Eat your vegetables, read Kiplinger
Old-school finance brand Kiplinger has found new-school popularity with content geared toward Millennials. The site has seen a 50-60 percent year-over-year increase in traffic since last fall, according to director of new media Doug Harbrecht.
The site growth is being driven by a mix of new content, syndication and search engine optimization. Growing engagement with the brand among Kiplinger’s core Baby Boomer audience is also helping to expand the site’s reach as those aging boomers share personal finance advice (and links) with their college-age and young adult kids.
“You can almost hear what the older parents are writing in their e-mails: 'Dear Johnnie/Janie, I just saw this on Kiplinger.com. Read it. It's good for you and your future.',” Harbrecht (right) says.
Kiplinger doesn't just leave it up to parents to grow the brand among younger audiences, however. It’s also developing unique content geared toward the Millennials, such as the Starting Out column, which has become one of the most popular features on the site. The annual Best College Values rankings led to a big spike in traffic in January with Kiplinger’s new rankings for Public Colleges. And a Raising Money-Smart Kids regular column and special report written by Kiplinger's Personal Finance editor Janet Bodnar is also a hit, says Harbrecht.
Keeping the conversation going – with content
Harbrecht also attributes the recent traffic growth to a better understanding and acceptance of the changing media landscape. Like other digital media executives, he sees Twitter and other social media channels as key to keeping the conversation going with the next generation of professionals and investors.
“We [tweet] as a website, and individual writers and editors also [tweet]. We have a Kiplinger Facebook page, and we work regularly with Digg, Reddit and other social networking sites through our business development team to feature interesting and thought-provoking content,” he says.
It’s the timely, must-have content, targeted not just at Kiplinger's demographic sweet spot of affluent Baby Boomers but also their up-and-coming kids, which remains the not-so-secret recipe for success.
“Content is still king,” Harbrecht says. “Come December and especially January, people start thinking about their taxes. And we have a treasure trove of tax advice that we update annually. We updated earlier than ever in 2009 to try to catch the wave of interest we've seen in years past.”
He gives as an example an article about the most overlooked tax deductions, written by editorial director Kevin McCormally, a well-known tax journalist. “This has been the single most popular feature by far for the last two months,” he says.
Great online content is powerless without good SEO practices—something all too often overlooked, probably because good methods can be tedious. Harbrecht maintains that Kiplinger.com has worked diligently on search optimization, yielding a five percent YoY uptick in search traffic.
Encourage engagement, content sharing
The website's traffic also gets a boost from portal partners linking to Kiplinger.com's trusted content—such as McCormally's—to serve their own audiences, a syndication strategy encouraged by the publisher's business development team. “We're also developing special reports with CNBC as a partner, and sharing content,” Harbrecht says.
Another big factor for the traffic boost is growing audience engagement via Kiplingers' personal finance writers and editors, who are now actively answering questions from readers. In January, Kiplinger.com allowed financial planners to answer audience questions for free in Jump Start Your Retirement, all of which has led to a significant increase in reader questions and engagement, according to Harbrecht.
As director of new media, Harbrecht reads and edits all reader comments submitted every day. “It can be tedious, but it helps me to understand what is on the minds of our audience, and how we can best serve them,” he says. “It's a soft metric. But I get helpful ideas out of the exercise for increasing reader engagement and growing our audience.”
In addition to reader question forums, Kiplinger.com is now developing and implementing interactive features such as quizzes, slide shows, videos and podcasts.
The content also has a newly redesigned home. Nine months in the making, the redesigned Kiplinger.com is crisper and cleaner, according to Harbrecht. It includes more home page content and easier navigation through the channel drop-downs and at the top-of-page navigation tabs.
“I wish I could say it's been a significant driver of increased traffic, but actually it's been more of a catalyst, enabling users to find what they need at a faster rate,” he says.
A shifting revenue model?
Kiplinger’s primary online revenue driver is advertising – which means the business suffered from the soft ad market in 2009.
“No sugar-coating it, 2009 was a rough year, for everybody, including us,” says Harbrecht. “For the first time ever, we saw a drop in online ad revenues that started in January 2009 and bottomed out in July and August.”
But online ad sales snapped back “briskly” in the fourth quarter, with revenues up 25 percent in December 2009 over December 2008 – the site’s best December ever.
The sales team has been focused on selling integrated packages, which have become “essential for survival,” says Harbrecht. “For readers as well as advertisers, it's all about clever packaging of content across platforms—creating high value,” he says. “The days of a print silo and an online silo are over. Everyone sells online.”
To augment its ad revenues, Harbrecht says Kiplinger is looking closely at paid models built around “what makes our company unique, essential: trusted, fiercely independent advice that people may not necessarily need every day, but which will be very important to them at some point during the year or during their lives.”
He acknowledges that successful pay models for media sites are few and far between. “The fact is, virtually all the efforts to charge for content online have failed—except the Wall Street Journal and Consumer Reports,” he says. “I think the past provides only a limited prologue for the future of successful online business models.
“How much can we charge? How much additional value can we offer and for how much? We don't know yet. But we'll figure it out.”