We wrote earlier this year about some optimism-inspiring traffic gains over at Mother Jones: This February — long before Osama bin Laden’s death spiked traffic stats for many mags in MoJo’s league — the site saw a 420-percent increase in traffic from the previous year. And while the trendlines have settled down a bit from the February record-breaker, MoJo’s traffic is still, steadily, rising: Over the previous period last year, MotherJones.com’s traffic saw a 120-percent increase in unique visitors — to over 2 million a month — as well as a 100-percent increase in overall visits (over 3 million a month). The site also saw an 85-percent increase in pageviews: It now averages 5.5 million a month.
But there’s another bit of news to add: MoJo’s digital ad sales are also up — 97 percent.
Steve Katz, Mother Jones’ publisher, attributes that in large part to plain-old, straight-up good content: content that got traction, content that got attention. During the time of the traffic rise, MoJo sent reporters to the oil-spill destruction in the Gulf; to the protests* in Wisconsin; to Haiti. It produced a series of popular explainers. Infographics from Kevin Drum’s big story on inequality in America got picked up by huge outlets like Yahoo News and — the holy grail — The Colbert Report. “So there was a whole series of reporting efforts that were going on that were generating more traffic for us,” Katz says. And what resulted was “a wonderful virtuous circle.”
And once those stories were out there, getting their Colbert Bump — once, that is to say, they began bringing big numbers of readers to MotherJones.com — “we were in a position, as they say, to monetize the traffic,” Katz says. “We could sell ads against it, we could raise funds against it. And it worked.”
On the face of it, of course, that’s the simplest revenue strategy in the world: Good content brings good audience brings good ad buys. But in most cases, of course, “good content = good business” isn’t a strategy so much as a hope. (As Jeff Jarvis likes to point out, “‘Should’ is not a business model.”) So it’s worth considering why, exactly, the model seems to be working for Mother Jones.
And one reason — which is a reason also given by MoJo’s fellow ad-sales success story, Talking Points Memo — is that Mother Jones has deeply invested in its digital ad sales effort. Advertising, it’s worth noting, isn’t the dominant source of revenue for Mother Jones — it comprises less than 10 percent at last count — and MoJo stands out, in fact, “in its time-tested ability to pull revenue from all kinds of sources,” Jim Barnett has pointed out. Still, though, MoJo has made ad sales a priority. The outfit has two sales reps, one in San Francisco and the other in New York — and, Katz told me, it’s bringing on a third: someone based in Washington, who will focus on ad-sales opportunities within the political/non-profit/advocacy/policy worlds. Which is an idea that takes on extra urgency, and that makes extra sense, as the 2012 election cycle heats up.
“We are very interested, and have been for some time, in having not-for-profit organizations, advocacy groups, policy shops, and party organizations advertise on MotherJones.com,” Katz says. A whopping 75 percent of MoJo readers have voted in federal, state, and local elections, the mag notes in its media kit; and 80 percent of them — based on a reader survey — trust brands that advertise on MotherJones.com. Those facts, combined with MoJo’s traffic and engagement stats, can make for a powerful pitch. Compared with, say, TPM, “we have a more challenging environment that we’re working in,” Katz says. “We’re not focused specifically on D.C. influentials. We have a broader, grass-tops readership.”
But the challenge in that can also bring a kind of freedom. “We have a pretty wide variety of advertising on our site,” Katz points out. “We’ll pretty much go anywhere.”
*Ann, in the comments, makes a good point: “Protests” is a much more accurate term than “riots” for what took place in Wisconsin earlier this year. I changed the post’s wording here accordingly. —Megan