How To Get Millions Of Pageviews With Your Content Marketing Strategy [CASE STUDY]
When the Minnesota Vikings moved to a new content management system in July 2009, the franchise’s web team vowed to set their content bar high.
Minnesota wanted Vikings.com to be the web’s top destination for Vikings news and information, and through that destination they wanted to sell tickets. In order to compete with national and local media coverage, they needed to leverage their inside access to the football team and produce a lot of really good content.
By the time the season ended in January 2010, the new Vikings.com had served 35 million page views, including 4.5 million video views, a significant increase that led to a staggering 822,569 ticket-related clicks that season.
Every week, the site producers publish dozens of videos and blog posts, and obsessively manage which articles to display on popular parts of the site. Even in the off season, the Vikings continue to crank out a lot of content.
Although the Minnesota Vikings is a well-funded team that can afford professionals to run and manage their content strategy, their best practices are an excellent model for any small business or new content operation.
We caught up with Bryan Harper, Executive Producer, and Mike Wobschall, Lead Writer/Editor for the Vikings Entertainment Network, to get an inside look at what makes their content hit so hard.
What kind of content should you produce?
Vikings divide their content into three basic buckets: news, blog, and video.
News content are event-driven, timely stories about the team or the industry. Most news stories take a day or two to properly research, report, write, and edit. For example: updates on the new stadium, the NFL lockout, or a player receiving an award would all appear in the news section.
The blog, on the other hand, is geared toward feature stories, designed to spark conversations among readers.
“Mike is constantly blogging,” says Harper. “We take great pride in our blog. It’s short and to the point content. We try to feature that in the forefront as much as possible.”
A typical blog post might be The Top 5 Runningbacks in the NFL or Adrian Peterson’s Best Single Game Performances, versus a news story like Vikings To Host USA Football Coaching School At Winter Park.
Videos are produced from press conference footage, reposted from Vikings Entertainment Network TV shows, or created exclusively by the web team. Harper tries to use as much content as he can get his hands on, whether it’s from the team or external sources, and then he supplements that content with several of his own exclusive videos each week.
- Takeaway: a successful content strategy often relies on a diverse mix of story- and post-types, and always relies on high quality, well-thought story ideas.
How much and how often should you publish?
Harper’s team is constantly producing new material, and boosts content volume at strategic times.
“During the season,” says Wobschall, “Written content on the website… could be more than 10 posts per day, on a Wednesday or Thursday after you’ve won a game. When you’re winning, your traffic goes up, so you want to keep refreshing the site so there’s new content all the time. You want people to see new stuff and keep coming back. Other days it’s at least 2 or 3 a day.”
Harper adds, “From a video perspective… we stream [press conferences] live and then post the archives… We’ll typically do 3-4 unique exclusives per week on top of that.” Additionally, they post several league videos each week as well. “If you’re putting it on TV you might as well put it online,” Harper says.
- Takeaway: produce content several times a day for best results; increase volume when you have more traffic, so people see new things; repurpose other available content in order to increase publishing frequency.
What should you do with the content after publishing?
Many sites use social networks to promote their content upon publication. Vikings use Facebook to post headlines and spark conversations around stories, with the goal of driving interested visitors back to vikings.com.
One of the team’s main post-production optimization strategies, however, is on-site placement adjustments. Like the Huffington Post and other famously placement-obsessive publications, vikings.com is constantly aware of which stories are in the most visible spots, and how high quality those visible stories are.
“The top 5 on the home page,” says Harper, “are the ones getting seen and clicked on and consumed the most.”
A less important story during a timely event, such as a big win or a big announcement, will be pushed out of view in favor of something more relevant or clickable.
- Takeaway: pay attention to your top stories, and make your content’s first impression always count.
What are the primary measures of success?
The Vikings use custom CMS and analytics software provided by the NFL, and Harper’s team checks site stats often. The most important metric to them, however, is not necessarily page views.
“Ticket sales are a huge thing for us,” Harper explains. “The other measure of success is the quality of content and whether it gets conversation going in our community. You can’t really measure it numbers-wise, but you can feel it.”
They realize that engaged visitors are worth more (at the end of the day in terms of tickets) than simply mass amounts of users. They’re not concerned about content for content’s sake, but rather in content that sparks participation.
- Takeaway: community engagement metrics are one of the (if not the) most important measures of content success; quality readership eventually trickles down into quality conversions.
What are typically the most successful posts?
Wobschall says vikings.com’s most successful content is typically creative: mashups, compilations, and top 5 lists.
“For some reason, fans flock to that type of thing,” Wobschall says. “If you can stretch it out so Monday you do #5, Tuesday you do #4, Wednesday you do #3… people want to come back and see that list. That tends to be pretty successful because people want to see what’s next and provide a comment about what they’re reading.”
- Takeaway: run-of-the-mill content gets the least engagement; content series and surprising compilations create anticipation and repeat traffic.
Who produces the content and how do you manage them?
Over the past 5 years, vikings.com’s content team has gone from 2 people to 6 or 7, Harper says. They have a lead editor/writer (Wobschall), a technical producer, two video producers, a multimedia producer, a production coordinator, and an executive producer.
During the season, when volume is higher, Wobschall enlists freelance writers to fill up his editorial calendar. “There’s a lot of content out there, and we don’t want to miss anything,” he says.
Freelancers make sense because they allow the team to scale up their staff without bringing on additional in-house overhead. That said, they’re always looking for more stories and more help.
- Takeaway: hire professionals in-house when you can afford it; enlist high quality freelancers when you want to keep costs low and variable.
The Minnesota Vikings are a huge business, with money to spend on a great content strategy, but they also compete directly with giant publishers like ESPN (not an easy task). Their team works hard to provide a meaningful, long-term return on its content investment.
Whether your pockets are deep or no, your competitors enormous or no, a consistent, clever, and quality content strategy can produce big results. Millions of them, even.