Engadget Uses Quality To Unlock Reader Growth

Engadget-2To grow its readership, Engadget focused on quality and relevance.

The tactic – simple to imagine but hard to execute – has paid off: The AOL-owned site posted 13.6 million unique visitors in January during the Consumer Electronics Show, according to comScore. That’s its highest-traffic month ever and nearly double the number of visitors compared to two years ago. Between March 2014 and March 2016, traffic grew from 6.8 million to 12.9 million uniques.

Building that audience, however, has been years in the making. The decade-old hardware blog noticed its relevance slipping as people cared less and less about its latest Android updates. It turns out that readers were interested not only in hardware, but also software, other technology and the ways in which it affected their lives.

“We hadn’t taken a broader look at what tech means,” said Executive Editor Chris Trout, who, along with Editor-in-Chief Michael Gorman, expanded the publication’s reach since taking the helm a couple of years ago.

The duo made a laundry list of changes. They stopped aggregating news and reblogging others’ stories, focusing instead on creating quality content themselves. They also hired writers with diverse points of view. Previously, writers wrote in one voice and used “we” for reviews or commentary, which Trout and Gorman recognized as limiting and out of sync with today’s media climate.

“People want to connect to human beings, so we empowered our writers to shift to making [the writing] more human and to talk about the human experience,” Trout said.

To support its editorial changes, Engadget completed a redesign of its site in December, allowing its best stories to stick at the top of the page. Thousand-word in-depth articles receive more attention than quick write-ups.

Engadget’s new site design includes a module that highlights its growing selection of video content. In mid-2015, Engadget began hiring what’s now a team of four creating professional-looking video content. That’s a major upgrade from its early “quick and dirty” efforts where the team simply thrust cameras into the hands of writers, Gorman said. Video views grew 78% from Q1 2015 to Q1 2016.

But Engadget is cautious about pursing new formats or platforms.

“We are not going to produce video just because that’s where the ad dollars are at,” Trout said. “[With] everything we do we question why, and [we] do it because it makes sense for the medium.”

Though social media contributes a significant chunk of traffic, Engadget is most excited about the increasing percentage of users that come to the site directly, which it sees as a response to its quality reporting. Direct traffic grew 43% from Q1 2015 to Q1 2016, according to internal Omniture data.

“We started fixing what was broken at home first,” Trout said. “If we had stretched ourselves thin across platforms, we could not have delivered the right types of stories to the right types of people.”

Although Engadget does plan to turn some of its attention to content distribution, now that it has reimagined the site proper it insists another big change has not affected its editorial direction at all: Verizon, one of its longtime advertisers, bought AOL last year. The editors include this disclosure at the end of Verizon-related posts: “Engadget maintains full editorial control, and Verizon will have to pry it from our cold, dead hands.”

But Engadget does count on AOL corporate sales to monetize. Direct sales account for half of Engadget’s display advertising revenue, with the leading category computers and consumer electronics, according to data from Pathmatics, an ad intelligence platform.

The advertiser base is largely the same as before the editorial and site changes, but the ad formats are becoming more native, said Engadget GM Ned Desmond. Given that the site does product reviews, making a perception of being unbiased extra important, Engadget specifically created its own native disclosure rules.

“We are experimenting with ways to integrate long-term sponsors in our editorially produced video through show graphics and host mentions,” Desmond said, “while being careful to do that in a way that doesn’t obfuscate that it’s sponsored.”

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