Strategy & Content
After a period of years of online audience growth, mostly fuelled by strategic acquisitions and SEO opportunity, growth of our online audiences had slowed. At the same time, the digital advertising landscape had also shifted and with display CTRs and rates hitting an all-time low. At the same time, the IAB introduced Content & Native as a separate measure in its ad spend study and introduced a clear set of guidelines to the market. Media Agency perception of Factory’s value also needed to be changed as we were considered a niche publisher of sports content.
All these factors combined with the usual investor pressures of scaling and profitability.
We needed to find a new model of business and develop our audiences beyond core sports fans.
We had already done a fair amount of audience development and we were already reaching 53 million people globally through social. This was only discovered I pulled all the reach data from 24 profiles across 3 main social channels. We also noticed some of our content was being picked up and embedded by a new type of social publishers and our content was getting huge audiences on their platforms.
Our commercial teams were also starting to sell more branded content campaigns to consumer brands and Mintel predicted spending on native ads would increase more than sevenfold by 2018.
We analysed what formats and types of content did best on different social networks and worked out that awe-inspiring content appeared to be shared the most. Our wealth of video content was also being picked up and embedded across the web.
We also knew that that right type of content found it’s own audiences driven by social sharing. But was the right content?
Key to our audience development strategy was to use three types of content, each one clearly differentiated for different purposes. We continued producing content for organic search but tweaked this content to offer more value, but more comprehensive and employed content clusters to capitalise on new SEO opportunities (like Outdoor). We also employed hreflang across the network and re-deployed canonical on a network basis across all sites.
On-site social content was designed around social referral, focusing on people’s narcissistic side and utilising the tribalism within each sport to create archetypes that people would recognise. Social content was further differentiated by being more emotive, easily consumable on the go, visually lead. To capitalise on our social reach we shifted to a focus on branded content and utilised our learnings to distribute branded content at scale without the need for paid media.
For social we produced and curated much more native content and tailored it to each platform. We focused on eliciting an emotional response from users to drive sharing, as well as stacking up on a single emotion. We produced native content that complemented our .com content and served as trailers for it.
UX for the whole network was redesigned to be mobile-first, utilising infinite scroll on all pages with the ability to inject branded content into key page positions (pages 2&4). All content referral partners were removed and we focused the development team on the key metrics of overall session length and visible ads served per session.
We recruited a dedicated audience development team with multi-media skills rather than just words and picture editors, the development was expanded to include a UX specialist and programmatic knowledge brought into the Ad Ops team.
1 – FOCUS ON EMOTION
Across all social content, production was a realignment of the editorial teams to focus on producing content that elicits an emotion. For each article, image or video the team focused on one of four key emotions that we knew resulted in a higher proportion of shares by users.
These emotions were stacked (1 cat is quite cute, by 12 cats is better) and then considered how and why a user might share that piece of content.
2 – LONGER, BETTER PIECES
Search content focused on creating on more comprehensive multi-media pieces, sometimes even as long as 3,000 words. These pieces were well structured so that users could navigate easily through. A dedicated team wrote content around clustered themes targeting high volume search terms.
Link pieces were also produced that appealed to brand and influential personalities within each sport, these served as linkbait and grew the link profile year after year.
3 – MOBILE FIRST SITES
We had already seen a fundamental shift in user behaviour and with the ambition to produce more social content we came to the conclusion to focus on the mobile experience as the primary way to consume content.
This required an extensive redesign of the network, as well as retiring apps that were not compatible with this vision. Infinite scroll and focusing on deliverable ad inventory were key to the success of the redesign and balanced both commercial and user needs.
AUDIENCE DEVELOPMENT RESULTS
Our social reach went from 53 million globally to 380m globally within one year, a 29x increase in monthly reach. This, in turn, drove an 8x increase in social referral traffic at our peak reaching 85.7m page views per month. Our fan/follower base also increased from 1.2m to 6.1m in a year and a half.
Organic search also increased 69% within a year, although this was a long term project that focused on a 3 year return.
Session length increased 21% after the relaunch which meant that we could serve more display ads, branded content recommendations, and organic shares from articles. So much so that in fact for every share a piece of content would receive on social this would result in a further 72 engagements (likes, shares, comments) on average. 1 in every 100 people visiting a Mpora in the network would share a piece of content.