Home Publishers ‘Buying Traffic Is The Way Of The Future,’ Says CEO Who Made $400,000 From A Single Slideshow Last Year

‘Buying Traffic Is The Way Of The Future,’ Says CEO Who Made $400,000 From A Single Slideshow Last Year


slideshow-ad-revenueIf programmatic advertising has reduced readers to commodities, then Topix wants to be the ultimate trader.

The site focuses on slideshows, the best way to get readers to cycle through multiple page views and earn more revenue per user. Topix’s most successful slideshow in 2016 earned $400,000.

But getting that $400,000 required buying about $200,000 of native ads to drive traffic to the content.

Topix gets readers to consume slideshows by buying native ads on Facebook, Yahoo, Outbrain and Taboola. Think of Topix as a content arbitrage company. It has developed technology that allows it to buy clicks for cheap, knowing that its slideshow format will let it make more than what it paid for that initial click.

Topix profits from the spread between what it pays in advertising and what it earns in advertising. CEO Chris Tolles defends his model, arguing that similar pubs create clickbait while he creates quality content. For example, that $400,000 slideshow? “23 Hilarious Hipster Wedding Trends That Need To Stop.”

For proof, Tolles notes visitors average 11 minutes on the site and 61 page views per session – for a total of 2.8 billion page views a month. And because he relies on paid traffic, not organic traffic, Facebook’s clampdown on viral sites didn’t affect him like his competitors.

Plus, if he was so bad, why would everyone in ad tech work with him? He counts 30 ad tech and header bidding partners and works with account reps at all the major platforms he buys traffic from. (Ad tech supporting shady players has definitely never happened before.)

While buying traffic has become verboten because it’s an easy way to bring fraud onto a publisher’s site, Tolles says he generally sees clean traffic when he spends a reasonable amount of money to acquire traffic. And Facebook’s traffic is the most human of them all.

Tolles says buying traffic is the way of the future. “My main thesis is that organic traffic is dead. Facebook and other sites are taking away the ability for organic traffic to work at all.”

And Tolles knows a thing or two about traffic going away. Topix has been around since 2004. It started as a local news aggregator. Three newspaper companies – Gannett, Tribune and Knight Ridder – took a 75% stake in the company at a $60 million valuation back in 2005. But by 2014, Topix was in trouble. It relied on organic search to drive traffic to the site. And that didn’t work anymore.

So it took a look at tech it developed for a failed political site created an election ago in 2012, Politix, and revamped it.


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Topix uses a content trading desk that’s integrated into its content management system. An editor can see where the falloff in a slideshow happens and adjust the article accordingly. And it’s easy to see which slideshows are breakout hits and should be promoted more via advertising, and which ones aren’t gaining traction.

Topix employs just 25 people, and Tolles said its revenue per employee approaches that of Google. With Tribune and Gannett now split up and Knight Ridder nonexistent, Tronc and Tegna hold the stake in Topix. Could it be that the owners want to sell the company – and he’s doing press to find a potential buyer? Tolles shrugs. But he’s open to such deals.

From Tolles’ point of view, he’s no different than BuzzFeed or Business Insider or Refinery29, all more respected publishers that rely on his time-tested revenue-driving format: the slideshow. And when everyone realizes that organic traffic is over, as he’s already concluded, using paid traffic to drive to content will be a game everyone needs to play. It’s how Tolles sees it.

“I’m doing something that works with the world that is, versus the world I want it to be,” Tolles said.

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