LION Publishers Q&A

A Q&A with David Walsh – LION17

What drew you to work specifically with media sites such as LION Publishers and what inspires you about your work?

We were originally a traditional development and marketing company that worked with businesses in different sectors but I often found myself bored with how static traditional websites are. I love how media sites are high traffic and constantly changing. Every day there are new ideas on how to attract and retain users, get a competitive edge for digital advertising or build new revenue channels.

I’m also a serial entrepreneur and love the idea of publishers venturing out to build a sustainable business. The independence of a hyperlocal news site is a unique combination of the American dream and freedom of the press that I wholeheartedly support.

What are some of the most common requests you get from publishers?

Troubleshooting website problems make up 50 percent of the issues we deal with. The most common issue we troubleshoot is plugin conflicts when upgrades are done to the core. With so many plugins available for WordPress it’s very easy for a user to always default to installing a plugin for a specific function that an experienced developer could build without the plugin. While plugins aren’t a bad thing, the overuse of plugins often leads to conflicts or malware injections on a website.

The other half is consulting with publishers on how to create additional monetization opportunities, better ad placements, making the ad experience more efficient, strategizing and launching new initiatives as well as a constant focus on improving the user experience.

How would you rate the average local online news site on user experience, and what basic advice would you give to publishers about their readers’ interaction with their sites?

With mobile dominating the way users are accessing news sites it’s important for publishers to evaluate their site through a data driven lens. There are a ton of tools that we use to evaluate what users are doing on a website, what they’re using to access the site, their demographics, date of access, etc. A site owner may have their own tastes and opinions that they want implemented on the site based on who they think is using the site but the data may tell an entirely different story.

What should the baseline best practice be for publishers when it comes to mobile responsiveness or mobile optimization of a news site, from both a design and revenue perspective?

It’s no longer an option to have a website that’s not mobile responsive. A typical site is seeing more than half of its traffic coming from mobile devices. One important thing that should not be overlooked is that the advertisers are viewing the site on mobile also and they don’t want to see their ads buried at the bottom of the page. It’s important to find a healthy balance that delivers content and ads to satisfy both readers and advertisers.

What’s been most challenging working with small publishers? What’s been rewarding?

One of the most challenging things about the independent space is budget restraints. There are so many great ideas that are difficult to implement because a bootstrapped independent site doesn’t have the budget of a corporate conglomerate. It’s one of the great draws of an organization like LION and their 2017 LION Summit because it gives publishers and sponsors the ability to openly discuss this and share ideas to help each other as a community.

The most rewarding part of what I do is that I become a part of the publisher’s team. I love receiving emails from the publishers I’m working with telling me about how traffic is up, revenue is up and processes are more efficient. Web Publisher PRO is a company that I’ve bootstrapped in the same way a publisher builds their business and our growth directly correlates with the growth of the publishers we work with.

You’ll be speaking at the 2017 LION Summit about monetization of email newsletters. Are you mainly talking about advertising served via email, and what’s the difference between that and a typical website ad for the advertiser, reader and publisher?

At the 2017 LION Summit I’ll primarily be talking about advertising served via email through a platform like Mailchimp integrated with Broadstreet Ads. The email newsletter ads are even more targeted than the same ad on the website. The newsletter mailing list is a group of readers that have gone a step further and requested to receive proactive emails about new content. It’s a great up-sell opportunity for a publisher to charge an additional fee for an advertiser to be in the daily newsletter. It’s also a low maintenance additional revenue channel that can be built and automated through RSS. As an extra layer of value by using tools like Google Analytics we can determine the best times to send the newsletters to increase traffic on the primary website.

How responsive are you when a publisher needs something completed?

We have very fast turnaround times. Our publishers have access to us via phone, email and text message. We respond to inquiries same day and turn around the majority of troubleshooting in a maximum of 24 hours. For larger initiatives and projects we work with the publisher to determine a realistic timeline. For site outages, ad outages, hacks or major problems we have rapid response and put all hands on deck for an immediate solution.

Have you ever found it challenging to communicate with or stay ‘on the same page’ with clients who have different levels of tech-savvy?

There can at times be difficulty in explaining how things will work without providing a visual. When discussing technical functionalities as a theoretical exercise a lot can be missed. A practice we’ve implemented this year is doing screenshare conferences or building staging sites to demo functionalities. Through focusing on working with media sites we also often have references of other client sites that we can use to demo.

What are the most important criteria publishers should evaluate when hiring a developer?

Reliability – It’s important to hire a developer that is reliable. An advertiser doesn’t want to hear that you can’t get in touch with your developer when your site is facing a major outage or problem. Unfortunately our industry is loaded with part-time developers that have jobs or other priorities which put you at the bottom of the list.

Industry Experience – It’s also important to ensure that the developer you’re working with is familiar with robust high traffic online publications. It’s easy to find someone that “knows WordPress” but it’s another thing to find a developer that has worked with a site that gets 500,000 visits, has 50,000 posts and hundreds of thousands of media files. In addition to knowing how to efficiently work with ad servers and other revenue tools.

Reputation – Look into your developers other clients. Are they successful and happy? Go through their portfolio and contact some of their current and past clients and ask them how they like working with the developer. Do your homework.

Communication – One of the most important qualities is to make sure you communicate well with the developer. This is a two way street and it’s difficult to work with someone that you don’t enjoy talking with.