Expanding the Online Presence of Data Community DC – W3DC’s Strategic Plan for 2014

by Sean Murphy & Benjamin Bengfort

W3DC handles online and technological aspects of Data Community DC. Its primary scope is the web domain at http://datacommunitydc.org as well as content and applications. Because of this, its natural responsibilities fall into several categories: outreach, publication, and interaction.

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In 2013, the main goal of the W3DC project (then simply identified as Web) was to build a platform by which local data practitioners could have their voices heard on an increasingly larger stage.  To do this, we wanted to increase traffic as much as possible and then monetize this traffic through several different mechanisms listed below to enable a virtuous cycle:

  1. click-based advertising via Google Adsense,
  2. Amazon affiliate revenue,
  3. ad-hoc online advertising for local clients and sponsors.

The end result would be to create a virtuous cycle; content draws traffic which when monetized creates resources to have more and better content and traffic.

In 2013, we focused on creating a continuous stream of quality content that would draw traffic. Through the success and failure of this process, we learned that quality content is only half of the puzzle and that such material must be intelligently and efficiently marketed to the communities of interest. Content without outreach is the proverbial tree falling in the woods with no one around.

Thus, the success of W3DC hinges on our ability to create (1) turnkey systems that identify/create/discover appropriate content for the community and (2) automatic processes for alerting the community to its existence and enabling them to share such material easily. Please note that the turnkey systems are crucial as W3DC is resource constrained.

Beyond such learning, our online presence made great strides last year, as evidenced by the following numbers:

  • annual revenue of approximately $900
  • user base of 92,000 visitors to the site,
  • monthly unique visitors ranging from 8,000 to 15,000,
  • a number of articles went viral and broke out of the regional community.

Looking forward to 2014, we hope to extend our reach and power up last year’s results, increasing both readership and revenue. We also hope to organize a more cohesive and effective online platform for the entire Data Community. Currently there are two main ideas to move forward: an application-centric approach vs. a publishing-centric approach. Either way, we will update the website and leverage some of the revenue of last year to boost the web traffic and interaction of our members with the online presence of DC2.

Review

In 2013, the guiding metrics of success were revenue and readership (defined as unique visitors to the site per month). Revenue was achieved via advertising and affiliate fees. Readership was defined as the number of unique visitors to the site, combined with the number of publications per week. Some key performance indicators are as follows:

2013 Posts per Month

Average of 22 posts per month published by 16 authors (and guest authors) with an average of 14 posts per author. Sean Murphy and Sean Gonzalez were the most published authors.

2013 Posts per Author

With respect to web traffic, we received 132,911 Visits, with 92,183 uniques in 2013, and 190,308 pageviews resulting in 1.43 pages per visit. It is fairly interesting that only half of our visitors reached a second page on our site; because of the structure of our site, that means that roughly half our visitors either went to a post or a page from the home page. In terms of attention span, the average duration was 3 min 9 seconds and the bounce rate was 70.38%. Most of our visitors were new, 69.19 new visitors, instead of returning visitors.

2013 Web Traffic

We began our AdSense campaigns in June 2013. AdSense made a total of $180.56. It recorded 79,968 pageviews and 155 clicks for a click through rate of 0.19% CTR. The cost per click average per month was $1.16 CPC giving us a revenue per thousand impressions of $2.26 RPM. AdSense performance has been fairly consistent since we initiated the program in June, averaging $25.79 per month.

The Amazon Associates program has been less consistent. This program relies on links added directly to our content rather than banner ads that are automated. Our most successful affiliate month was in March- when we published a series of book-oriented posts. Amazon averages $8.19 per month in revenue, though with far less clicks. There were 51 total purchases for a total of $81.94.

2013 Revenue

It’s worth noting that our primary revenue source from the affiliate programs was in Books (61.3% of purchases) and Kindle eBooks (19.7% of purchases), which has an average affiliate fee of 6.00%. While the AdSense program is more consistent, the Affiliate programs allow us to target our content, which can be more lucrative, if more labor intensive.

2013 Affiliate Revenue Categories

Other revenue sources include a variety of advertisements that were worth more than the estimated cost per click, as well as sponsorship money from the groups.

Goals:

The primary goal for 2014 is to build on the success of last year and to continue to grow both readership and revenue. It is clear from the statistics in the review that there is a correlation between revenue and readership that goes beyond simple hits to the website. We need to get repeat visitors that are invested in the site and the material on it. It seems that the key to this is more articles per month- and the key to more articles per month is to have more authors on the site.

Once we have a regular following, we can exercise the regular base of AdSense with high growth opportunities through our Associates, particularly with book deals. This leads us to our first benchmark goals for 2014:

  • $10,000 in annual revenue from advertisements and sponsorships
  • 100,000 unique visitors per month on average, with 50% returning

We feel that these benchmarks indicate a healthy community and web brand that is influential. We want the members of Data Community DC to feel connected not just at Meetups, but also through the website. Connectedness with influence means when we advertise, our members click on the links because we’re providing value to them- we’re not just money grubbing click grubbers.

We’ve already mentioned that increasing the number of authors will improve our site tremendously. However, the type of authorship becomes a question. Do we want to take a publication centric approach to our content, or an application centric approach? A publication centric approach means a stricter editorial focus with articles on a range of content that is continual (more like a journal mixed with a magazine). Application centric approaches mean minor snippets of content that’s consumed in a data-focused manner. For instance, interesting data sets, job listings, etc. Unfortunately, for this year, we only have the resources for one approach.

Do we want to take a publication centric approach to our content, or an application centric approach?

This crucial decision will shape the course of the year and how we approach structuring upcoming changes to the site. Please weigh in below in the comments section!

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Sean Murphy

Senior Scientist and Data Science Consultant at JHU
Sean Patrick Murphy, with degrees in math, electrical engineering, and biomedical engineering and an MBA from Oxford, has served as a senior scientist at Johns Hopkins University for over a decade, advises several startups, and provides learning analytics consulting for EverFi. Previously, he served as the Chief Data Scientist at a series A funded health care analytics firm, and the Director of Research at a boutique graduate educational company. He has also cofounded a big data startup and Data Community DC, a 2,000 member organization of data professionals. Find him on LinkedIn, Twitter, and .
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