Publishers: Learn How to Cultivate and Grow Your Side Door Traffic

Make sure the tremendous potential of your side door traffic is fully extracted by following these 4 tips.

VP Operations, Dynamic Yield

Content marketing strategy used to be based on the logic that a captivating front or homepage will entice visitors to continue consuming inner article page content. Therefore, marketing resources were channeled towards making the homepage as engaging and eye-catching as possible, leaving article pages relatively untouched.

Today however, for many publishers homepage traffic serves as merely a fraction of the overall source of traffic. Most of the traffic arriving at the publisher’s site is no longer arriving at or through the homepage, as channels such as search engines, social networks and email referrals have become the primary source of traffic, thus making the “side door” the new “front door” (source: Business Insider).

The continued growth of side door traffic presents monetization and engagement challenges for publishers. After all, enticing a viewer who actively sought to engage with a publisher’s brand to sign up to a newsletter or read further articles, is much easier than getting a side door user who may have simply been interested in a single article or video to continue to engage with the publisher’s content, let alone become a returning visitor by subscribing or signing up to a newsletter. The challenge is real- and it must be confronted.

To further aggravate this publisher “pain point”, a publisher may also face “dark social” traffic, meaning traffic arriving with no referral data and whom the publisher knows absolutely nothing about. Even if a publisher has an optimization strategy in place, it is extremely difficult to utilize if significant referral data is not provided, leaving the publisher baffled as to how to treat these mysterious visitors and how to keep them engaged.

Before I provide an incomprehensive list of tips for converting side-door traffic, let’s spell out the possible publisher goals for conversion of such traffic:

  1. Increased page views per session – Getting a side door visitor to consume an additional piece of content upon the particular visit.
  2. Newsletter signup – Increasing subscriptions and signups.
  3. Content social sharing – Improving recirculation and social engagement.
  4. Return visits – Whether through the homepage or the various “side doors”.

These goals are particularly hard to achieve because side door traffic visitors are inherently less interested in engaging with the publisher’s site beyond their brief visit on the page on which they’ve landed. It is therefore imperative to provide such traffic with web personalization to keep them engaged and likely to continue to view additional pages.

Following is a list of a number of ways to increase the “conversion” (defined as any of the goals above) of side door traffic. Please note that naturally, these tips do not all corresponded with the goals mentioned above and some may be more practicable to implement than others. However, at least some of the following tips should help publishers understand how to ensure that their precious side door traffic does not “get lost” and its tremendous potential is successfully extracted to the fullest.

4 Hacks to Reward Side-Door Traffic and Increase Conversion Rates

1. Recommend, recommend, recommend – we are all familiar with recommendation engines offering additional products for purchase on E-Commerce sites, as well as outbound traffic sources. However, an effective way to keep visitors engaged with a publisher’s content is rendering optimized recommendation widgets which aim to spark visitor interest and maintain engagement with the site. A side door visitor who receives recommended content, whether on a separate bar (web) or in an overlay (mobile), may become intrigued by the site’s contents and more likely to view additional pages and consume further content.

2. Behavioral exit intent messages side door traffic is often in the middle of doing something else (such as interacting on social media or browsing through emails) which leads the traffic away from the publisher’s content. The publisher’s challenge is effectively to at least delay the visitor’s exit, until a visitor is converted (additional page views, newsletter signup etc.). Using sophisticated behavioral targeting algorithms, publishers can serve personalized messages to visitors upon display of exit intent, such as moving the mouse cursor towards the browser’s address bar. Upon display of this behavior, an exit popup rendering recommended content or an inducement to sign up to a newsletter, may be an efficient way to keep visitors engaged prior to returning to their referral source.

3. Newsletter signups – newsletter signups are widely used and have been proven to be extremely effective engagement tools. It would be tempting to simply suggest nagging users with CTA’s to sign up to a publisher’s newsletter immediately upon arrival on the site. Why is this unlikely to help? Because users would become agitated with the constant attempts to disrupt their experience and will lose faith in the site.

A possible solution would be to try and spot the engaged users, such as those who arrived more than 3 times in the past 30 days to any element of the site (homepage or side pages) and serve them with a well-designed overlay or notification gently soliciting a signup. Alternatively, by properly analyzing the visitor’s first engagement with the site, a publisher can ascertain the engagement and interest of the visitor (such as visitors who spent 30 seconds on a page)- and if it is determined that an individual visitor is more engaged than the average side door visitor- call for a newsletter signup. In any event, make sure you’re CTA is non-intrusive, clear, simple to understand and follow- and your chances of getting visitors to sign up will increase significantly.

4. Calls to share – a visitor arriving from a social network is presumed to be socially engaged and it can be fairly assumed that the visitor relies on social media for content consumption. Why not exploit this tendency and get the visitor to share your content? Many publishers introduce social sharing CTAs. How can a proactive publisher distinguish itself from the pack? Run A/B testing on different CTAs and see what works best for different customer segments. Ideally, utilizing a contextual multi armed approach would yield the most reliable results, but even standard A/B testing or simple optimization (like displaying a button representing the network from which the visitor arrived first, and with lack of information by order of popularity by IP geography) can lead to further shares and conversions.

The list above is, as aforementioned, incomprehensive, and further marketing strategies for side door traffic will surely be devised (please feel free to provide your own insights in the comments below!). However, the tips above should begin to give publishers an idea of how leveraging side door traffic is possible and why they should not bypass the opportunity to convert this unique traffic source.