CJR: Small Sites Should Focus on Loyalty, Not ‘Shareable’ Content

"For small sites, loyalty might be a better path to pageviews."


Since the demise of Life, magazine publishers began focusing less on mass audiences. Special-interest magazines, whose content focused on limited subjects and whose advertising rates were lower, were more appealing to advertisers.

While some of today’s digital giants like Gawker still focus on narrow audiences, others like BuzzFeed leverage mass audiences with great success. But according to a recent report by the Columbia Journalism Review, startups aiming for a broad audience may find that the strategy doesn’t pay off in the long run.

Research by Nielsen found that the top seven percent of news websites still attract 80 percent of all traffic. Visitors from social are the least likely to return to a site in the future, according to Chartbeat. Similarly, Pew found that users who come to a site directly stay nearly three times as long as those who come via search or Facebook, and view five times as many pages per month.

CJR says smaller sites that have trouble appealing to advertisers based on unique pageviews should stop obsessing over viral hits and start embracing the niche model to ensure that loyal, engaged customers keep coming back. “Soon the niches will have to be even niche-ier, the superfans even more devoted, to convince an advertiser to buy directly from a publication.”

Publications should be doing everything they can to foster loyalty, because with ad revenues still relatively miniscule, repeat readers present promising future financial contributors. Courting big numbers of unique visitors, while still important this week and next, could undercutting digital outlets’ longterm health. Unless you’re BuzzFeed, courting a small, devoted audience, with a secondary focus on interlopers from search and social, is probably a safer bet. The strategy promises to be tough but probably more rewarding–much like superfans themselves.