Guideposts delivers inspiration – and traffic
Most publishers have had to address the issue of user-generated content as they move from print to digital platforms. Guideposts faced the opposite challenge: How to blend original online content with the user-submitted articles that have fueled its print magazine for the past 50 years?
Guideposts is a nonprofit, faith-based organization founded by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale and Ruth Stafford Peale in 1945. The print magazine, with a paid circulation of 2 million, consists primarily of articles submitted by readers. But those articles tend not to translate well to the online experience.
“Our [print] content was very long, so it wasn’t applicable to the Web,” says Philip Charles-Pierre, vice president of digital media, who joined Guideposts in January 2008 to build out the company’s digital business.
Not a niche
In addition to the content format, another major challenge when Charles-Pierre arrived was the site’s demographics.
“We don’t serve a niche audience, so we have a little trouble defining who we are,” he says. The subscriber base for the print magazine has traditionally been women in their mid-50s. “Online, we wanted to get both younger and broader, deepening existing relationships but also developing new relationships,” he explains.
To broaden the reach, the online team revamped the site’s main navigation to address seven “life stages”: successfully single, work & career, marriage, raising kids, empty nest, midlife and retirement. The online editorial team also began creating original content to supplement reader-submitted articles (which are edited for length and to make them applicable to a broader audience).
“They began creating shorter, snappier pieces for the Web that provide a similar feel or outcome, but do it in a shorter way,” says Charles-Pierre. Videos, photos and blogs added to the online experience.
Tapping into social media
Charles-Pierre also saw an opportunity to tap into social media channels to extend the reach of the site. The inspirational nature of the content made it a natural asset for readers to want to share. A Facebook account, now with more than 4,900 fans, has become one of the site’s top-referring URLs. A Twitter account has 985 followers. More than 500 inbound links point to the site, up from a dozen in 2008.
And the site’s traffic has blossomed, rising from 28,000 unique visitors to nearly 200,000 between July 2008 and 2009 – an increase of 865%. (The traffic bump landed Guideposts the first annual “Rocket” award from Mequoda Group honoring fast-growing websites.)
The challenge for Guideposts now is no different from any other digital publisher: Figuring out how to monetize that traffic. As part of a nonprofit organization, donations are a key element in Guideposts’ business model. The website also brings in some revenue from advertising and commerce (selling books and other products).
Attracting advertisers will continue to be a challenge, Charles-Pierre says, because of the broad nature of the site’s content and visitors, which is why the company is exploring options such as a membership program.
“We’re not focusing on one niche topic. The key for us is one, being inspiring, and two, being story-driven,” he says. “Our challenge is defining the value for that content in an authentic way.”