How The Christian Science Monitor Used SEO Strategies to Drive From 3M to 25M Page Views

There’s an extraordinary case study published by the Nieman Journalism Lab about the transformation of the Christian Science Monitor from a dying print-focused publication to a Web-first online focused publication that drove page views from 3 million per month to 25 million in two years.

Entitled, “Chasing pageviews with values: How the Christian Science Monitor has adjusted to a web-first, SEO’d world,” and authored by Jonathan Groves and Carrie Brown-Smith, the article tells the story of the crisis the CSM faced when it was told in 2008 by the founding Christian Science Church that the newspaper subsidy would be cut from $12 million per year to $4 million in five years.

This lit a big fire under the management team’s collective rear ends, and they set out on an aggressive transformation of the newsroom operation.  The strategy they settled on had four major points:

  1. Increase the frequency of updating, writing several posts on a subject rather than one long story.
  2. Use search engine optimization to find key phrases that would improve a post’s ranking in Google.
  3. Monitor Google Trends for hot topics and sometimes assign stories on that basis, allowing the paper to “ride the Google wave,” as one editor put it.
  4. Use social media including Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr to reach new audiences.

By July of 2010 they had reached their goal of 25 million page views per month.  One key, according to the article was embracing “emergent strategy,” the structured process of “failing fast,” iterating ideas, throwing out ones that don’t work, pushing ones that do, and staying constantly abreast of what others in their field are attempting.

This case study proves the power gained from a strong understanding of focused, consistent search engine optimization, and in particular the central role Google plays in arbitrating where people go as a result of searching.  This is a terrific case, and if you have the opportunity you should look at the longer article on the Nieman Lab Website.

The lessons of the CSM are about a large news organization, but  I think they apply universally to all sites looking to increase traffic.


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About Rohn Jay Miller

I'm a strategic designer who works with clients who are transforming their business models because of change brought on by the Internet. Solving disruption is often a problem and an opportunity at the same time. Previously I was a founding partner of Ikonic/USWeb in San Francisco, and Senior Vice President--Product & Technology for Knight Ridder in San Jose.

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