Internet Strategy Tip: How Forbes Uses Earned Media

Driving website traffic with syndicated content and organic search

Forbes Media executives can no doubt tell you the value of the average website visitor in advertising revenue per year, but they do not release these figures to outsiders.

Mequoda estimates Forbes.com Revenue per Average Visitor at $8.48 for 2006. Revenue per Average Visitor (RPAV) becomes the holy grail for how much an online publisher can spend to create one average monthly visitor.

Understanding how to acquire online visitors efficiently is a problem for online publishers, and many have not figured this out.

But Forbes.com has figured out how to acquire online visitors efficiently with an Internet strategy that relies heavily on using their content to earn free media coverage from other print, broadcast and online media.

Mequoda calls this Internet strategy “earned media,” since it can not be bought, but must be “earned” by providing valuable content to other media outlets at little or no cost to them.

This Internet strategy, when executed well, can build a strong online brand that generates millions in new revenues for its parent organization. Forbes.com is among the best examples we’ve documented of using earned media to build a massive online brand.

How does Forbes.com generate all those unique visitors?

Jim Spanfeller, president and CEO of Forbes.com, says that there are four major drivers of traffic to the site: earned media, organic search, brand preference and email newsletters.

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Earned media Internet strategy

The Forbes “syndication program,” includes partners all over the world whose use of Forbes content gains Forbes exposure on other sites, which encourages people to visit Forbes.com.

This includes larger media portals like Yahoo!, Forbes Radio and Forbes on Fox. This is Forbes’ largest source of visitors, and while none of these programs generate any significant revenue for the organization, they all generate website visitors for Forbes.com and build the Forbes brand.

Organic search Internet strategy

Google, Yahoo! and MSN generate the second largest number of visitors. There is so much information on the site that people looking for specific things in business often get a hit at Forbes.com. To maximize this source, Forbes.com started a specific search engine optimization (SEO) program in 2004, with excellent results.

Brand preference Internet strategy

The third major source of visitors is people who have set up Forbes as their home page, or have it on their “favorites” list or for other reasons go directly to the site, typing in Forbes.com. Clearly, Forbes magazine and other branded media programs are key to creating a media brand that people choose first for the business news.

Email newsletter Internet strategy

Forbes publishes a series of 37 free email newsletters on a variety of topics, available by subscribing at Forbes.com.

While Forbes email newsletters and Forbes Desktop Alerts are no longer a top source, Mr. Spanfeller notes that they were a “top three” source until 2005, and still drive 15 to 20 percent of the website’s traffic.

The success of Mr. Spanfeller’s efforts to diversify and grow his website traffic make him one of the few publishers we interviewed for whom email newsletters is not the largest source of website visitors.

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