How To Build Quality Traffic According To Telegraph Media CIO, Chris Taylor

One of the most valuable things a publisher or content creator can have is a quality audience. For many digital publishers, this means learning how to build quality traffic to their digital property or website.

As you might imagine, Telegraph Media has gotten pretty good at this. They’ve been doing it since 1855!

Their CIO, Chris Taylor, recently joined us at Pubtelligence — hosted at Google offices in London — to share a little bit about how they are building and monetizing quality traffic in the digital era.

Below, you can watch the full video of the chat or you can read my summary of the topics and takeaways from the discussion.

What does the CIO of the Telegraph do?

Summary from Chris:

I started out in the armed forces and then went into management consulting, which ended up being more like technology consulting.

I did a few assignments with media and enjoyed it, was offered a job by Emap PLC media company, and have stayed in media ever since.

…at The Telegraph, I’m basically the senior technologist: I look after all of the technology and digital products.

My actionable thoughts:

There probably aren’t many people more qualified to speak on the technology and infrastructure necessary to operate a massive media business than Chris. His insights on this topic probably go a lot deeper than most.

No actions for this one, sorry 🙂

What is a quality audience?

Summary from Chris:

Our view has changed a lot in recent months.

Like many others, we used to be focused on subscribers and the pursuit of scale. Now, we are much more interested in the identified scale rather than the anonymous scale, or in registered users. This is not a new idea but is becoming increasingly important.

The main reason people come to The Telegraph is for its content, and so that is always the most important item we focus on and put front and center, though you can also focus on UX and presence on third-party platforms as well.

…our digital product strategy includes using products like third-party platforms and voice devices to attract people to the brand, products to engage people with the content, and product that is available purely for subscribers.

My actionable thoughts:

These are all things that come up a lot in our podcast, The Publisher Lab — where I try to contextualize some of these strategies for smaller publishers.

Chris talks about having users subscribe to something or identify themselves. Being able some kind some kind of connection with your audience allows you to better understand your most loyal visitors.

Segmenting visitors and treating them differently offers a lot of value — as we’ve seen.

As a website owner or publisher, you should be thinking about how you get your users to build a long-term connection (i.e. their email address, or registered account with your property).

Things to try:

What percentage of revenue do you get from affiliate deals?

Summary from Chris:

…Apart from the subscription or newspaper business, we don’t own them ourselves. They’re all percentage-based deals based on the volumes we send through. At the moment, we see digital advertising and digital subscription as equals, and we see a lot of growth in that affiliate side.

However, there is a particularly close link between the editorial mission of The Telegraph and those kinds of businesses.

For example, if you search for the best hotels in any European city, The Telegraph will appear as the first organic result. Users can then read reviews written by one of The Telegraph’s professional journalists, and then users have an opportunity to book through Booking.com….

My actionable thoughts:

I wrote a lot about how to maximize the value of affiliate deals in this blog.

But, to Chris’s point, there is a lot of value in understanding what content you might already own that would appeal to affiliates.

Things to try:

  • Look into what articles you have the get a lot of regular traffic and see what affiliates might align with that
  • Reach out to brands that have affiliate offerings in niches you rank for organically

How has The Telegraph done with SEO recently?

Summary from Chris:

The Telegraph was the first online newspaper back in 1994, so the domain is very valuable at this point.

About 10 years ago, The Telegraph Invested a lot of time and effort to the newsroom with digital publishing tools and knowledge so their content would index well in search.

However, in the last few years, we have reassessed our strategy a bit.

We don’t want our content to just be targeted towards indexing well in search and so we now include headlines and content more similar to what might be in print.

A specific example is the way in which we manage ads on our tablet edition. We actually put the same ads from print into the tablet version of The Telegraph, as tablet consumption, dwell time, and depth of content is actually more similar to newspaper consumption than the web.

My actionable thoughts:

The Telegraph obviously has some SEO capital that the rest of us mere mortals do not; however, there are some interesting thoughts here on user experiences.

Chris mentions metrics like dwell time and scroll depth. These are metrics I’ve talked about before in the context of SEO. (you can track them in Big Data Analytics for free)

Things to try:

  • Once you’ve looked at your existing content and keywords, try learning from how users interact with your content
  • Optimize for engagement, Google typically offers strong rewards for this
  • Don’t ignore the data because you might not believe it

How do you get quality traffic to The Telegraph?

Summary from Chris:

There is a myth circulating that newspapers are going to disappear, which is just not true.

The Telegraph, as well as other premium news publications in the UK, have a steady newspaper circulation. Anyone who is reading a newspaper now is choosing a specific format, as everyone knows it is available in other formats.

However, because newer generations will have not grown up with newspapers as the only way to absorb content, we have diversified to new and emerging digital platforms as well. This strategy provides users a way to bump into the brand, get them to read content, and attract them into the franchise.

For example, we publish The Telegraph in Snapchat under the Discover section and are pretty much the only premium news publication in the UK to do so. We reach 3 million teenagers a month through Snapchat, indicating that young people still want to engage in content, even if it is not through a newspaper.

And this is acceptable, because though they may not subscribe to The Telegraph right now, they may in 10-15 years. They are the readers of the future.

My actionable thoughts:

I’m not sure most publishers can afford to take a 10-15 year outlook on their business model. Unfortunately, this kind of outlook is often needed for media entities looking to pivot to a subscription model.

Even the most successful subscription publishers are typically not profitable for years inside that model.

The one truth I think that all publishers can learn from here is that it is important to not think of your publishing property as one thing.

For example, Snapchat Discover doesn’t make sense for a newspaper… well maybe it does. There’s a way to make that work with younger audiences. Opening your mind up to different platforms and audiences may be a good idea for diversifying your business.

Try:

  • Explore new platforms and mediums
  • Look into podcasts, Snapchat, Instagram, voice transcription, and other emerging publishing trends
  • Hyper-target one segment of your audience and see what they like best and don’t be afraid to fail

How do you manage international website visitors?

Summary from Chris:

We are a UK publication and are primarily writing for UK audiences; however, more than 50% of our digital audience is from abroad, and about 30 million a month of that group is in North America.

We recently opened a bureau in Silicon Valley so we can cover technology in more depth.

What’s important about having an international audience is to be clear about what you are attempting to do in those countries —we would never write US news for a US audience.

But, we may well take more of an interest in what those in North America would be interested in reading. Though its still in the early stages, we will look country by country concerning content rather than having a broad, global strategy.

My actionable thoughts:

Who are your demographics as a publisher? Who are you writing for?

How do German visitors view your content vs. American visitors? Are you offering a perspective that is relevant to everyone, or just one segment?

Try:

  • Look at your geo-location analytics by country percentage (easily done in Google Analytics)
  • Ask yourself how the top 5 countries might view your content differently
  • See what kinds of new content or changes you might be able to make to make your content better for these audiences

How do you make money from subscribers?

Summary from Chris:

One of the advantages of subscriptions as a digital revenue stream is that it is reliable…

…it is also great for journalism because subscriptions are the modern digital business model that is most closely aligned the existing intent of journalism. We don’t currently moderate the advertising experience but try to add more value to the subscription, such as experiences, events, features, and personalization.

Our hope is that un-registered visitors will become subscribers, so we try to provide a lot of encouragement to register.

Some content requires you register to read, though our bounce rate with content like that is actually pretty low. We do different offers for different types of visitors, such as what we refer to as the ‘intelligent paywall.’

Users are segmented to a granular level, and then we use the segment they’re in and the content they’re reading to put forward the best creative and/or commercial offer we think will appeal to them most.

My actionable thoughts:

I discussed above why most publishers aren’t able to make the subscription model profitable for their business. Chris sort of proves that point here… it’s a totally different business.

They (The Telegraph) are arguably setup better than anyone on the planet — having over a century of practice with subscriptions — and they are still trying to make it work digitally. There are a lot of things to like about it, but it very difficult to pivot a business model that is typically now reserved for things like software, not news or media.

That said, Chris mentions personalization and segmentation as a key part of that strategy. I think this is how non-subscription publishers can really borrow what is working from subscription publishers and apply it to their business.

Try:

How are you managing direct ad sales now?

Summary from Chris:

Part of the reason we have focused on getting people to register with us in the last year or so is because we then have the data, insight, information, and context, which helps us compete in the market.

To measure context or intent, we have completed distinctive campaign analysis with key advertising clients and have been able to show that context does present positive potential.

When you consider the GDPR (Global Data Protection Regulation) and the trend towards more regulation, I am more optimistic for publishers.

10 or 15 years ago, digital advertising was all about context and most of that control was in the hands of publishers. Since then, publishers have been disintermediated, and as regulations on data get tighter, there will be a resurgence of that. In time, we might find that context is required to carry out a successful campaign.

Someone reading our tablet will spend 40 minutes reading our content, which is incredibly more time than someone might spend in a session on a Facebook feed.

My actionable thoughts:

Chris emphasizes one of the publishing markets biggest trends, the decline of direct ad sales. He talks about regulations and data being a solution to this; however, it might not actually be the solution to direct ad sales. It may be the solution to publishers better understanding the price of their inventory.

As more and more digital ad space is sold programmatically, publishers can use regulations (like ads.txt) and visitor data to drive better ad rates in the open market. In fact, we’ve seen this all year long.

Try:

 In the future, will rich people have access to high-quality content and poor people not?

Summary from Chris:

Many of us were around when the internet first started and this philosophy behind it that it must be free, which is actually changing.

Many users these days have grown up with things such as Netflix and Hulu, where it is already well-established that there is high-quality online media content that must be paid for.

If the future does head that way, The Telegraph would certainly try to be balanced.

Just like newspapers are more expensive if you buy just a single paper rather than subscribing, content will follow suit. If you go to The Telegraph, there is not a hard paywall for content; about 35% of our content requires purchase, but the rest is completely free.

Part of digital publishing is about still being relevant and having a presence, and there are parts of a journalistic mission that requires the content be spread far and wide. It is good for attracting people to the brand and also makes the journalism widely accessible.

What advice do you for independent digital publishers?

Summary from Chris:

I have learned that focus is key.

In the digital publishing world, it’s very to be distracted by new features and trends. I have also learned to do fewer things and do them as well as you can. I have also learned that the customer and user experience is one of the most important places to invest time, though it is hard to measure it.

It is often easier to go with whatever makes money, but I would encourage publishers to nurture the customer experience. If you’re unique and take care of the customer experience, then people will subscribe to it and provide a reliable, repeatable revenue scheme.

Watch more videos from Pubtelligence London here.