“People with shared local connections are talking to each other through Facebook. News Feed is the ultimate way for our content to get discovered and Instant Articles is the best way to get shared.” — Chris Krewson, Editor of Billy Penn
Billy Penn, a two-year old digital publisher, was founded on the belief that people in Philadelphia, especially those under 40, had an appetite for local news but weren’t being served properly. Specifically, readers weren’t getting the quirky, personal local stories that forged an emotional connection between them and Philadelphia. “But how do you discover these small stories you don’t know you want?” asks Chris Krewson, the editor of Billy Penn. “As a local publisher, with a small site like ours, we don’t have money for marketing. We depend on people finding us through friends on social feeds.” To help its content compete for attention, Billy Penn turned to Instant Articles.
The publisher saw Instant Articles as the perfect vehicle to deliver engaging content. The fast load times and increased native engagement options of Instant Articles significantly lowers the barrier to sharing and encourages discussion. “Everything we do that’s important to the franchise we publish in Instant Articles because we want everything to be shared,” says Krewson. So Billy Penn decided to publish 100% of its eligible content on the platform. This led to several articles going viral and record monthly traffic.
Below are some of Billy Penn‘s tips for how local publishers can get the most out of Instant Articles.
“If you aren’t all in on Instant Articles, you’re self-limiting the articles that can really take off. When a story starts to show lift, Instant Articles will lift it higher.” — Chris Krewson, Editor of Billy Penn
“Meet The Philly Genius Who Turned a Dumpster Into a Pool” isn’t the type of story Billy Penn might normally rely on to drive traffic goals. But something clicked. This quirky local story, published as an Instant Article, was shared on Facebook by everyone from People magazine to the Daily Mail and even the Weather Channel. That same month, a story about a thief stealing 1s and 0s from the addresses of people’s homes, nicknamed by Billy Penn as the “Binary Bandit,” received coverage as far away as Germany.
This led to its highest traffic months ever, with Instant Articles as its biggest referrer. August 2016 in particular saw a 610% increase in traffic compared to February 2016, its final month before switching to Instant Articles.
“The rise in traffic number has helped advertising. And the ad units perform really well — better than desktop and mobile units. Overall, these higher traffic months have helped the sales team tell a better story about the site.” — Chris Krewson, Editor of Billy Penn
Billy Penn includes in its pitch to advertisers that it was first to use Instant Articles in the region and points to its strong numbers since joining the program. “It’s working for us, and the clickthrough on ads is very strong,” says Jim Brady, its publisher. Advertisers benefit from the prominent placement and the clean, focused design environment of Instant Articles. The company has heard directly that advertisers prefer the format because it reduces competition for a reader’s eye.
Billy Penn has also managed to leverage the increase in engagement into editorial coups. Just recently, editors helped convince a former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter to write a first person account of her experience with Donald Trump exclusively for Billy Penn. Part of their pitch was that the story will be an Instant Article, making it more likely to be shared and gain national attention. The article went up on a Thursday and by Saturday the reporter was on CNN discussing it.
“Everything we want to do is local. When you pay attention to what people are talking about locally, when you lower the barrier to sharing, the benefits of that are huge.” — Chris Krewson, Editor of Billy Penn
For Billy Penn, the increase in viral stories and international attention helps, but it’s aspirations remain regional. “We don’t care about about the New York or DC readers longterm,” says Krewson. “We care about the people with connections to Philly and building something for them.” Ultimately the company’s goal is to build a loyal base of Philadelphia readers that associate Billy Penn with the best local content and reading experience, and keep coming back. Its doing this by focusing on content that is shareable, but different from national topics. The native engagement of Instant Articles lets them focus on this strategy and the numbers show its working. The company is seeing significant return traffic, more than doubling what it had before Instant Articles.
As a result, Billy Penn has started to expand into new territories of Pennsylvania. It just launched a new site for Pittsburgh-based content called The Incline. The site launched this past September with 100% of its eligible articles as Instant Articles.
* Traffic information provided by Billy Penn, sourced from Google Analytics and Parse.ly
** Ad information provided by Billy Penn, sourced from Google DFP