From niche newsletters to real-time analytics, here’s how the publisher revamped its editorial strategy to grow its audience
By Leah Wynalek
The publisher beat its all-time best monthly web traffic in each month of Q1 2019, with a 110 percent year-over-year increase in unique visitors in March.
Put your readers first, and your web traffic and revenue will follow. At least that’s what B2B media company HousingWire has learned since expanding and refocusing editorial coverage in 2018. The company, which serves the mortgage and real estate markets, saw double-digit revenue growth last year and maintains an upward trajectory in 2019. The publisher beat its all-time best monthly web traffic in each month of Q1 2019, with a 110 percent year-over-year increase in unique visitors in March.
HousingWire CEO and president Clayton Collins believes an audience-first approach to news – tailored to key industry segments- is responsible for the company’s success. By better serving readers with editorial suiting their interests and behavior, he says HousingWire also better serves clients looking to generate customer leads. In turn, the publisher has seen a boost in both digital advertising, its biggest revenue line, and sponsored content, its fastest-growing revenue line.
HousingWire CEO Clayton Collins
From launching niche newsletters to implementing real-time analytics, here’s how HousingWire revamped its editorial strategy, expanded its audience, and grew revenue in 2018.
1. New Audience Segments
Since launching in 2008, HousingWire has served a core readership of senior-level executives in the mortgage and real estate markets. To be more impactful across all levels of the industry, the publisher widened its scope in 2018 to deliver news specifically for fast-growing subsections of its audience, including mortgage brokers, loan officers, real estate agents and other professionals who work directly with prospective home buyers.
HousingWire’s top 10 articles published from January through April 2019 were written specifically for mortgage loan originators
“We’ve seen that a focus on [loan] origination news not only appeals to the loan originators that we’re targeting, but also the executives who want a better pulse for what their sales forces are thinking about,” says Collins. The proof is in the metrics: three of HousingWire’s top 10 articles published from January through April 2019 were written specifically for mortgage loan originators.
As the housing industry evolves with continued innovations in digital mortgages and the digital real estate processes, HousingWire plans to further expand into related financial technology and housing finance verticals in 2019. While building additional coverage areas, the maintenance of resources and focus for the publisher’s pillar mortgage vertical will be a top priority, says Collins.
2. Niche Newsletters
Traditionally, HousingWire served its entire audience with one newsletter sent twice daily. The frequency was well suited to executive decision makers relying on a constant flow of information, says Collins, but was overwhelming to other industry professionals, including those in HousingWire’s new target audience segments.
To refine its newsletter strategy, the publisher hosted focus groups and asked readers in those other segments for their preferences. “What we heard wasn’t a daily newsletter,” says Collins, “so we developed newsletters around those niche audiences that met the cadence and the type of information that those specific segments were looking for.”
HousingWire launched three niche newsletters in 2018. First came LendingLife, geared toward loan originators, followed by ReverseReview for reverse mortgage lenders and RentWire for the multi-family housing market. While the brand already did some reporting on these segments of the industry, the newsletters provided a focus and a defined product for each, says Collins.
HousingWire debuted another newsletter designed for real estate agents this month. The niche coverage is leading to new advertiser opportunities as well. For example, HousingWire partnered with online marketplace LendingTree to launch the LendingLife newsletter.
LendingTree sponsored the newsletter for the first six months, and since then HousingWire has seen high sell-through of the newsletter’s ad inventory. By carving out these niches, HousingWire has also earned a huge jump in email registrations and referral traffic, which factored into a 166% increase in direct traffic in Q1 2019, says Collins.
3. Real-Time Analytics
“Wow, we’re having a really good traffic day, we’re up 30 percent or ‘5,000 people reading this article on FHA mortgage underwriting policy changes”
In recent years HousingWire has implemented better traffic analytics and behavioral data tracking, but Collins points to the publisher’s partnership with audience analytics company Parse.ly as a key upgrade in 2018. While the metrics that Parse.ly delivers can be gathered using a variety of other tools, he says the platform’s user-friendly dashboards and real-time views have helped establish transparency across departments at HousingWire.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a reporter, on our sponsored content team or one of our ad sales executives, we have a real-time view on the wall of the office where you can stop and see ‘Wow, we’re having a really good traffic day, we’re up 30 percent or ‘5,000 people are reading this article on FHA mortgage underwriting policy changes right now.”
The real-time audience intelligence informs both news coverage and branded assets created by HW Content Solutions, the company’s sponsored content arm. Sarah Wheeler, managing editor of HW Content Solutions, notes a recent example where the analytics dashboard spotlighted high engagement with a news article on no-income no-asset mortgages. The article’s performance further emphasized an interest in non-qualified mortgage products she observed in the past year.
“Once we see a trend like this start to bubble up in news content, we know that our audience will be looking for products, technology and solutions to solve a pain point or meet a market opportunity,” says Wheeler. “I work with clients to develop high-value branded content that is of huge value to our readers and we deliver it at the right time.”
4. Improved User Experience
De-cluttered pages and cleaned up ad layout to boost site speed
At the heart of HousingWire’s digital strategy is a more streamlined, user-friendly website. In 2018 the publisher improved its code base, de-cluttered pages and cleaned up ad layout to boost site speed. “We pretty much ripped everything off our site that was non-core,” says Collins. This included little-used comment sections beneath articles. The team also implemented image size standards and nixed slow-loading content recommendations on mobile pages in exchange for an optimized recirculation section.
HousingWire’s site improvements were timely – as Google prioritized page speed in ranking on mobile last year – and led to increased search traffic and an upward shift to 50 percent mobile visitors, says Collins. The site also saw a slight uptick in pages per session that is continuing thus far in 2019.
5. Community Engagement
“Relationships formed with readers make the time spent worthwhile”
As part of its audience-first approach, HousingWire is exploring new ways to foster community interaction. This year the brand introduced an invitation-only forum called “Pulse” featuring op-ed columns from professionals within the housing and mortgage industry. The contributor-written articles are generating notably high engagement on social channels, including LinkedIn and Instagram, says Collins.
The publisher is also sending niche newsletters directly from editors’ emails so recipients can simply reply to share comments, corrections, or story ideas. Though the sender switch requires more time from editors, Collins says the relationships formed with readers make the time spent worthwhile – and may contribute to the 10-15 percent higher open rates HousingWire’s niche newsletters have over its core daily newsletter, still sent from a general email address.
The B2B publisher isn’t relying solely on email and social media to start conversations – it recently created a Slack community for audience members to chat and share expertise in real-time. The community is still in beta mode and currently includes just a select group of the most engaged audience members, but Collins says the platform will factor into a membership product that HousingWire intends to launch later in the year.
Leah Wynalek is the senior editor for Publishing Executive and Book Business. She has worked at national magazine publishing companies including Trusted Media Brands and Rodale, where she assisted in digital content creation and strategy for Prevention.com. More recently, she used her multimedia skillset on behalf of clients as a content specialist for Philadelphia-based marketing agency En Route.