Richard Tofel’s post this week about how digital news will be better when publishers move beyond SEO was an interesting op-ed, but most of the debate seemed philosophical as opposed to factual. Our advice to publishers: SEO is for audience development, not revenue (that could have been a softer title for this post). Here are the facts behind that recommendation.
Fact: Loyal audience members do not use search as a means to engage with publishers. The striking difference between fans and fly-bys is the percentage of visits that are based on direct vs. search. Upwards of 95 per cent of fly-by visits are generated from a search whereas upwards of 70 per cent of fan visits are direct. Of the fan visits which are search generated, typically 50 per cent or more of them involve the publisher’s name (i.e., navigational search).
Fact: Direct visits are triggered by publishers. When we dig deeper into the data on direct visits, we find the vast majority of direct visits were triggered by the publisher notifying the fans of new content either through e-mail, RSS feeds, or twitter. Even when a publisher does not use redirects or campaign codes to track the source of traffic, we find a direct correlation between engagement spikes and when notifications are sent.
Audience members don’t start their day thinking about what websites to visit, they check their e-mail inboxes, twitter hashtags, or RSS readers for the latest information. Put another way, the VAST majority of publishers are not destination sites on the Web. The publisher needs a direct relationship with their audience to create engagement.
Fact: Loyal audience members deliver the majority of the page views/revenue. As previously described in my blog, fans, regulars, and occasionals generate dramatically more page views than fly-bys. More importantly, they consistently generate those page views if triggered by the publisher (per the previous fact). A loyal audience is the basis for a recurring revenue stream as opposed to an SEO generated audience that is non-recurring and volatile.
The majority of page views, and consequently revenue, comes from loyal audience members that are proactively notified by the publisher through direct relationships. Not focusing on developing those relationships leaves a publisher’s revenue model open to competition and the prerogative of the search engine. That is being a sucker.