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Episode 6: Interview with Rob Spooner from u-s-history.com

Episode 6: Interview with Rob Spooner from u-s-history.com

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John: Well hello folks and welcome back for another podcast from Ezoic. I have Rob Spooner here. Hi Rob.

Rob: Hello John.

John: Rob runs a number of publishing entities online, the biggest of which is U-S-History.com. That’s U hyphen S hyphen History.com. So Rob, tell us a little bit more about yourself, your business, a bit of your background for the readers or listeners I should say.

Rob: Okay well I’ve been doing internet sites for the last almost exactly 20 years. It was July 4, 1995 or very close to it. I was coming back from a vacation and someone said, “there’s this really interesting thing happening. You have to stop in and talk to some people we know and talk with them on your way through,” so we did and out of that came our first website ever. We moved on to do online highways in a few years. It became quite large, but it sort of has seen its best days now. The main thing that we do now at U-S-History.com, which has been developed over probably the last 12 years. It’s a fairly comprehensive site about US History, which is primarily as far as we can tell of interest to students. I’m guessing mostly college, I mean high school students, because if you watch our traffic, it very closely tracks public school schedules and dies off very much in the summer and in general we’re pretty sure the primary audience for it is high school students.

John: So you’ve been using the Ezoic platform since April. Tell everybody listening what you thought before you started and then what you found when you started using it. We’ve worked together for a long time now, over a year. Maybe can you share a few of your experiences? I mean the good and the bad, Rob. How do you find Ezoic?

Rob: Well the way we started, I got an email and it was of a type that I see quite frequently, somebody telling me if I’d paid attention to what they offered, that they would get me a lot more money, but as I was going through it, I saw something that said “we are doing this only on a small test group of people and you have been selected for this,” which sort of was vague, but I said, “this sounds interesting,” so I called the guy and he started talking to me about how you did testing on layouts. I’m a big fan of testing. Had not done very much and certainly haven’t done very well with the sites that we have, but it was intriguing so I said, “okay let’s give it a shot” so we did and it took a while for anything very much to happen, but after about a month and a half, traffic surged up and has stayed up and actually has continued. I think we’re extremely seasonal so it’s difficult to know exactly how we’re doing, but I think we’re probably doing about as well as we’ve ever done with traffic, which is good because there was a period in there when traffic was beginning to slide down. We now have a good stream of revenue. As you and I have discussed, there are bumps in it that we can’t really explain. You all tried to tell me what’s going on, maybe explaining more than you really were comfortable with, because I nagged so much trying to find out what in fact was going on. Whenever it goes down I want an explanation, and sometimes there isn’t any explanation. I think now the place that I’ve gotten to is that I just decided that I’m not going to know, the pattern doesn’t seem to be rational. I don’t know why a while later my eyeballs are worth so much less than they were before, but then it comes back again and it’s an unexplained cycle. Nothing I can do about it. I’m just leaving it basically to you guys to do the best you can in whatever circumstance we’re in.

John: Let’s have a little chat about that one because my explanation of it was the site has grown. I suppose we should first say do you think that traffic growth is due to using Ezoic?

Rob: Yes. I had this debate with my partner who said maybe it was just a cleanse and so forth, but there was a very long period in there, which I interpret mostly as Google becoming unhappy with something that I was doing on the site, which I’m not entirely sure about. I thought I was following rules, but I may have been pushing the envelope somewhere or other. They seemed to be unhappy and for a long period of time we were just gradually slipping down. For about three years this went on. Then it was just sort of magical, in the space of a few days, like in May of last year, we just suddenly doubled and it was all Google. Bing and Yahoo didn’t do very much. It was Google and something about the way you had redid our site pleased them and that was the first surge. We have continued to see surges, which I think are because users now see the site, they like what they see, more of them are linking to us so we do better with Google. More people see us, more people like us, more people link and so forth so I think I’m seeing now that cycle, but the original impetus I think clearly was that you cleaned up the site and I’m okay to Google and I’m okay to users at the same time, and since that time the down trend has turned into an up trend.

John: I want to make it clear to everybody listening that Ezoic isn’t an SEO business and we never approached you about being an SEO business and helping with your traffic. It’s really about the user experience and the income. We found that, and it is intriguing, we found that on the whole, sites do grow when they use Ezoic and the reason for that that we concluded is if we can get the bounce rates down by various devices, whether it’s mobile and tablet, desktop or whatever it might be, then that is a strong indication that the users are finding what they want and that seems to be something that Google likes and it’s certainly something that the people at Google talk about. They say if you look after the user and user experience is good, then you’re going to be okay by us. So that’s good. Let me, I know I’m interviewing you, but I’d like to cover that mention about revenue fluctuations because we have talked about it a little bit on email. I think the reason for, I mean you had traffic growth and your key word, the key words that your site was coming up with things like just off the top of my head were a tad offensive. I think that was one of them and when you win more key words, in other words when you start getting traffic to the site from Google for a different set of key words, they might be more generous. In other words, if you came up top for a whole bunch of very, very specific terms the user engagement might be very, very high when they come to the site. If people are coming up better for higher volume key words, which are more generalist, then that’s changing the intent of the visitor and they might be less intent on finding out their answers. I hope I haven’t lost you with that. That’s my assessment of why I think you could have a change of your average income per visitor, because over a period of time, your traffic sources are very slowly changing, because you’re growing in Google search engine. That’s just my theory and we don’t really spend any time digging into that kind of stuff because our technology is always about layout improvement, ad positioning, the speed of the site loading, does it work really well with a new handset that just came out last week, all of that kind of stuff. We don’t really spend any time looking at SEO subjects, but it is intriguing to me because we’re very interested in how things affect revenue. That’s an idea that I have and I can certainly do a little follow up for the listeners if anything else comes to mind after the podcast, but that was a good one. So Rob, if you could explain to the listeners what do you like about Ezoic and what do you not like about it?

Rob: Well, basically I think Ezoic has picked up the areas where I either thought I never was any good or probably was, but probably wasn’t such as laying out pages for the best revenue generation and selecting the people and that. The other great thing about using Ezoic is that I now know that we are friendly to mobile devices, which we were not before, which I might have been able to do with a great deal of effort, but I would have needed to constantly keep checking with new devices and new platforms and everything and now I’m not concerned with that. I know that whatever the public is going to be using, we’re going to be visible in the friendly way to those devices because that’s what Ezoic does for us. That is a great positive.

John: When you’re talking about revenue, we kind of covered the fact that this site’s done very well and increased its traffic since it’s used the platform. How are you doing for revenue? You don’t have to give me any numbers.

Rob: Okay the CPM I don’t think is that much higher than it was before, but there are two factors. One, something about the way I was getting my money was irritating Google, so I had to give up something and so I have given up something that was not working for me and replaced it with about the same amount of acceptable advertising. The other thing is that we have grown on the smart phones and the revenue on smart phones is not as good per view. We’re getting pretty close to the same per view by having more of those views coming on devices that are difficult to monetize. It’s understandable that we’re getting a little less than I had hoped we would get. We get so many more views that the total is fine.

John: The total is, if you could put a percentage on it, how are you doing compared to before you were using the platform?

Rob: Oh boy. As you know it goes up and down. In January we were getting less per view than we had before we switched and then in late April, it suddenly popped way up above what we’ve been seeing for six or eight months. It’s interesting. I tend to do better on Saturday. On Saturday we have fewer people, fewer students and the kind of people who are watching on Saturday tend to be, I’m guessing, more adult with interest in history and that’s where we make more money. The other thing that I just learned from one of your new services which is to rank out how we’re doing by country is that we do vastly better with our quite small number of people coming from overseas. The common wealth people are the ones outside of the US who are doing the most, and the common wealth folks are generating something like 4% of my traffic, probably something like 20%-30% of the regular, this is astonishingly a higher rate, which I think is because the people overseas are checking out the United States, because they have in mind they may be visiting and we’re getting some really high value advertising to those people, much more than I can with my bread and butter here in the United States so it’s quite remarkable. According to your statistics, I’m getting more per view from people in India than I am in the United States, which is bizarre to me.

John: That does seem strange, but it certainly is interesting. I’m looking at your overall kind of revenue curve. I’m not going to give the numbers, but from my calculations, it looks like you’re doing about 75% better per visitor than you were before you used the Ezoic platform, overall. That’s comparing earnings per thousand visits with earnings per thousand visits before so does that sound about right?

Rob: Seventy five percent more visits or overall?

John: Just your monthly income let’s say.

Rob: Yeah, I think we’re doing that.

John: It’s about 75%. I mean, overall and I always kind of think our system is for publishers just like you and we do a lot of work with Google and particularly AdSense publishers. Traffic and income are the two things people seem to be most interested in all the time because they are so well linked, but also it is giving you a continual score to see how you’re doing and if your site is growing, staying the same or going down. So I think we’ve covered most of the things. Did you have any questions for me Rob? Was there anything you wanted to find out because now is your chance even though it’s a bit of a public forum. Make it a nice one.

Rob: Actually, I don’t know. Things are moving right along if you can find some way to persuade schools in the United States to stay open 12 months out of the year, so I don’t have this sag in the middle of the summer I’d really appreciate it, but I think that’s outside of your skill set.

John: I’ll see what I can do.

Rob: Okay I appreciate it.

John: Actually you’re not alone. A lot of academic sites do have a slump in the summer, and it’s because people are away from their desktops and the basic fact is people are still buying, advertisers are still wanting to advertise when people are able to get their credit cards out and buy things and people are still not quite yet anyway, buying as much from their phones as they do when they’re sitting down in front of the PC. It’s the holidays that are always, I think the end of the month is a bad time because the ad tags will change over, public holidays, particularly in the US and then some holidays, full stop. We’re about to enter that domain unfortunately Rob. It’ll be that June/July is always the time, before the back to school advertising comes in the middle of August. I have to say, but the good thing is it always comes back and the whole industry is going up by about 15% so that’s good news at least.

Rob: Yep, we’re waiting.

John: Well Rob, thank you again. I really appreciate your time and thanks for sharing with all of the other publishers out there who want to find out about Ezoic. Okay guys, I’ll call it to a close here. Thanks again. Rob I’ll see you online.

Rob: Okay, thanks for having me on.

John: Thanks again. Bye.

Rob: Bye.

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