The Daily Dot: A Peek Under The Hood Of A New Media Publication

Daily DotIn three years, Daily Dot, an online publication focusing on Internet-related issues, has grown from zero to 10 million monthly unique visitors.

The site’s monthly uniques are up 3.5 times year over year, growth the site says outpaces the third year of Gawker, BuzzFeed and Thought Catalog. If you ask CEO Nick White and CTO Zach Richardson why, they’ll have the same answer: editorial.

Behind every page, however, is the kind of technical prowess that seems to be second nature to digital native publications.

Daily Dot’s skyrocketing traffic puts in the company of other fast-growing websites like BuzzFeed and Upworthy, though still has just a fraction of those sites’ monthly traffic. White and Richardson want to increase its traffic through old-fashioned journalism, and are quick to distinguish Daily Dot from “paper-clip solutions” in the marketplace that aggregate instead of sending reporters out in the field.

Daily’s Dot aims for depth. Where one publication aggregates tweets on a trending hashtag, like #FeministsAreUgly, Daily Dot aims to get to the source. While other publications assumed that particular hashtag was created by Internet trolls, the Daily Dot’s editorial team figured out it was created by two feminists.

Finding Audiences

“Every single piece of content has own perfect audience, and our job is to connect that story with that perfect audience,” White said. “Then we want to engage and re-engage them.”

One way is through traffic acquisition, either through social networks like Facebook and Twitter or content recommendation engines Taboola and Outbrain.

Daily Dot is focused on Facebook, which is where the site’s audience is. “We do extremely aggressive optimization of Facebook advertising campaigns” focused not on driving traffic to an individual article, but on gaining subscribers who will then organically receive content in their news feeds, Richardson said.

“Facebook is cost-effective because it has an algorithm that takes into account effectiveness of content. To some extent, Facebook is doing the work for us in finding the right content for the right people,” White said. Twitter offers a firehose of information, he said, while Facebook curates what content people see, leading to higher performance.

Richardson said Daily Dot has tested 20 different content distribution platforms. Recommendation engines like Taboola and Outbrain work, and often have a cheaper cost per visitor, but those visitors don’t necessarily come back. On Facebook and Twitter, Daily Dot can focus on getting “likes” on their Facebook page or Twitter followers, which create loyal consumers of content.

“We’re more likely to get repeat visits if we’re using social networks,” Richardson said.

The site also runs retargeting campaigns with display ads to help build Daily Dot brand. “We think people will hit a site with something that got shared with them, read a single article, and leave – but they don’t remember what site they were on when they read that thing,” Richardson said. “We use display messaging to make viewers more familiar with Daily Dot.”

Finding Fraudsters

Because Daily Dot paid to amplify traffic on its site, it initially attracted fraudsters.

“At the very beginning, we worked with a couple of companies, and were going through everything with a fine-tooth comb,” Richardson said. “When, out of 1,000 people, 15% of them go to the ‘about’ page and the ‘jobs’ page, all your non-article pages, then they’re not real people. We quickly ended relationships with those companies.”

The team continues to monitor for traffic coming from old browsers, which are likely to be fraudulent, he said. Larger vendors are more reputable, he added.

“We haven’t seen any of these things with Facebook, Twitter, Outbrain or Taboola. Every voice matters, and fake people don’t have voices, which doesn’t help publishers and is not the type of company we are,” Richardson said. Might other publishers have let some of this fake traffic in? “Absolutely publishers know they are getting fake traffic and do it anyway.”

Finding Advertising Dollars

Daily Dot started out its advertising by developing relationships with “a few ad networks that have performed very well for us,” Richardson said. Now that the site has taken off, the site is moving into direct sales, including native placements.

“We think there’s a little bit of viral publisher fatigue, and we produce real journalism. That’s a key differentiator. Advertisers are excited that we have reach,” Richardson said. “Daily Dot wants to find advertisers that are looking to be associated with its content, not simply looking for a specific user. On Daily Dot, we have a fantastic audience that’s hard to reach authentically.”

Their audience skews young and is more engaged than average. According to Facebook Insights, the audience makes 33 comments for every seven made by an average Facebook user. “That same audience can be bought on exchanges on sites far less expensive than us,” Richardson said, part of a “devaluation of brand alignment” that has happened.

For Daily Dot, programmatic so far has been a remnant strategy, executed through Google’s DoubleClick Ad Exchange. Daily Dot has installed pipes to provide private exchanges, which it will do through Google’s AdMeld.

“We just made the switch. We’re still building out the strategy, the next goal is to work with DSPs and agency trading desks to access through AdMeld,” Richardson said.

Besides display advertising, the company is building out a native advertising program, like a series it did with Deep Eddy Vodka last year and again this fall. That original campaign did so well the brand asked Daily Dot to buy media on its behalf, which helped launch the Daily Dot Media Group.

“We think we’ve gotten pretty good at writing the kind of content that resonates with the Internet generation,” White said. “We want to help our clients to tell their stories to people, and leverage anything from media planning to display to native to allow us to tell that story for them.”

For both native and display posts, Daily Dot has found a welcome audience among agencies and brands. “We believe that large advertisers want to be involved in things that are cool, authentic, and reach the audience extremely well,” Richardson said, putting Daily Dot in the same category as brands like NPR and Vice.

Finding Video, Data

Daily Dot is moving hard into video.

“It’s important for us to try to push video out, and not just have it on site,” Richardson said. That means creating apps that can be accessed through gaming systems like Xbox and PlayStation, as well as smart TVs and mobile phones. Roku, Apple TV and Samsung TV are all video distribution systems on Daily Dot’s radar.

The site is also interested in building in-house technology that differentiates them from the competition. The New York Times has its own content management system, for example, while BuzzFeed has proprietary technology related to its content distribution and analytics.

For Daily Dot, that technology is centered around leveraging data. “We have metrics that clearly show how much we’re creating news, and not waiting for something to hit social media,” Richardson said. “If it’s hit social media, you’re behind the curve.”

The company is also enjoying its status as a disruptor.

“Traditional media has an ivory tower priesthood feel to it. We are the opposite, standing shoulder to shoulder with our audience. We are one of them, and I think that’s really different,” Richardson said. “The traditional media companies got it easy because they were monopolies. Those that are digital natives don’t have that luxury.”

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