During the last election cycle, there was a big focus on fake news, and the prolific explosion of fake news sites. Stories run on these sites, often completely fictitious, were shared literally millions of times around the world. Facebook and other social media sites tried to crack down on these “news” sites, but the sheer number of them made that nearly impossible.
Many would shut down under one name, and then reappear under another a day or so later. What was the point? Were these really propaganda machines for each side, designed to put negative news out there? Or was there another motive? What about legitimate news sites? How do they work, and how can the same principles be applied to other websites, so they profit as well?
There are two types of website traffic: organic traffic and direct traffic. Direct traffic comes from someone looking for a particular site, such as the New York Times. In their search bar or the web browser itself, they type the name of the publication or website, and often the search engine will take them directly there or the site they are looking for will be number one in the search engine results page (SERP).
Organic traffic comes from when someone is searching for a story or topic, and they type something like “The You Tube shooting” into the search engine. The resulting results will have a number of news sites who covered the story. Whoever ranks number one will get the bulk of the traffic from that search.
Those on the first page will get most of the rest. A story on the topic that is on the second page and beyond will usually get minimal traffic. The goal, then, of a news site is to rank on that first page for the topic searched for. They want to earn the most organic traffic.
These search results are why being first is so important. The site that “broke” the news first is usually listed first in the search results, at least for a while, until more authoritative sites take over. That initial traffic is key though, as the more original organic traffic the site gets, the more search engines validate that site as an authority. The higher its authority, the more organic traffic it will get, and so the cycle goes.
Thus “fake news” sites often “scooped” the other sites with their stories because in many cases those stories were fiction. Still, some were picked up by other more mainstream sites before their falsehood was discovered, primarily from the desire, or in some cases, need to rank in that top 20 websites reporting that story.
Why is this breaking news and organic traffic so critical?
Even if you have downloaded and enabled ad blockers on your browser, you will find that you still see an astonishing number of ads on the websites you view. This is because of how they are coded. The thing you need to know about these ads is that on a news site, they are the primary source of revenue. The more people that see and click on the ads, the more the site makes.
You may see two types of ads: Pay Per Click (PPC) ads and affiliate links. PPC ads pay the site every time a user clicks on them. Affiliate links pay when a user makes a purchase at the target website through that link. Either way, the site is making a bundle if only a small percentage of their readers click on an ad.
How Much Do Sites Make?
Many people remember the fake news story about the Hillary Clinton campaign killing an FBI agent that ran during the election cycle on a fake news site called the Denver Guardian. There is no such publication. NPR tracked down the owner of that site and other fake news sites and asked him some pointed questions.
Sites like the Guardian with a significant following and some stories that were shared literally millions of times on Facebook and other social media sites make between $10,000 and $30,000 a month from ads. It is no wonder that they kept popping up over and over. It also explains their motivation to scoop a story, be first, and get the most organic traffic possible.
Lessons to be Learned
So what can other sites learn from these sites that can help them monetize and be profitable? Here are some simple lessons learned.
- Choose a relevant and catchy domain name: Many of these sites sounded legit in their names and therefore got traffic. For your business, don’t fake it, but make your name memorable.
- Post News: So many blog posts are old and tired. Post something new, something that is newsworthy your readers will pay attention to. Also, look at what is trending. Often, jumping on the bandwagon is the way to get more traffic.
- Post Often: How many articles do news sites post per day? Between 10 and 20. Your business site will not do that many but do post often to keep your readers and customers coming back.
- Monetize Wisely: Yes, you want to focus on your products, but if you have a big following, capitalize on ad revenue. You can add a great deal of income to your site this way, as long as you don’t overdo it and break the trust of your readers.
Heeding these lessons will earn you the kind of organic traffic the larger sites get, increase your authority and your conversion rates, and help you make more money from your site.
Maybe you are not a journalist, and you don’t want to start a news blog. However, you want your business blog to be profitable and result in new customers. The way to best do that is to follow the example of the news sites, and use these principles to increase search rankings, increase organic traffic, and increase conversions and ad revenue at the same time.