John: Well hello folks and welcome to another podcast from Ezoic. I’ve got Bill Fallon here. He’s from Brighthub. Hi Bill.
Bill: Hi there. How are you John?
John: Good thank you. We’re going to talk a little bit about Ezoic and things from the perspective of publishers. Maybe you can kick things off and introduce yourself to the listeners and tell them a little bit about yourself and your business.
Bill: Certainly. Hi my name is Bill Phelan and I’m the co-founder and president of Brighthub. We are located in upstate New York. We run a series of websites that add up to in total right about 6 million users and we have writers that contribute to our site from around the world. We look for deep end sites. We look for quite a bit of knowledge in each one of the verticals that we cover and we’re pretty happy with the way we’ve been able to work this business over the last five or six years.
John: Six years? That’s education, isn’t it? That’s the main vertical?
Bill: It’s a big education. There’s no question about it. No question about it.
John: We’ve known each other for a few months now. You’ve been using Ezoic. If people were to ask you what is Ezoic, how would you describe that in your own words?
Bill: I guess the way I think about Ezoic is, Ezoic is a great firm for helping my readers actually be served up an experience that is great for them and ultimately if it’s great for them it’s good for their viewing and reading, then ultimately it’s good for me. We’ve been pretty fortunate in that regard because the happier my readers are, the more money we make so we’re very pleased with that.
John: Was that a speaking clock in the background?
Bill: Yes, that is all courtesy of Apple Computer.
John: Right. It’s just reminding you it’s 4 o’clock. Well it’s 1 o’clock here in sunny San Diego. So Bill, if you had to say, what was it about Ezoic that you’ve enjoyed particularly that you’ve gotten the most out of, and why do you use it?
Bill: I’d say what attracted us the most to this was, for ourselves, a pretty deep understanding of what AB testing is all about. We went through a couple of years where our developers would talk about A/B testing. It was nice to talk about and then we dove into it. It was brutally hard at the time. Of course this was five or six years ago to build out the capability, to do A/B testing, but then once we got into it, we found out it was it’s own science, we found out that it wasn’t a question of A/B testing one page versus the other page. It was a question of A/B testing one small feature versus another feature and we were then down that path of testing feature to feature and then coming back and kind of testing collections of features and realizing that our business started evolving from being a publisher to an A/B tester and it was mind numbing after awhile and ultimately we kept asking ourselves how much actual gain or lift are we getting out of this slow arduous process called A/B testing.
John: It’s an interesting point, isn’t it? What were the sort of things you were testing at the time when you were doing it all basically manually?
Bill: When we’re doing it manually, we would be testing the position. For example, where we put the link to try to encourage the reader to read more than one page? Where do we introduced the second article to them? How do we maximize or kind of optimize around navigation? Where do we put the image inside of the article? Do we have an image at all? Where do we put the breadcrumbs? Is it best to put it at the top? At the bottom? At both locations? After a while, it’s numbing all of the details and what we learned through this whole process is there was never one single silver bullet, but there was just no question that we would be able to keep testing another day and it basically turned into a full time head count for us doing nothing but organizing these tests and then assembling the team to look at the end results. It became pretty consuming.
John: Yeah and I remember you saying your page views per visitor was sort of stubbornly at one level for a period of time. That must have been a bit frustrating when you’re trying so many different things. Was there anything that moved the bar for you when you were doing it yourself?
Bill: We couldn’t see anything that would move it in a material way. We would see a half point here, a half point there or we’d see for a while we would introduce something like a slider to bring in a new article. There were all sorts of things like that that we would do, but fundamentally what we kept realizing was that we had to keep in mind that for ourselves, we were dealing with search driven intent. Somebody coming to the site through search, particularly through Google and the better we were at answering the question, the more rapidly they would move on so the number was stuck pretty hard and pretty difficult to move around.
John: Yeah and usability testing is a difficult thing because for a lot of people I would say the conventional wisdom is to do what you’ve done, which is to look at single pages and say this one versus this one: which is best, rather than looking at the entire session for each visitor. So what have you found (we’re talking about Ezoic and obviously this is the business podcast, but you can be critical so don’t worry about that) – what have you found to be the advantages and disadvantages of using an automated system?
Bill: I would say the biggest advantage to us is first understanding that once we begin to understand the technology and realize that what we thought might be the right judgment to keep applying would take us years beyond our ability to count to do what Ezoic does today and to really use the analytics to drive that process and to test very large scale. AB testing really means taking, whether today or some period of time, aiming traffic at a page testing A over B and then moving on to effectively C and D. What we found, I think it was kind of embarrassing to realize that probably in a period of less than a day, there were more tests done with our content live than we had completed in a couple of years. We were humbled.
John: I didn’t know that.
Bill: I’m sorry?
John: I didn’t know that. That’s cool.
Bill: Yeah, because you just couldn’t hit the scale that Ezoic does with this. We could never come close. I remember all of those agonizing meetings in between, which took forever and of course it also means then you’ve got a development team tweaking those features, bringing it out again and trying it out all over again. I think we were humbled pretty quick and realized that the notion of AB testing was a pretty futile attempt, unless we were doing it the same scale that Ezoic can do it and that’s just not possible. We’re in the business of publishing. We’re not in the business of running a large scale testing platform.
John: The results, I mean I would say you’ve been going over the results yourself. What are the results that you’re seeing?
Bill: We’ve seen just about a 15% improvement in overall page views per visit and we’ve seen it come really from designs that we really would not have imagined had our usability people continued to drive the bus, because it was counter intuitive what really worked and I doubt we ever would have gotten there. We saw about a 15% lift, which for us is substantial. Again we’ve been at this a long, long time. One thinks that 15% might sound like a lot and let’s say after doing this for whatever, four or five months, and it’s stayed at that lifted level, we couldn’t be happier with that and it also means that we’re getting more on top of that. We’re attracting more traffic from search given the improvement we’ve gotten in page views per visit.
John: The page views per visit, how about a bounce rate? Have you been monitoring that as well?
Bill: We look at bounce rate like hawks and bounce rate has gone down also by just about 10%-15% as well. Extremely pleased with that and again pretty much the same kind of conclusion. I don’t think we would have gotten here because again we’re running on our sites, we’re running content on more than 100,000 articles. We just never would have gotten here.
John: So I guess the big question is, what about the money? Your user experience is doing better. How’s the money?
Bill: The dollars are much better. In our case, we have a full time person that does revenue monetization day in and day out, so again we’ve got dedicated people to this and we’ve got whatever that is, four or five different sources of revenues historically that we had used to generate our site revenues. What we found with Ezoic is a very consistent 50% plus lift in the revenues. Again, we thought we were good. We’ve been at this a long time. We thought we were good, but to get a 50% lift for us, given all our different sources is pretty amazing. It’s a substantial amount for us. I suspect other publishers will do quite a bit better and fortunately in their case they probably aren’t getting full time people to do this day in and day out. I’m excited it’s allowed me to recommit the person that had been doing revenue optimization is now back into the subject of content and enjoying it a heck of a lot more than trying to tweak every day.
John: Well that’s the thing that we found. People who don’t have a team, on average the system gets about 2x for them, which is obviously great. Fifty percent is excellent, but our average is about two times. So Bill, that’s actually very great to hear. I love hearing we’re saving you some time and making you some money. Looking on the down side, I always try to keep these podcasts at least somewhat balanced. What about the looks of the sites? How have you felt about the different layouts that have been tested? How do you feel about trying stuff that you or your designers wouldn’t have tried before?
Bill: We had of course, we had initial skepticism from the team as they looked at the site and started asking personnel, this didn’t look quite as pretty if you will as the previous one, but what we found is that as they really studied it, they basically said “gee, there’s more room for the reader to actually read the content as opposed to getting stuck in the graphics that were up there”. It’s a cleaner look. It’s a more open look and I think ultimately the devil of the details is right there in the analytics. Readers like it better and are proving it every day to us and we’ve also gone out and done our own testing. We’ve asked readers to look at it and give us their feedback and we’ve gotten very positive feedback. We should have been paying attention to it. If one thinks about Google, thinks about the plain simplicity of any Google site, it’s a pretty important lesson when we think about design and certainly I think Ezoic has taken advantage of that logic and made more room available for readers and the usability of it trumps really killing ourselves on design.
John: Okay, Bill, I didn’t know you’d done those surveys so that’s interesting for me to hear. Have you got anything else that you would say to publishers that are maybe a little bit nervous about trying the system and particularly if they’ve got a substantial revenue as you have in order to kind of get over those initial nerves?
Bill: I would say and again because we’ve gone out and we’ve done our own testing directly with users and we’ve always been consistent about that, I really, the only thing I probably would have to say is the longer you wait, you’re giving up paid views, you’re giving up revenues and we’re excited because now we can take that, the additional revenues, which are really substantial and we’re reinvesting in the content on our site rather than more testing and the like. What Ezoic has done for us, particularly in the mobile and tablet, our developers are all breathing a sigh of relief that they don’t have to go conquer that on their own also. So I couldn’t be higher on this and again, we’ve taken all those additional revenues and started plowing them aggressively into more content because the earnings equations, the overall earning equation between content and investing in content and deriving revenues is just improved by a substantial margin.
John: That’s good to hear. Bill, I’m going to wrap things up here and I wanted to say thanks again for your time and readers if you’ve got any more questions, please do keep them coming in. You can write to [email protected] and thanks very much for listening. Thanks Bill.
Bill: Thank you.