NY Magazine’s Focus On Daily Blogs Leads To Traffic Boost

New York magazine’s website traffic has grown significantly in the past year by finding that the sum of the parts really are greater than the whole.

Instead of just repurposing articles from the weekly cultural magazine, NY has put greater emphasis on building out its daily news blogs aimed at entertainment, fashion, food and politics to produce 10.5 million monthly unique users for September, the highest number in the site’s 13-year history. At the same time, NY’s online advertising dollars are pacing up 25 percent since last year, and has already doubled since 2009.

While NY’s traffic numbers are internal, comScore (NSDQ: SCOR) agrees that the site’s monthly uniques have risen 22 percent last month compared to Sept. 2010, though the audience measurement service says the magazine’s site drew 5.59 million visitors that month. (Most sites have large discrepancies between their internal numbers and comScore’s monthly tally).

Still, with agreement that traffic is rising, the vertical strategy that NY is employing is one that reflects a successful formula for the web that is the exact opposite of what works in print.

Like Time magazine’s apparent success with its vertical strategy, which entails attracting new and repeat users by giving its tech, politics, health and financial blogs more prominence, NY has created distinct identities for its blogs and their related e-newsletters and apps.

In particular, the separate performance, based on NY’s internal numbers seems to tell the story:

Vulture entertainment destination topped 3 million monthly uniques in September, up 29 percent over September 2010, fueled by original reporting and analysis on the fall TV and movie season (most visited stories included scoops on How I Met Your Mother and The Office, a preview of fall’s big movies, and Emmys coverage).

— Constant updates and coverage of Fashion Week at The Cut helped drive 1.3 million monthly uniques to the fashion blog, up 11 percent over September 2010.

Daily Intel, the site’s news and politics blog that added daily columnist Jonathan Chait in September, had 1.4 million monthly uniques last month, up 11 percent from September 2010.

While the web-only brands certainly made a difference, Michael Silberman, NY’s GM for digital, added that the magazine’s print articles also helped drive the record month, including a profile of “hipster sweetheart” Zooey Deschanel, as well as the 9/11 memorial issue. There were also traffic spikes tied to political stories from John Heilemann and Frank Rich, who left the New York Times after 30 years to join NY magazine last summer, and a much-talked about piece at new parents who are over 50.

The notion of a weekly cultural magazine remaining relevant 15 years after the web started to erode the primacy of print is not as far-fetched as it might have seemed a few years ago. While the magazine brand still is what commands attention, most web users still do not have much interest in reading long articles on their computer screen. Plus, general interest is generally not enough to get users coming back on regular basis.

While NY has had separate sections for the verticals for some time, its blogs did not have a clear identity that was able to both reflect the brand and a sharp focus separate from its other parts. It was just that as sites like Gawker, Gothamist and Politico grew up around it, NY’s strategy needed the time to come into sharper focus.

“We decided a few years ago, rather than being a mag companion site, to take the brand and express it for the brand,” Silberman told paidContent. “It’s not one thing that we’ve done that has contributed to the traffic gains; it’s our overall strategy, which includes continuing to invest heavily writers and editors who can produce great content. We’ve ramped up over time to being a reflection of a weekly magazine to genuinely becoming a daily news site. Having a laser focus on a few key verticals that are aligned with the brand is what drives audience interest.”

That growing interest has also may be starting to bring in a new audience of print subscribers, as opposed to just serving as a placeholder for existing readers.

“As newsstand sales decline generally for magazines, the web becomes the de facto newsstand where readers come to browse and check out what’s being offered,” Silberman said. “As readers sample the site’s blogs, we have a chance to convert them to being a newsletter subscriber or an app downloader and in many cases, print subscribers.”

While NY has settled on its web strategy, it’s now looking at fleshing out its app strategy. While the corresponding magazine iPad app has been out for nearly a year. While there aren’t too many enhancements beyond the inclusion of all its various blogs within the app, which is available free to print subscribers, that could change over the next few months as the editors look for ways to revamp it.

For the most part, the app strategy has been largely organized around the individual blogs. For example, the Clickables app is something of a mini-mobile version of the Vulture blog available on the iPhone. An Android version is in the works. On the iPad, The Cut also has its own app that in many ways is distinct from the site blog, as it is mostly made up of an endless array of runway images.

The next mobile plan calls for devising a listings strategy. The magazine is working on a listings app just a month after selling the Menupages property to Seamless for an undisclosed sum last month. NY had bought Menupages three years ago and while its still a part of the magazine’s Grub Street food blog, the feeling was that maintaining that entity across several cities was a distraction.

“We’re still experimenting with mobile,” Silberman says. “But we feel we have the right blueprint now more than ever.”