Behind The New Yorker’s Record-Setting Web Traffic
Editor Nicholas Thompson tells Folio: how the eminent brand brings in the page views.
But The New Yorker still prides itself on providing “a mix to our readers,” in the words of Nicholas Thompson, editor of NewYorker.com.
In fact, Thompson cites this content mix as the main driver behind NewYorker.com’s record-setting traffic in July 2016. The New Yorker’s website hit 19.9 million unique visits last month, a 36 percent jump compared to July 2015. On a broader scale, overall readership to the website has grown 22 percent compared to last year.
In light of the high demand other publications, such as The Atlantic, have enjoyed due to political coverage, one could assume NewYorker.com’s traffic spike was driven by the same type of content.
However, while Jane Mayer’s exclusive interview with Donald Trump’s ghostwriter, Tony Schwartz, was indeed the number one story for the website, Thompson tells Folio: that the top ten stories for the month varied widely.
“The number two story is a humor piece, the number four story is on dressage, our seventh best story is TV criticism, our ninth best story is grammar, and our tenth best story is literature,” Thompson says.
Traffic to the website has grown consistently over the past few years. In June 2016, NewYorker.com saw an average of 16.8 million unique visits, up 27 percent compared to June of last year.
When asked about the magazine’s strategy for driving traffic, Thompson says, “Our philosophy is to keep doing what we’re doing, but to try to get better every month. We don’t think specifically about how to retain these people or how to capitalize on this specific spike. We just enjoy it when it happens and try to do our jobs better tomorrow.”
In order to do this, NewYorker.com adjusted its staffing strategy, changing the mix of writers so there are fewer freelancers and more regular contributors. Most recently, the magazine hired Jia Tolentino, Benjamin Wallace-Wells, and Louisa Thomas, among others, all of whom Thompson says drive readers.
Part of the brand’s strategy also includes improving promotion via social media platforms. This means improving headlines and audience engagement, which Thompson says started with using Facebook Live to drive engagement.
“The most interesting thing to us was that when Facebook announced their algorithm changes to disadvantage pages, that clearly didn’t have an effect, because we have tons of traffic coming in from Facebook,” Thompson says.
That traffic is not limited to written content, however. Not only did NewYorker.com set records with regards to unique visits and overall readership, but video views also jumped by 35 percent in July, up 112 percent for the year overall.
The brand has invested in video series, a move which Thompson says is good “bang for your buck.” Two series in particular are very popular: “Comma Queen” with Mary Norris and “The Cartoon Lounge” with Bob Mankoff.
“It’s great to have a series because you can repeat them, they develop an audience, and you get visitors who watch one, who then watch the next one,” he adds.
NewYorker.com also presents films, both commissioned from outside of The New Yorker and original content. Some are even tied to the magazine’s stories and created by the publication’s three full-time video producers.
Snippets of videos are promoted on the brand’s Facebook page and Twitter, which draws high levels of engagement, Thompson notes.
While other brands have hired large teams dedicated to social media platforms, such as Facebook Live, The New Yorker maintains a smaller social media team, and certain staffers’ roles have been expanded to include social. For example, video producer Sky Dylan-Robbins has expanded her role, promoting video on Facebook Live in tandem with a member of the social media team.
Thompson says the brand plans to drive video views in the future by launching more series. But in an environment increasingly dominated by video, he still stresses the importance of written content at The New Yorker.
“We haven’t hired a video team of 25, or done what so many of our peers have done where they really de-prioritized the written word in favor of video,” he says. “We continue to prioritize the written word, but also focus a lot on video. We’re doing both.”