On the day it was revealed that the Mail Online notched up almost 100m readers in January, an industry insider with extensive experience of working within some of the world's largest online news organisations tells The Drum the secrets behind its incredible success.
The way Mail Online works is that it has a team of about four junior people who get sent through all of the content from the journalists. So the journalists and the editorial staff don’t really have anything to do with the SEO side of things.
The SEO team receive stories from journalists and then change the headlines and add some key words before launching them on the site. It’s like a sub-editing job using SEO, a machine churning through the content. The journalists and sub-editors continue to do the job they would be doing while the SEO team’s brief is to drive traffic.
Bosses at the Mail look at the traffic that is coming in on almost an hourly basis. One of the reasons why [a former SEO figure at the Mail] left was because he couldn’t handle it. If the Mail Online was having a bad day for traffic, he’d be pulled into the office and would be torn a new one.
What Mail Online does very well is follow trends. Whatever is trending on Google News, be it in the US or the UK, Lady Gaga or whatever, Mail Online will be writing lots about it. Mail Online targets the US audience really well. Its journalists will write about celebrity stories in the US that the British press wouldn’t necessarily cover.
Around mid-2008 all the newspaper sites were at about the same level, but as the Mail started to push the trending topics it got more visible on Google News and that’s when it really started to see an increase in traffic.
The Audit Bureau of Circulations used to use unique visits as its main metric for judging the performance of a newspaper website. That has since changed, and I understand that change came about through pressure from the Daily Mail group, which wanted to change the data from monthly unique visits to average page views per user.
This is because Mail Online does extremely well on the average page views per user metric; it is very good at keeping people on the site once they get there. There is a panel on the right hand side of the page (packed with salacious celebrity stories) which works extremely hard to entice readers. Then there is whole reel of news which follows the user around the site.
But advertisers still want to see unique users, so the Mail tries to drop as many cookies on people as possible. If readers come back after they have been ‘cookied’, then they will only count as the same unique user – unless they delete their cookies.
I’ve seen the Mail do all kinds of things with content to attract unique users, including pushing out stories that have already been published, which they alter slightly and publish again. It’s fishing for readers. Throwing out content because they know it will generate readers.
There’s a big difference between the people who read the Daily Mail newspaper and those who read the Mail Online. I don’t think the people who visit the Mail Online really care that much about the fact that they use keywords in their headlines or that they may use lower grade content. Mail Online just knows what they are looking for.
The source asked for their name to be withheld