Joel Kramer has been doing some excellent analysis of MinnPost’s traffic data. I get the impression that few publishers have this depth of understanding of their website’s traffic. Or, if they do, aren’t building businesses based around transparency for advertisers.
But on most websites, ours included, the vast majority of unique visitors are passersby. They come through a search or a link from a blog, and they visit the site precisely once, usually for a quick glance at one page. In many cases, if you ask them 30 seconds later which site they just linked to, they won’t remember. It would be folly for us to build a business plan around consumers like that.
It sounds like Joel is trying to build a business around generating revenue from advertisers interested in reaching MinnPost’s regular readers. If that’s the case, paying attention to where those people come from, what they read, etc. is going to be valuable. To do this, Joel could segment his Google Analytics data down to people who’ve visits X number of times, by time on site, or other metric he finds useful in order to see what they’re doing.
He could also track clicks on his site’s donate button, or comment submission form to get a feel for which type of visitors are potentially coughing up some cash or engaging in the site at a high level.
Joel offers his theory on why pass-through traffic that arrives from all over the world through search engines and random links:
(In fact, the passerby phenomenon, driven by Internet search and linking, is a major factor in why online advertising revenue doesn’t come close to replacing what newspaper publishers are losing in print: There are simply too many page views, too much inventory, chasing too few advertisers, so online advertising rates stay low.)
This, to me, ties back to some of the stuff I wrote about CityPages in the spring. Newspaper websites are living a lie if they think someone from Romania visiting a random page of their website through a search engine is worth as much to a local advertiser as a subscriber, registered user, or regular visitor.
This should probably be obvious, but for those who don’t already get it, if you’re selling local ads to local businesses, serve the ads to local visitors. Or, only charge them for the percentage of impressions your site receives that are actually local.
To me, Joel’s leaving some money on the table if he sees no value in pass-through traffic. But the tactics for monetizing that traffic are different than local ad sales.
Here are a few things I find effective for monetizing pass through traffic:
1. Be good at SEO. Pass through traffic is largely an SEO play where people search for things written months or years ago. If search engines can’t access ALL of your site’s content, you’re missing out on potential traffic and revenue. Search engine optimized tags and a few content strategies can make a big difference too.
2. Google AdSense. The diversity of locations, topics, and motivations of this type of traffic makes it hard to serve relevant ads at any kind of scale. (There may be exceptions for this surrounding topics of posts.) Google’s AdSense program solves this by serving contextually relevant ads to visitors based on the content found on the page and the location of the visitor among other metrics. This greatly increases the chance that a visitor will find an ad relevant and click on it.
3. Limit AdSense. Don’t bother serving AdSense ads to regulars. This is the corollary to why you shouldn’t serve local ads to pass through traffic. Regulars don’t click AdSense ads. They may someday, but for now, the local ad inventory in AdSense is still very limited so not particularly compelling compared to what you can build yourself (and avoid splitting the revenue with Google). In fact, I’ve made one cent all month in AdSense revenue off my 10+ visit crowd.
4. Get aggressive with your archives. Pissing off your regular readers with intrusive ads is the StarTribune’s forte, but don’t make it yours. However, this doesn’t mean that every page should have the same ad mix for all users. If someone’s only going to be around for a single page visit, they may as well leave through a relevant ad.
5. Additional Ad Networks. Depending on your traffic volume, there may be other ad networks worth considering who’ll deliver relatively consistent CPM rates for your inventory.
To me, these are tactics that generate a growing volume of passive advertising income without having a negative impact on loyal readers.