Guest post by Jon Hawkins, the Chief Marketing Officer at Customer.io. Before joining Customer.io, Jon was at Time Inc. as the VP of Growth working on brands such as People, Time, Fortune, and Entertainment Weekly. Jon’s more than 15 years of experience in the digital media industry have given him unique insights into how speed and the ability to pivot are critical to remain relevant and successful.
That last 20 years in the media industry has been nothing short of a horror story. It seems that just as soon as we figured out how to move our advertising dollars online and away from print, Google and Facebook gave us our next challenge, the loss of direct traffic and the beautiful attention and revenue-generating curiosity that came with it.
Today, when you take a peek at your Google Analytics account, I would be shocked to know if your average pages per session from search engines or social networks were greater than 1. Maybe 1.3, 1.6, but I would be shocked to hear 2 or more (unless your volume is low).
The problem is that in the last nine years, as Google and Facebook grew to prominence, we lost the user during a very critical time, the moment of intent.
The moment of intent is a phrase I've used for the last decade to help paint the picture I'm about to show you. It identifies the precise moment your users had an idea, became curious, and decided to find a solution by taking action online. Maybe they would go to their favorite forum and ask a question, perhaps visit your website, possibly search or explore Myspace 😊 In more cases than not, they would come to you, to the homepage of your iconic brand, seeking answers.
In 2010, your homepage was by far the most popular page of your website. You had widgets, touts, navigations, slideshows, and everything all of the brilliant minds in your company could conjure up to demand attention, and "drive the user" to a part of the site with the highest CPM or in need of the most ad inventory.
Sometimes the user would find their way to the answer they were seeking in that initial moment of intent, and sometimes (most of the time) they would get distracted.
As a result, users would spend between 5 and 25 pages per session. Most users were visiting brands on a desktop/laptop, and direct traffic was an equal contender to search and social acquisition channels for most brands. In the next five years, in just that short period of time, everything changed.
I distinctly remember 2015. Looking back to 2010 and just starting to realize what had happened. First, mobile became more than just a trend. It exploded and flipped the charts.
In 2010, most media brands were starting the m dot versions of their website because a tiny 10-20% of their traffic was from users on mobile devices. By 2015, mobile traffic became the majority, with over 60% of traffic being mobile. I think we replaced the m dot sites for a "mobile-first" initiative just a month after we got them up!
As mobile devices became the new norm, something else happened. Users increasingly started their moments of intent from more mobile-friendly ways (search engines) and from apps where they were spending more and more of their time (social networks).
Here's what may be a more natural way to look at this: Just a soon as we were waving goodbye to print generated revenues, we were faced with the shocking reality that most of our readers accessing our brands on a single column view of our website, were coming from search engines and social networks. We quickly learned that our same users, coming from somewhere else before getting to us, were more likely to tap back to the search engine or social network before trusting us to get them to the right place on our owned and operated (O&O) websites.
Google and Facebook became the media companies we once were when they acquired the user during their moment of intent. This truth has only grown between then and now. In 2019 most traffic to brands is mobile, and unhealthy percentages are from Facebook and Google.
We have taken to awful tactics like higher/cheaper content production, slideshows interlaced with ads, clickbait touts in Google News, and the dreaded sticky video player to try and recover the lost inventory from this blow dealt for 9 straight years. The problem is just as soon as we try a new tactic, a search engine algorithm changes, or a browser update restricts us, and we're back to the drawing board again.
So that's why I'm writing this article. To get you to forget about Facebook and Google for a minute and see that there's one acquisition channel with a dedicated team in your organization that can bring you back to the glory days of 2010 (or close to it). One team that you've probably overlooked as they predictably report on standard metrics like opens, clicks, and spam year over year. One team that probably creates more revenue by promoting advertisers than the brand they work for.
If you haven't guessed it by now, I'm talking about your customer engagement team and email as an acquisition channel.
When the user reads an email from a brand, if it's relevant and meaningful to that user, it creates a moment of intent. And as we know, when you own the moment of intent, you are rewarded with more user engagement.
Are you finding this hard to believe? I know, I did too. Take a look at your Google Analytics account; look at your landing page sessions by default channel grouping.
Assuming you have a strong brand reputation and your email attribution tracking is set up correctly, you'll see that pages per session are higher than most of your other channels. Most importantly, they are in the 5’s, 6’s, and 7’s, and not simply 1.
When you consider 5, 6, 7 pages of ad inventory, this becomes hard to ignore. Your average revenue per session is determined by how deeply a user engages with your brand. The more pages per session, the more ad units, the higher the average revenue per user (ARPU).
It's unlikely you can change your stats for traffic coming in from Facebook and Google. You didn't start the moment of intent, and the user has no problem swiping back, off your article, no matter how much they love the brand. But with email, the sky's the limit! 🕊
Today I'm guessing anywhere from 5-10% of your daily traffic (always measure in sessions) comes from emails you send to your users that point back to your site. I'm also assuming you're already sending many emails per week per user, maybe too many.
My challenge for you is simple: Take just one day (or week if your volume is low) of sending and try an experiment.
Hit pause on your daily/weekly newsletters with hundreds of links, set aside the Adhoc emails going to sweepstakes and seasonal promotions, stop the dedicated/paid advertiser newsletters and build a day of sending that highlights your best, most relevant content for each of your readers.
Find a way to send a simple message, with a single call to action that is personalized to show each of your subscribers a piece of content that you believe will be relevant to them. No need to spend too much time on the design of the email; it's not necessary. Instead, focus on matching interesting and new content for each user touted from a simple email.
Over the next few days, watch as this email is opened and see what happens with each of the new sessions it creates on your O&O site.
Do users visit more than one page?
Does revenue per session go up?
My guess is it will, and you'll look at the value of your subscriber list and the emails your brand sends in an entirely new light.
As a publisher or media company, it's vital that you start measuring ARPU per channel (email, search, social, etc.) You need to know if sessions from search and social are only worth 3 cents per user or if sessions from email are worth 30 cents per user, because it can drastically change the way you produce content and how you send emails.
Instead of newsletters, sweepstakes, and dedicated emails, you may find yourself exploring triggered and behavioral emails. Instead of trying to put out the next fire created by a Google algorithm update, you may be trying to figure out how to grow the % of daily sessions to your brand that email represents.
Imagine if email was 5-10% of daily sessions but 30-40% from returning users that you have more first-party data on, who navigate more pages and consume more ads. Once you have these facts, you can better decide how to focus your most precious resource, editorial teams, and the content they create.
Maybe you'll find you should be focusing your editors on what performs best on email instead of SEO or Facebook engagements?
If nothing else, see what happens after the user lands on your site from an email you sent, and I promise you'll be filled with inspiration and ideas on how you can grow revenue once again like it's 2010.