In 2011, Martin Waymire, a Lansing-based public relations firm, was retained to plan and execute the launch of Bridge Magazine, an online news magazine providing in-depth coverage of the most pressing public policy issues facing Michigan. Bridge’s mission is to inform Michigan citizens about their state, amplify their views and explore the challenges of our civic life.
In the first year, we far exceeded all goal metrics for attracting subscribers and generating website visitors and page views. Since then, Bridge has continued to see exponential growth in website visitors and page views. Martin Waymire has continued to manage social media and digital marketing for Bridge since its launch. In 2014, Bridge saw a 53 percent increase in page views and a 90 percent increase in users visiting the site, and Martin Waymire’s work contributed to 30 percent of the overall traffic.
Goals & Objectives
- Increase page views by 50 percent
- Increase users (“unique visitors”) by 10 percent
- Increase sessions driven by social & digital media by 50 percent
Going into 2015, Bridge set an aggressive goal for readership growth, with a target of 50 percent growth for page views and double-digit growth in users compared to 2014. With 2015 being an off year for major elections, the Martin Waymire team knew it would be up against big numbers from 2014, since political stories typically drive high traffic to Bridge’s website. Historically, election off years have been slower for Bridge (35 percent growth in page views in 2013 compared to 2012). We knew we would need to increase sessions driven by social and digital media by at least 50 percent to help meet Bridge’s overall goal.
Research & Planning
In our research prior to developing the 2015 digital strategy for Bridge, the Martin Waymire team closely reviewed traffic trends via Google Analytics and our tactics from 2014. Sessions from social media and Google AdWords grew by 530 percent from 2013 to 2014, and our star performer was Facebook, with 21.5 percent of overall traffic coming from that channel. Based on this data, we knew we wanted to devote the majority of our ad spend on Facebook, but we also wanted to experiment with advertising options on Twitter and Google.
To begin 2015, the Martin Waymire team made sure all of Bridge’s social profiles were optimized for desktop and mobile viewing and updated Bridge’s Facebook page categorization, changing it from “Community Organization” to “Media/News/Publishing.” Additionally, we added special code to the Bridge website to create a custom Facebook pixel, which would allow us to advertise on Facebook to a custom audience of people who visited the Bridge website in the last 180 days. We also set a tentative weekly and monthly budget, based on our annual allowance. This gave us a ballpark range for each ad: major stories were promoted for $15 to $20, and smaller stories were promoted for $5 to $10.
In 2014, Martin Waymire spent the majority of the budget on promoted posts on Facebook, spending $10 to $15 per post and targeting Bridge Facebook fans and their friends. In 2015, the Martin Waymire team branched out into other types of advertising, including using different ad formats on Facebook and testing some Twitter advertising for key stories.
Each week, we spent $5 to $20 per story on promoted post ads on Facebook but tweaked the ads so the goal was “website clicks” rather than post interaction. On Facebook, promoted post ads are served by default to people who are more likely to interact with a post (comment, like or share the post). We knew we wanted our ads seen by people who were more likely to click on the actual story and visit the Bridge website, not just like the post. We also invested in ongoing website click ads, which by default are served to people who are most likely to click on a link. We promoted stories throughout the year that had done well when initially published (“evergreen stories”) and were able to generate huge traffic to Bridge’s website at a very low cost per click. We also experimented with more advanced targeting, focusing on interest areas rather than our default audience of Bridge Facebook fans and their friends.
On Twitter, we increased the number of daily posts from one or two posts per day to six or more posts per day. We also repurposed popular stories and spent a small portion of our budget on some targeted Twitter advertising.
Martin Waymire also ran Google search ads for Bridge, which cost nothing thanks to Bridge qualifying for a Google Grants account. Our team managed $10,000 in search ads per month, creating ads for new stories in 2015.
We exceeded Bridge’s goals for 2015:
- Increased total page views by 56 percent
- Increased total users by 19 percent
- Increased sessions driven by social & digital media by 63 percent
Digital strategy work by the Martin Waymire team contributed to 41 percent of the overall 2015 traffic and grew by 63 percent over our work in 2014. Social channels (particularly Facebook) also attracted the most new users to Bridge in 2015, with an 81 percent increase over 2014.