Alphr.com has been a headline-grabbing success story from publishers Dennis UK since their launch in 2015. Eighteen months later, they have risen up to challenge the traffic figures of long-established tech brands, have hosted their own awards ceremony and are starting to make serious money from content partnerships with brands like Samsung.
Their original mission was to “create an engaging and inspiring content proposition, bringing a fresh take on technology to a broad range of Business Decision Makers”. Nearly two years later, what are they doing to achieve that goal and how is the team approaching content partnerships?
A rebirth…and an audience shift
Alphr was born out of Dennis’ existing brand, PC Pro, which had a website and a print magazine. While the print magazine remains unchanged, the PC Pro website transformed into Alphr.com to enable the growth of the online brand away from the legacy print edition.
Unsurprisingly, the brand has seen a small shift to a younger audience, and has also managed to reach a significantly higher proportion of women. “The most pleasing thing for me is the growth in female audience” explained Ian Betteridge, Alphr’s Editorial Director. “PC Pro tended to be around 10 percent, whereas Alphr is consistently in the 40 percent plus range.”
Alphr also chose not to focus on retaining the PC Pro audience during the transition, “not because we don’t care about them – we do – but because we believed they were ready for something fresh too.” Although he is not sure all of the audience have come across, Betteridge notes that enough of them fill his inbox if something isn’t quite right. “We trusted that they’d be interested in what we wanted to do, and would appreciate the work,” he added.
Achieving those traffic numbers with such a small team is not an easy task. Betteridge attributes the success of the site to the writers being incredibly focused on what they do best.
“We don’t try to be a comprehensive buying guide for laptops – other sites, not least Dennis’ own Expert Reviews, do that and do it well. We focus on telling the stories about technology which are unexpected, intriguing, or entertaining.
“We create content when we think we can add something, whether that’s a different angle on an existing story or something completely unexpected.”
Scale, traffic and a global outlook
This angle translates through to Alphr’s global content strategy. Two-thirds of their traffic is global, but concentrating on depth rather than breaking news makes a global reach achievable from the UK, without the need for reporters in the US.
“The world has shrunk and you can cover technology from anywhere you can get an internet connection. This isn’t just true for us: look at The Verge, and how Tom Warren does his excellent Microsoft coverage from London.
“If you’re interested in Microsoft, it doesn’t matter whether you’re in Berkeley, Brighton or Bangalore – you’re still interested in the same things, and you’ll read the same sites to find out about them.”
Organic UK and Global visits to Alphr.com, January 2016 & January 2017. Figures provided by Dennis UK
Paul Hood, Head of Digital for Dennis UK emphasised the importance of using meaningful metrics to judge Alphr’s success.
“For too long, many publishers have chosen to focus on audience scale as the primary success metric. But more often than not there isn’t a direct correlation between scale and sustainability.”
Hood has three success metrics which he and the team apply, in order of importance:
- Levels of reach and engagement with specific audience segments, which in Alphr’s case is senior and C-level business executives
- The profitability of the brand
- The brand impact
“That’s not to say that audience scale isn’t important; it is still something we monitor closely, and of course it’s very pleasing to see Alphr’s organic UK audience levels ahead of other quality tech brands like Quartz, Wired and Ars Technica.
“But it’s equally pleasing that brands like HP, Audi, Samsung and SAP have chosen to work with Alphr on content partnerships to deliver their messages to our audience in engaging ways.”
Total unique UK visits to Alphr.com in January. Figures provided by Dennis UK / Hitwise
A multi-dimensional entity
Over the past eighteen months, Alphr’s monetisation strategy has begun to evolve to make them a ‘multi-dimensional entity,’ according to Hood.
“In its first year we’ve developed a glossy print magazine from Alphr content, we’ve hosted an awards ceremony to celebrate diversity in tech and UK tech startups, and we’ve teamed up with Microsoft and HP to harness the power of technology to empower children on the Autism Spectrum.”
The necessity to evolve their monetisation strategy is due in part to the unsustainability of ad revenue. Websites aimed at a tech-savvy audience often suffer with heavier-than-usual rates of adblocking, and Alphr is no exception in needing a solid strategy to tackle it.
Betteridge believes that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to tackling adblocking, so Alphr try a number of different tactics, including asking users to whitelist the site, reducing the number of ads on a page and increasing the site speed. Alphr also put a great deal of effort into getting rid of ‘bad adverts’.
“We’re constantly trying to eliminate the kind of rogue ads which occasionally get through networks. That’s like an arms race, as rogue advertisers will go to great lengths to avoid the measures that we and networks put in place to eliminate them, but it’s very important to us. One user having a bad experience on our site is one too many.”
Cultivating content partnerships
Alongside their work on tackling adblocking, Alphr are also carefully cultivating a second major source of revenue: partnerships. “Display is still the biggest source of income, but content partnerships are very close behind now,” said Betteridge. “I’d expect them to overtake display this year.”
One example of this is the recent partnership they launched with Samsung; a collaboration on virtual reality for business. Betteridge wanted to break the perception of partnerships either being a bland advertorial or a logo on an article, and welcomed the opportunity to work with Samsung on something ‘quite different’.
“Basically, Samsung saw the content we had already done about VR – articles like Thomas McMullan’s piece on how VR will change the way we think about violence – and asked us to work with them on content around VR in business.”
The editorial team wrote a series of articles around VR and business, with pieces focusing on the impact of VR on retail, advertising, training and healthcare. The project brought in a significant portion of revenue, and performed above expectations, which Alphr attribute to a particularly good working relationship with the client.
“It was a collaboration, rather than just sponsorship or advertorial, where we brought our independent expertise along and created content which worked for both brand and audience.”
Betteridge is optimistic about Alphr’s future with innovative partners. “Content partnerships work best when they really are a partnership, and you end up creating something which is actually great content,” he added.
Define your audience, retain a tight editorial focus on depth and that audience will remain loyal and engaged. Alphr are well aware that they can’t be all things to all people, even though their brand could easily accomodate spreading out futher. It is this focus which appeals to sponsors like Samsung and is a lesson which comes out time and time again as a strength in successful digital-only brands.