so far.)

Despite its traffic fluctuations, IJReview has been profitable since it was founded, largely thanks to its lean 10-person team. While the site runs traditional pre-roll and display ads, it is also focused on building “valuable audience segments with information on social sharers that can be targeted from a brand and advocacy perspective on certain issues,” Atkinson said.

Ultimately, this political take on the Upworthy model puts IJReview in a better place with marketers than most viral sites, which chase virality but lack focus.”I think they are able to appeal to many advertisers especially strategic marketers that are interested in content that surrounds issues, cause, influence and digital advocacy” said Erik Requidan, director of sales at Intermarkets, which consults with publishers to market their ad inventory to buyers. “Marketers don’t just care about any content that blows up. They also want to reach relevant audiences where engagement is happening.”

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