Thanks to new readers and donations pouring in, Mother Jones enjoyed a boost in web traffic and digital revenue last quarter. The independent, progressive news outlet announced that unique visitors to its website increased 125 percent in the second quarter compared with the same period last year.
In the month of June, MotherJones.com generated 1.3 million unique visitors, which it said was the highest in the site's history.
The number of returning visitors was up slightly in the first quarter compared to the second quarter of last year — amounting to double the number of return visitors compared to a year ago, according to Elizabeth Gettelman, managing editor at Mother Jones. In the second quarter, nearly 10 percent of unique visitors (or about a half million) returned at least once and 4 percent visited at least three times.
Social media has been a nice boon for Mother Jones, which last quarter got almost 10 percent of its traffic from sites such as Twitter and Facebook and another 20 percent from aggregator sites such as The Huffington Post, Digg and StumbleUpon.com, according to Gettelman.
In fact, traffic from social media sites for the quarter also rose nearly sevenfold, by 676 percent, over the same period last year.
Gettelman said they've dedicated more staff resources to social media, including a full-time person dedicated to it. Like in many editorial operations, social media has become a staff requirement alongside the reporting and editing. “Everyone has social media as part of their job,” she said.
The site's traffic increase doesn't reflect mobile results, which brought in about 377,000 pageviews. When factored in, mobile accounted for 5 percent of second quarter traffic, according to Gettleman. Mother Jones has been exploring new mobile technology but doesn't yet have any dedicated mobile apps, she said. The website is optimized for mobile browsers and the magazine can be downloaded via Zinio.
While about 60 percent of the publisher's online revenue comes from advertising, non-profit-owned Mother Jones relies on a sizable chunk of revenue from donations — and more readers translates to more prospective donors. The site features a “tip jar” at the end of stories so that readers who like what they read can donate directly.
Thanks to a 339 percent increase in donations last quarter, the site reported 61 percent growth in total digital revenue.
Gettelman said the increasing traffic was mostly “content driven” but also aided by technical improvements, such as the site's upgrade to a new Drupal content management system, making the site faster and more search-friendly.
In addition, the publication has continued to try out more “entry points” for readers, she said. The magazine caters to a niche audience, but Gettelman said they've tried to take a diverse approach to recruit new readers while still cultivating current ones.
“It’s certainly challenging and we, along with everyone else, are doing a lot of trial and error and really just pushing on every front,” Gettelman said.
For instance, the site features three newsletters, which have aided traffic and attracted more advertiser interest, she said. There's also been a steady push to go beyond print to provide daily investigative content.
“The quality and frequency of our content has steadily been rising,” Gettelman said. She mentioned Mother Jones' investigative coverage of the BP oil spill, as well as contributions from the publication's eight-person Washington bureau, which covers ongoing political battles. In addition, the site is experimenting with more types of content, including slideshows and other interactive features.
Mother Jones has been a bimonthly magazine for 35 years (currently with 210,000 paid subscribers), but, like many publications, it is evolving well beyond the print product. “As the media landscape evolves, we’re a 24/7 news outlet,” Gettleman said. Other longtime magazines such as The Atlantic, which also recently reported improved traffic and revenue numbers, have made similar efforts to provide daily content.
The idea is to portray "Mother Jones as an investigative vehicle, not as a print magazine that people have known decades ago.” Gettelman said.
In other editorial efforts, the publication has partnered on a project called the Climate Desk, a collaboration among several news outlets, including The Atlantic, Wired and Slate. The news outlets share content and stories via the Climate Desk hub, which looks like this:
“The sum of different news outlets can take coverage to a level that none of us can do on their own,” Gettelman said.