How IDG uses data to understand audience needs, enable growth, and bring in revenue
“We invested in data discovery and analytics platforms and introduced roles such as Audience Engagement Director to analyse data, and set content strategies,” said editorial director Matt Egan. “We invested in constant training in SEO and social media optimisation, rationalised our taxonomies, built up video skills, and invested in our UX and visual arts teams.”
Egan said IDG unified the editorial teams so that they share goals, best practices and editorial strategies across their English-language publications, and consider IDG as one source of content serving discrete audiences at different stages of their careers, and in different phases of their buying needs. “(We) do more of what works and none of what doesn’t resonate – data doesn’t lie,” Egan explained.
IDG’s audience is diverse and split into two, according to the editorial director. The company has two different, distinct audiences: one on the enterprise side, people who are in IT and business leadership, people who make decisions on behalf of large businesses, and also a consumer audience, anyone who is making a purchasing decision. These audiences have changed, evolved, in that everybody is in IT now, and everyone is a consumer, “which is where the picture becomes quite exciting for us,” Egan said.
In both cases, IDG measures that by really understanding who they’re speaking with. “The first part is understanding what our audience wants, and from that perspective we use a variety of tools, we use Moz, we use Sistrix, we use Google Analytics tools, but also there’s no substitute for editorial folks who are very close to their audience, so we use legwork, getting out and about, meeting people, and also, our research,” Egan explained. “IDG has a long and storied legacy of research and we spend a lot of our time each year researching our audience.”
“The beautiful thing about audience, is, as long as we’re closely watching monitoring and watching true engagement that we’re getting from our audience, that continues to fuel the data, which gives us genuine insights into what our audience wants and therefore what we need to give them.”
These efforts are paying off.
Triple digit growth
Over the past two or three years, IDG’s biggest brands, such as CIO.com and Computerworld, have seen triple digit percent growth in the IT manager and above titles from large companies — specifically in the US. Registrations from C-suite level business leaders have also accelerated, according to Egan.
“This is a very important metric on several levels,” he explained. “Clearly, from a commercial perspective, very important that we’re deeply engaged with our audience as an IT leader, and get CEO, IT managers, people who are very senior within large organisations, so, the growth of people who register is very important purely and simply from a business perspective, but from an editorial perspective, we’re really excited about that. It shows we’re doing the right thing.”
Data helps them understand the correlation between job titles of people who register and the content they interact with. “We know if we’re reaching the right kind of people and they come back again and again and again, we’re doing the right things,” he said.
“It’s true, that over the past two or three years, certainly across CIO and Computerworld, we have seen triple-digit growth. That’s not just across the board, but that is also true for IT manager and again.”
On a quarterly basis PCWorld, Macworld.com and TechHive refer over 1,000,000 clicks and US$3 million in revenue to online retailers. Computers and accessories, electronics, mobile phones and accessories, home tech, and health/fitness devices account for the majority of that referred revenue. On the consumer side, referred revenue is derived by a sale made by their publications.
“Our mission has always been to provide independent advice, and for the longest time, the way you monetised that was through display advertising, so marketers could speak to people who were interested in buying things,” Egan said. “What we do now is much more direct.”
By providing consumers with expert advice, they then go on to make a purchase directly from the IDG publication sites to the vendor sites, for which IDG gets a small slice of revenue. “That figure has gone up to US $3 million a quarter, derived from people on PCWorld, MacWorld, and TechHive, going on directly to make a purchase from our site,” Egan said.
From an editorial perspective, its an extremely important data point for IDG because it tells them not only have they gotten people in to their sites, but, it also tells them whether they’ve provided that audience with the information they needed to make a purchase.
Winning at search
IDG’s editorial team uses a number of tools like Moz, Sistrix, Similarweb and the Google suite to monitor user behaviour on search terms and search journeys. Then, editors figure out how to provide the best and most unique search results on the Internet. As a result, IDG content ranks high on popular consumer- and enterprise-related searches such as “What is IoT?,” “Chrome update,” “Best Mac antivirus” and “Best tablet for kids.”
“What we’ve discovered is that our websites are not magazines, actually, they are communities and they do serve a defined audience who come back again and again and again,” Egan explained. “But the way that we attract the people we need into those websites requires us to think of each website as a brand new publication each day.”
Data tells Egan and his team what their audiences are looking for. It’s simple to discover what’s happening in search and social trends in real time, and understand what is valuable to people.
“Where we’re really doubling down on is using our legacy of 50 years of experience to understand the areas in which our audiences are exclusively interested in, and really drilling into those and providing those hard-to-find nuggets of expertise and information and then placing them in a way that people can find them,” Egan said.
SEO, for the longest time, may have been perceived as a boring way to optimise content, but Egan says they do things differently at IDG. “What we’re doing is using data to understand what really matters to people and then using our institutional knowledge and legacy of experience to provide information, he said.
Learning from the data
Gathering data allows IDG to have a clearer understanding of what their audience needs are. Egan suggests that there is a cultural shift, that it’s no longer about the publisher exclusively being a thought leader. “Thought leadership is important and increasingly, we turn to our contributor network for that, but at the same time, its important we reflect the needs of our audience and we can do that again, by seeing in real time for what they’re searching and then making sure we provide the best possible information in return to those searches,” he said.
What Egan has also discovered is that the editor has become even more important in the scheme of things, because they have to discern through the noise to what is valuable, and understand the user need behind the search or social trends. “From a data perspective, it’s easy to see your search term and replicate it on your page,” he said. “What’s difficult, what requires expertise is to truly understand the need that is driving that search, and write a piece, in-depth content that is constantly updated and matches that need.”
Editorial staff are still close to their audiences, but Egan says they consider themselves audience advocates. “We’re no longer in a position where we think we’re the best people to tell the audience what the audience wants, we’re listening to them more and we’re listening to them on a more scalable way, because data allows us to do that.”
In his experience, if publishers are fully-focused on giving an audience independent, expert content, it’s always valuable. The form that value might change, but it never goes away.
He said, despite the changes and challenges the media has faced over the last number of years, the role of a good editorial person within IDG has never been more important. “Because not only are we the people who write the content, we’re the people who build the audience, we’re the people who engage with the audience, and frankly, that’s the product IDG has always made and sold,” he said. “Too often I hear about how journalism is challenged, which is certainly true, but I think true journalism has never been more important than it is today.”
For IDG, using data to support editorial decisions and audience growth, at a strategic level, is not change. “It’s just a reaffirmation of values that IDG has held dear for more than 50 years,” Egan said. “We are always innovating, and we trust that by truly serving our audience we will provide value to our customers. So for each publication we ask who are we writing for, what we can give them that they can’t get elsewhere, and what do we need to get from those engagements to serve our customers? As long as we have good answers to those questions, we will always be relevant.”