It’s an exciting journey to have a project going. Maybe it’s a side passion, maybe it’s a desire to do something for others, maybe it’s a business blossoming… when it gets online it always reaches a point where one has to face the question “how do I get more people interested in what I do?” and this is just a short web search away from “how do I get more page views”.
I personally faced this question multiple time, not just for the companies and the projects I worked on, but also for my own personal site, Intense Minimalism. Depending on how large is the business the resources can be plenty… or very few: what about someone just starting?
In Automattic we run often empathy challenges: we give ourselves tasks to try thinks first hand from the perspective of users. The idea of these challenges is to supplement other research efforts with something different, and first hand.
This time it was about these one-person businesses or individual projects: how many page views can $20 drive on a single article? — mind: for a lot of people this can be already a lot of money, think not just income differences but also age differences, place differences (city vs rural areas) and beyond that, entire countries with different economies.
Two questions that I got given the task above were:
- Why page views instead of X?
Because even if it’s not the correct end goal, it’s both what people that are starting with are considering at first (not everyone is an expert!), and it’s a very simple thing to measure in a contained test as this one.
- Why an article instead of X?
Because it’s very common for campaigns to target specific pages. Imagine a business trying to sell a specific product, or to advertise the next event they are running. It’s very likely the thing they want to show it’s in a sub-page.
The post I selected to promote is “Designing Your Remote Office” by Brie Anne Demkiw. The reason I picked this one is because remote work is not just what Automattic does well, but it’s a topic I’ve been advocating a lot recently, and I thought it was a topic I would have been more easily able to work with.
Discovery: what money can buy
In the past
The small-scale researches I’ve done in the past were already able to give me some interesting indications for something similar to driving views to a design post like the one I’ve selected above.
My Twitter account has roughly 4k followers, which is way beyond someone starting would have, yet it provides some interesting numbers. For example, it has a 1.0-3.5% engagement rate on average, and about 40k impressions per month. Notably engagement here means however “any interaction in Twitter”, so actual clicks on links are probably lower than that. A normal tweet without retweets gets on average 400 views, which if retweeted 10 times it can go in the range of 4,000 views.
Trying to come up with some guidance: 4,000 followers get 400 views which get 10 clicks on links. An account just starting with less than 100 followers? Probably one click? It seems not a great starting solution before it reaches some sizable number.
On Facebook I ran some tests using their promoted content campaigns. One in 2015 and one in 2017, spending about $20 each. This tool allows for high segmentation of the audience along many criteria, so each of the campaigns was focused on what I thought could have been the ideal audience. Here the results:
- 1,526 impressions, 11 clicks, cost per click $1.47 — 0.7% conversions (2017)
- 22,396 impressions, 153 clicks, cost per click $0.06 — 0.7% conversions (2015)
There are good reflection here, even with this tiny sample. The conversion rate was very close, but the reach was radically different. This was likely to a different set of criteria for selecting the audience as the first one was narrow on London only, but it’s interesting because highlight how the same $20 can lead to radically different outcomes.
I also ran a test on Medium in the past, with the same article shared on my blog and on Medium. I appreciate Medium’s ability to tell me how much of the article people read, as that’s usually my intent when I write, however in terms of views the test I ran had Medium and my own site comparable: the only difference happened when I shared content on other social media.
I also have just started a newsletter. The numbers are still small, but so far it’s the most effective one, as its conversion rate is around 4%. Probably because the people that signed up were more motivated and aligned with what I write, compared to just clicking “Follow” on Twitter or Facebook?
I also from time to time create entirely new accounts from scratch on various social media and I try to push them for a while to see how hard it is to start from zero instead than from my existing social network and I assure you, it’s incredibly hard. Growing these means creating a new network of known people… or investing a lot in advertising.
As this is something I’ve gave a lot of thought already, I was wondering what else I could be trying given the challenge. So I reached out to a few friends of mine. Specifically, I asked two great professionals I know with a background in both marketing and web advertising to see their expert perspective, as well as a successful one-person business I know directly, and a volunteer for a non profit foundation. These were all short interviews or short exchanges, and I got the following bits of information — take these not as absolute truths but from their unique perspectives:
- Both the experts in advertising that the budget is too little to use any of the main advertising networks efficiently and that Facebook is probably one of the best choices.
- Twitters is cheaper than Facebook in absolute terms, but the performance is also lower.
- If using web ads, I should go for CPC (Cost Per Click) — but that might not be a choice for such a tiny budget.
- GDN (Google Display Network) is probably the best choice, otherwise Outbrain.
- It takes time (years) to grow some form of audience.
- Using network more specific for the audience could be a better idea, even if might take more time.
- Sharing on social media drives directly the sales for certain products, almost to a degree of all-of-nothing.
- After some time there’s more and more organic traffic coming from search engines (Google mainly) and the need to be constantly pushing on social media is less – but still very important.
- With $20 you could get 10 page views if you’re lucky and you get the target right.
Yikes. Given I was looking into display ads on the web, I looked also into average budget to see how the tiny $20 compared and here’s an answer:
“The industry average settles between $200 to $350 per day.”
Granted, it’s average and the distribution is a bell curve, but it’s still 10x the budget we’re working on here… for each day.
Also checking the average cost per click, we find:
“The average CPC across all industries is $2.32 for search ads, and $0.58 for display ads.”
— Hubspot (2016).
I also analyzed some of the tweets that “went viral”. Most of them are from people already popular — and the amount of share seems proportional, even if I haven’t analyzed this — while the occasional viral tweet of someone with very few followers usually doesn’t convert in much follower gains. Let’s see a few example (examples taken from here):
- 6k RT, 19k likes → 500 followers (source)
- 12k RT, 37k likes → 2k followers (source)
- 27k RT, 131k likes → 1k followers (source)
- 83k RT, 316k likes → 5k followers (source)
- 123k RT, 154K likes → 5k followers (source)
We don’t know how many impressions the above had, but we can easily imagine it’s at least 10x the number of likes. Which means that even if the total of their followers was acquired with that viral message, we would be below 1% conversion.
Digital seems tough for $20. What about… going old style? I checked prices for distributing leaflets in mailboxes. Physical mailboxes. Assuming I have already the leaflets ready.
- Royal Mail has a minimum of £500+VAT to reach 8,000 households (source).
- Mr Flyer has a minimum of £59+VAT to reach 1,000 households (source).
Even if feasible, it would still be far above budget, and with a question mark on the conversion rates.
Hypothesis: the plan for views
For such amount of money the ideas were thus very few. The advice seemed to be more in terms of putting effort in growing an audience over time more than trying to get short term page views — an approach which requires different strategies than the ones outline above and I considered them off scope for the challenge.
Regardless, the goal is to drive page views for “Designing Your Remote Office” with a set budget. Which means that at least I could leverage my own networks as the audience is the same as mine:
- My Facebook account
- My Twitter account
- My Linkedin account
- My Newsletter
With these I would thing to be able to drive in a worst case scenario about 100 views, in the best case scenario sky is the limit as retweets and shares can multiply the outcome, but I would find it unlikely. A realistic scenario is probably around 200 views.
Then, I have to allocate the $20. It’s hard, especially because I can’t avoid thinking beyond the pure page views, and so I’m also trying to optimize for a match between the audience and the context.
I looked into Outbrain but it doesn’t even have an option other than contacting their sales team, which makes me think they are aiming for bigger business.
I looked in Google Display Network and a simple ads campaign requires a daily budget and to set a CPC. Running for such a small sum might not drive anything relevant, but maybe it’s still worth a try.
The impression I keep having is that there’s no much choice for someone that is “just starting” than the work of creating an audience of people directly interested.