Site Goals: Increase visitors while retaining brand voice, create compelling content with a small budget, develop a portfolio of branded/sponsored opportunities across the brand’s offerings (articles, events, video, newsletter).
How We Got There: Focused on new verticals like health, developed the world’s first men’s fashion blogger community, partnered with other sites to grow newsletter base, created new franchises like “The Grooming Awards”
The challenge at Details.com was always: How do you grow the audience exponentially while keeping the title’s voice and identity? The magazine was very niche. It was confidently not mainstream, and it didn't pander to low-hanging fruit that worked for other mags—sexy women, sports, political rabble-rousing. Instead, it courted an audience more serious about fashion and significantly more into the luxe life (higher household incomes and OK with higher price tags). Most important, it was a print magazine with a hands-on editor-in-chief. So how did we double traffic every year (from 300,000 to 2.5 million ultimately)?
Found the Right Content for our Audience
First, we did what everyone knows to do: create more and better content. Our core competency was fashion, but that didn’t bring eyeballs. Our most popular topic, it turns out, was health (everyone wants to know what the healthiest snack foods are). This makes sense; many of the stories have gender-neutral appeal and can be enjoyed/shared by girlfriends and wives. So I hired expert writers to create new, digital-only franchises including the debunking of health myths, newsy recaps of health-related headlines from science sites, and female-voiced explorations of sexuality and relationships through the lens of “health.” Traffic in year one grew from 300,000 UVs to 600,000.
Tapped into Community — and Created One
What we really needed was more on-brand content (for cheap) and better social-media promotion. With help from a company called Tidal, we created the world’s first men’s fashion blogger community, better known today as an influencer network. I personally reached out to every quality fashion writer I could find and asked them if they’d like to participate in this new venture. Bottom line: We launched the “Style Syndicate,” a gorgeously designed feed with 25 participating sites, which eventually grew to 250 sites. The network generated 15 posts every weekday, some of which grabbed significant SEO authority (“beard” content in particular). We paid nothing for these stories; the arrangement was designed to be mutually beneficial (association with the Details brand in exchange for regular posts). What’s more, we knew that some of these bloggers (like BryanBoy) already had mammoth followings that we could piggyback on. Traffic doubled once again, from 600,000 to 1.2 million UVs.
Got Creative with Revenue Streams
Eventually, our sales team would figure out not only how to sell space on our blogger network’s contributions on our site, but also how to sell ads on their original sites (if they so desired)—and how to migrate their traffic to our comScore numbers in exchange for some of the revenue. That added more than a million uniques to our numbers.
Built Up Audience via Newsletter Partnerships
My role increasingly grew to manage and boost audience development. I shifted the newsletter from weekly to daily and added a newsletter sign-up pop-up box to the site on first entry. I worked with editors and marketing executives at other newsletters—Liquor.com, InsideHook, some travel sites—to create contests and sweepstakes, which added 100,000 email addresses to our database.
Experimented with 3rd Party Content Recommendation Companies
I was the first digital director at Condé Nast to recognize the value of ZergNet, a content recommendation company that focuses on high quality sponsored links (better than Taboola and Outbrain). I added their widget to our right rail. That generated three visits for every one we sent to them. I pressed our executive team to get us into Apple News when it first launched and to fight for better placement on MSN and Yahoo. As a result, we saw syndication referral traffic grow from 8% to 15% of the pie for any given month.
Optimized Social Media
We hired a social-media manager to optimize posts and interact with readers, identified what worked on each platform (and when), increased social-media velocity (more posts more often), and repeated successful posts with new headlines and new art whenever possible. I was also responsible for all aspects of the digital budget. In 2014, I convinced our managing editor to find more budget for Facebook and launched a series of initiatives to improve fan acquisition and boost posts.
Edited Shorter Videos
Our video strategy shifted in an effort to succeed on mobile/social platforms; we experimented with more than a dozen new video franchises (#WeWantIt, 60-Second Q&As, live from Fashion Week) and I mandated 30-second edits for every video (to promote on Facebook). Suddenly, we had hundreds of videos where there used to be only a dozen. When properly promoted, video views climbed from a few thousand to 30,000—and into the millions when we managed to get on the Scene’s home page (the hub for all Condé Nast brands).