Welcome back to StumbleUpon Innovators, a weekly interview series with publishers, platforms, and digital media experts. Each week we’ll investigate strategies, new tools, and trends with some of the brightest minds in the business. Our aim is to provide you with actionable practices to improve your content choices, distribution, marketing, monetization, and more.
In case you missed last week’s interview with Diana Santaguida of SEOcial, you can read it here.
Q&A with Scott Kritz, EVP Audience Development at Liquor.com
I’m a founding member and the head of audience development for the leading cocktails and spirits publisher, Liquor.com. In a past life, I helped build the audience growth engine for Bleacher Report before it was acquired by Turner. Prior to that, I was the Director of Show Programming for Sony Pictures Digital and Crackle.com. I started my career as an engineering and graphic design intern at FHM magazine at 19 years-old while doing my bachelors in Computer & Information Science at Fordham University in NYC; I left FHM as their Editor-in-Chief and Acting Publisher in the U.S.
What is Liquor.com all about?
When we launched Liquor.com a little over 5 years ago, we saw cocktails and spirits becoming even more wildly popular in the U.S. However, we were amazed that there wasn’t a single media entity entirely devoted to drinks online—so we launched one. We’re completely focused on the consumer at all levels, from the vaguely interested drinker to the hardcore connoisseur. Basically, cocktails are social, and we want to help power that for people—it’s why we’ve taken such a heavy lifestyle approach to our brand and content. So far, it’s been working well for us.
Last year we saw 21 million unique visitors come through Liquor.com’s website—they generated over 100 million page impressions—and we ended 2014 with more than half-a-million registered subscribers. If you plot our yearly audience metrics since our launch in late 2009 on a graph, our growth slope works out to a hockey stick shape—up and to the right.
So far in 2015, we’re continuing to grow our web audience month over month and pacing to break last year’s web traffic numbers. We should also break 1 million registered subscribers before the summer is over.
Who is your audience and how do you reach them? How do you find new audiences?
Our audience is about 50/50 male/female—give or take a percent or two in either direction at any given time. We originally thought our brand would skew male when we launched, but there ended up being an evenly split interest in the space across male and female consumers. In terms of age, our highest concentration of users fall around the 30-year-old mark, but our readership ranges in age from mid 20s to late 40s. These are educated, upwardly mobile professionals who know how to enjoy life.
We find our readers through a variety of channels—the vast majority of which is organic and unpaid. Search—primarily Google—drives a lot of traffic into Liquor.com. We also have a partnership network of over a hundred top food, drink and lifestyle publications that we cross-pollinate a lot of web traffic with. That’s our second largest source of audience next to search. Social media is really big for us, with Facebook leading the charge on that front. Then, besides a big chunk of monthly direct type-in traffic, we also see a ton of regular readers come to Liquor.com via our email product. For us, email is super important: We are constantly trying to convert web visitors from all those web traffic sources into our email product for audience retention.
What’s your publishing and/or content marketing strategy?
On the content front, it’s all about variety. We try to have a really strong core offering of evergreen utility content—primarily cocktail recipes and spirit brands information—while also creating really interesting, trend-based articles for our hardcore enthusiast and professional bartender readers. Besides that, we create a ton of fun, lifestyle-oriented content that appeals to anyone who is social and likes a good drink. In addition to “written word” content, we do a variety of video content, which we’re focusing on in a really big way in 2015. All that variety let’s us have something for everyone, and it allows us to utilize a wide range of content marketing channels to find and build new audiences for Liquor.com.
What are your biggest challenges and how are you tackling them?
Retention is the major 2015 challenge for Liquor.com on the audience front. We have a somewhat unique “audience growth braintrust” here at Liquor.com that consists of me, our head of marketing, our editor-in-chief, our head of video, our creative director and our head of product. Retention is the main obsession of our weekly sessions together right now. We have a good start with our fast-growing and highly-engaged email list, but that just accounts for a fraction of the folks who find their way to Liquor.com’s website via search, media partner traffic and social media (outside of our owned and operated social media pages, which are a form of user retention unto themselves).
If we could retain just a few percent more of those folks month-over-month, our monthly web metrics would sky rocket. I think this is a problem for most digital publishers, but we are working hard together as a team to overcome it. Besides constantly optimizing our subscription conversion funnel on the Liquor.com website, we’re also in the process of product hacking our way into a set of utility tools that are so compelling and useful that folks will be even more excited to register for Liquor.com accounts, and moreover, we think more of them will come to the site on a very, very regular basis to use them. However, we’re not there yet, and none of those tools have been released to the public. I can’t wait for those to roll out so we can test, measure and iterate on them in the coming months. It could be another game changer for our young company’s audience development.
What are your best tips and tricks for publishers and brands?
First, you should be making qualitative content and product decisions directly based upon your quantitative metrics. Editors, product managers and marketers should all be working together in harmony based on what those numbers tell them. Those metrics tell a story about what your users like and don’t like… that is, if you choose to listen to them.
Second, in terms of audience growth, you shouldn’t buy too many eyeballs—try to find amazing, unpaid, organic sources of traffic through search, social and great partnerships. This is a more sustainable audience model that results in higher quality traffic and a better bottom line for your business. If you are going to buy audience, do so very strategically with great targeting and clear performance goals on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and StumbleUpon (there’s my plug for my friends at SU).
Lastly, you need to have a very strong audience retention plan: it’s not enough to drive folks to your site once or twice; you want to keep them coming back regularly.
Rapid fire with Scott Kritz:
What is your media diet?
I use Nuzzel to scour my social channels and give me a daily digest of the most popular content that my social connections are sharing. Every morning I read Business Insider’s “10 Things in Tech You Need to Know Today” and Need 2 Know‘s daily email for its short, fun world news digest. I also read Product Hunt‘s daily email digest and browse the emails of several dozen Liquor.com media partners every day to keep up on their most recent partnerships, email layouts and new awesome content.
My guilty pleasures include:
- Howard Stern, who’s arguably the most talented—and too often, the most underrated—interviewer alive today.
- Futurism, which consistently makes me feel better that we don’t yet have flying cars, and is the basis for most of my personal tweets and Facebook posts.
- Snow Roller, my brother Collin’s indie rock band out of Portland, OR. They’ve fulfilled my high school and college dream of taking a decent band—which is all I ever had—and making it great, putting it on tour and getting it onto a record label. I listen to their debut EP “Another Step in Your Career Ladder” on repeat all throughout the work day.
- And finally, NPR. I have a confession: a mini obsession of mine is my quest to listen to every “This American Life” episode that’s ever been recorded in what little spare time I have. I’m about 65% of the way through this compulsive exercise.
Who do you admire?
I admire anyone who’s passionate and willing to take a major risk.
Who’s your dream partner?
That’s pretty easy for me to answer: The New York Times. Over the years, I’ve been able to work with almost everyone on my partnership bucket list… except The New York Times. I fell in love with publishing through reading that paper obsessively all throughout high school. Besides being amazing innovators on the digital side of product and storytelling, they’re also the “holy grail” of media partnerships, since they don’t do a lot of them. I met Paul Smurl, their GM of Core Digital Products and Amanda Rottier their Director of Business Development at a couple different Digital Publishing Innovation Summits put on by Innovation Enterprise that I guest chaired and hosted. They’re lovely, amazing people… but I’m still trying to make something happen there. Paul and Amanda, if you’re reading this, hook a brother up!
What’s one thing that your coworkers don’t know about you?
I’m an open book, as well as good friends with pretty much all of my co-workers, so actually, I don’t think there’s anything they don’t know about me. Frankly, they probably know more about me than they care to!
How can people reach you?
If you have suggestions for a future participants, please contact Andrew Levine at firstname.lastname@example.org.