Mequoda Method for the win
This is a cautionary tale about online publishing strategies … a parable, if you will. It involves no actual Biblical references, and no real-life publishers were harmed in the writing of this post.
But like religion, there are many varieties of online publishing strategies. And the point of this parable is that they rarely mix together to create a cohesive whole.
Once upon a time at a gardening publishing company far, far away, there was a publisher named Rose. Many of you “know” Rose: She is the embodiment of all our clients whose “example” we use as a teaching tool without revealing real publishers’ names or data.
Using Rose and her company in this parable allows me to tell this entirely true story, in which I have changed all the names to protect both the innocent and the guilty.
And so Rose hired Mequoda to help bring her company into the 21st century and the digital age. She knew she needed help with modern online publishing, and felt that the Mequoda team was the right fit.
Download a FREE copy of 7 Ways to Monetize your Portal Audience, and discover how today's top publishers are generating revenue through memberships, events, clubs, sponsorships, and more.
As an astute publisher, Rose did all the things Mequoda recommended right up front: She restaffed, reorganized, and refocused her business in compliance with the CAROTME package of components Mequoda developed for her. As part of this process, Rose hired a very bright marketing officer as her digital marketing manager.
This new digital marketing manager, who we’ll call Zachary, was experienced and ambitious, and had great faith in his own intelligence. There were parts of the Mequoda Method that Zachary approved of … and others he didn’t.
Over the next two years, the Mequoda team spent a lot of time discussing with Zachary and Rose the many Mequoda Best Practices and strategies Zachary ignored, leading to the company’s failure to meet the goals Mequoda had established. We urged Zachary to at least test the Best Practices he was ignoring, but he refused, preferring to cherry pick the practices and methodologies he liked best.
At a board meeting 24 months into the company’s transformation, Zachary declared victory, announcing that there were now 150,000 subscribers to the company’s free email newsletter, Gardening Daily, and that each subscriber was spending an average of $5. Zachary declared that his custom version of a Mequoda system had reached maturity at $750,000 in annual revenues.
The Mequoda team firmly believed there was still plenty of potential to grow the Gardens Daily subscriber list, and even to increase revenue per subscriber. And luckily, Zachary decided to depart his personal field of victory at that time, leaving Rose to hire a new marketing director.
This time, Rose gave her new hire, Albert, responsibility for not just digital marketing but for all legacy programs as well. And because he was less experienced at digital marketing, Albert promptly hired an experienced digital marketer named Victoria. (I told you there were no Biblical references in this parable. Here at Mequoda, Downton Abbey and English history are all the rage.)
The Mequoda team leaped into the fray to teach the Mequoda Method to Albert and Victoria and retrain the entire staff to Mequoda requirements. Albert and Victoria, with Rose’s support, decided to execute the Mequoda Method to the letter.
The result: Growth began to accelerate almost instantly.
Starting from that point of 150,000 subscribers with $5 in revenue per subscriber, the growth went like this:
Year 1: Subscribers doubled to 300,000. Revenue per subscriber leaped to $7, for a total of $2.1 million in annual revenues.
Year 2: Subscribers rose to 400,000. Revenue per subscriber hit $9, for a total of $3.6 million in annual revenues.
Year 3: Subscribers reached 450,000. Revenue per subscriber reached $10, for a total of $4.5 million … six times the figure that Zachary had considered his victory.
Specific Mequoda tools behind this online publishing success story
What, exactly, did Victoria and Albert do that Zachary had failed to do? Which tools in the Mequoda toolbox accomplished this dramatic growth? Actually, there were dozens of changes to the operation of Rose’s company. But here are the three most critical.
Creating incentive-based zone conversion architecture
If you’re familiar with the Mequoda Method, you know our clients have their systems divided into topical zones, each with a closely-aligned free report which is offered in exchange for an email address, thus building the subscriber list faster. Zachary rejected this strategy, and visitors to the Gardens Daily portal were asked to subscribe with no incentive.
Victoria and Albert created 24 free reports on different flowers, and visitors who arrived at the site on a search related to, say, orchids, were always offered the orchid report as a subscription incentive. All zones had a tightly aligned report, designed to appeal to the individual visitor.
In addition to rapidly increasing the email file, this strategy boosted the email capture rate from 1.5% to 6%. It also generated thousands of backlinks, which dramatically increased the website’s Google Visibility Index, from 10% to 20% over the first year.
Driving up the monetization metric
While Victoria focused largely on zone alignment, Albert initiated two changes that dramatically increased revenue per subscriber. First, he implemented a carefully designed editorial calendar which matched Gardens Daily content to promotions of the legacy magazine, books, and video content. Second, he launched a program of continuous improvement to those products so that each one that sold best in that 12-week period was used to guide the development of new books and videos.
These changes increased the desirability and appeal of the paid products, leading to the immense increase in revenue per subscriber noted above.
Adding new advertising inventory
Meanwhile, Rose, seeing a new opportunity in her ever-growing email file, launched a weekly newsletter called Gardens Extra, in which she partnered with major gardening supply companies to profile one of their products and offer her members a significant discount to buy that product.
As a win-win for both subscribers and advertisers, the program was so successful that within nine months it had doubled frequency to twice a week, and the program remains sold out to this day.
The moral of the story
If you, too, burn to prove your own expertise by challenging Mequoda’s time-tested, highly evolved Best Practices, have at it. Our clients with the most success do it all the time – but they test everything to make sure their ideas work, and never invent brand new Best Practices out of whole cloth.
Indeed, there’s always room for innovation with a Mequoda system. We update our Best Practices continually, based on new data from our clients. (Just ask our noble systems directors, who oversee the implementation of those Best Practices for our new clients, about that …)
But remember this: While gut feelings and intuition are splendid ways to come up with test ideas, they’re poor strategies for evaluating them. After all, it’s science, not magic. The Mequoda Method is the product of two decades of scientific method applied to the fine art of online publishing across hundreds of brands.
I hope this parable makes as much sense to you as it did to Rose. A 6X increase in annual revenues in just three years will do that to a person! And if you have any shiny new ideas you’ve tested, and want to share data, let us know in the comments. We love geniuses, especially when they come bearing proof.