How One Publisher Increased Traffic 114% This Year with Free Content

As recently as 6 months ago, Mother Earth News had a website with very little original content. Most of their website content was derived from 38 years of Mother Earth News magazine content. Now, their website has “original content galore” says John Rockhold, Managing Editor of the Mother Earth News brand.

That’s easy to see from their MotherEarthNews.com Compete rating, which shows unique visitors up by 114% from last year.

What’s for free at MotherEarthNews.com? Everything.

Mother Earth News is not over-protective of their content like many publishers, they put everything on the website. “It would be a rare case for us to not put an article from the magazine onto the website,” Rockhold told us. “All 38 years of Mother Earth News is available for free on our website; every time we put out a new issue, all of those articles go up as well.”

Even more, the schedule at Mother Earth News means having magazine articles live on the site a couple days before the issue even ships from the printer to subscribers. So theoretically, by the time a subscriber gets his copy in the mail, the articles from that issue are already live on the website.

Everything at Mother Earth News starts with an idea, rather than a story.

“We think of an idea first, like energy-efficient lighting or solar power, and then we start asking ourselves how to best present that idea in a magazine article, in a blog or in a video. We think of the idea first, then we think of how to convey it to the various mediums that we have,” Rockhold told us.

Thinking has changed since the early days of online publishing, Rockhold explains, “when you go to produce a piece of content, it’s no longer just for a magazine”. For Mother Earth News, every piece of content that is created for the Mother Earth News magazine is also created for the website in the form of articles and blogs, then relayed into videos, forums, photo galleries and other online mediums.

So how do you organize such a broad approach like this? Mother Earth News does not organize it’s company by online and offline, it’s a team effort. “Nobody works just on the magazine or just on the website, everyone has their feet in both pools. Infact, we don’t really hire magazine editors anymore, we hire content editors. You might be working 70% on the magazine and 30% on the website, or it might be vice versa,” Rockhold tells us.

Mother Earth News has five primary topics: conserving/alternative energy, healthy eating, how-to’s, gardening, and preserving planet earth. Each topic has a lead editor, and this lead editor is in charge of:

  • the topic page on the website
  • choosing which articles are spotlighted in the email newsletter
  • blogging on the topic
  • putting together eBooks on the topic

“Everyone contributes in many ways, we have so much that we want to do that it takes a whole team effort,” Rockhold said.

How does Mother Earth News repurpose content?

MotherEarthNews.com offers several mediums for their users. Right now, they’re working on increasing videos. They’ve taken the “reality TV” approach and made the videos based on their own experience relating to one of their categories. The videos are usually spin-off’s of articles and are done amongst the staff. “There’s a solar power video of when my Editor-in-Chief had solar panels installed on her barn roof; we shot that and put together a quick video of it. We also have a video up right now about how we changed out the lighting in our building to use more efficient lightbulbs and also sun tubes to get more natural light in here”, Rockhold told us.

They also have five email newsletters that they say causes a surge in traffic whenever they send one. Every newsletter is bi-weekly, but 98% of subscribers choose to get all 5 newsletters. A subscriber subscribed to all will see three newsletters one week and two newsletters the next.

Publisher Bryan Welch authors a personal blog named Rancho Cappuccino that Rockhold told us has always seen steady traffic and interaction via comments. However, there are five new blogs on the site that are branded based on the primary topics. These blogs are written by the topic Managing Editors as well as anyone else on staff, including interns. “The strategy is that they’re quick and succinct useful information. The blog paradigm allows us to share things that are important to us with the readers without having a long formal article.”

Mother Earth News also publishes eBooks. Their eBooks are collections of articles that are conveniently packaged together and sold. “We will modify them a little bit to take them from one article in a magazine format to a collective book format to plug it together seamlessly. But those eBooks are for the most part just repurposed articles from the magazine.

Community integration is a key strategy for Mother Earth News

Community integration has done very well for Mother Earth News. Since implementing the blogs as well as a photo-sharing community and forums six months ago (as well as increasing original content like we mentioned earlier), their traffic has gone way up.

“There’s not an article, blog or Q&A the user can’t comment on,” Rockhold told us. The Editorial Advisory Group has also been very successful for them. This is an email newsletter where users can sign up for surveys and can vote on covers or article ideas. “That has been very successful for us because it has allowed us to communicate with our readers in ways that were never possibly before. We really want lots of community involvement on the website between readers and editors and we have a handful of ways to pull it off and we’re always looking for more.”

“It’s hard to find an idea that you can’t do something with online,” Rockhold told us. “If you get the right tools in place, those extra things don’t have to be a lot of work. You not only think about what’s the best way to package that idea, that content for the various formats, you also think about that if this article exists in the magazine, how you can enrich it to the website? So as an example like backyard honey production, aka raising honeybees, the magazine is a how-to article. You ask at the end of that article: “Do you raise honeybees? We want to hear your stories, tips trick. Post comments on this article, share your photos, or discuss it on the forums.”

“If it takes off, you have a lot of traffic to the article and a lot of new content added to the site”, Rockhold told us. “There are several ways that you can take an article that was just for the magazine (in terms of the original plan) and give it a whole new life, and really, just let it take off online. People can now engage with it on a whole new level.”

“I like to think that Mother Earth News as a brand and that brand exists across every different media,” Rockhold said. “Mother Earth News Magazine, MotherEarthNews.com, then who knows, Mother Earth News TV, Mother Earth News Radio. But each time, instead of trying to take the magazine and put it on the website like we did years ago, like the model when the Internet first happened, Mother Earth News is it’s own unique entity. What kind of attention should it have for its unique format? That’s where you get blogs, eBooks, photo sharing, etc.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

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