Speed, Quantity and Multiplatform Distribution Are Driving People.com’s Crazy Traffic Growth

Its print-digital divide is gone

People.com says it's been experiencing record-breaking traffic growth, thanks to a strategy that emphasizes speed and quantity without sacrificing original, quality reporting. People and Entertainment Weekly digital editorial director Will Lee said it's more about "winning" the story than it was when the print magazine was the gold standard.

"We don't look at it like the digital product and print product anymore," Lee said. "We tell stories and then figure out how to distribute them across the platform."

Since Lee took over in October 2014, the average number of stories produced each day has at least doubled, with numbers tripling during awards season—during the 2015 Oscar season, People.com posted about 120 stories.

"It's literally 'type faster, make the phone calls faster'—it's just a metabolism thing," Lee said. "We're transforming from a weekly cadence to 'seconds count.'"

And, it's paying off. In February, People.com broke its internal records for unique visitors—72 million people visited the site, according to Omniture, marking a 78 percent year-over-year increase. It also had a 304 percent increase for social referrals and a 97 percent increase for search-referral traffic. And it facilitated 10.9 million video streams, up 259 percent from the same time last year.

Lee was most recently vp of digital content and programming for The Hollywood Reporter (which is owned by Adweek parent company Prometheus Global Media), but says he drew on best practices he learned as the New York bureau chief of TMZ, where he worked from 2006 to 2009, to fuel People.com's growth. It may be hard to believe that a strategy from six years ago is still relevant in today's ever-changing digital landscape, but People.com said the numbers show it's working.

"I don't think you have to trade velocity for accuracy," Lee said. "At TMZ, we got stuff right."

For example, one of the website's highest-performing stories in March was something People's team saw bubbling on social media about a father who was taking care of quadruplets ever since his wife died during childbirth. In the past, the magazine's publishing schedule would have dictated that the story wait as long as a week to run, but People.com secured the exclusive interview and published a piece within 72 hours. The multiplatform coverage—which included videos, digital stories and print stories—resulted in an exclusive partnership segment on the Today Show. 

Going forward, Lee is betting on video to help continue the momentum, not only through People.com's daily news show, People Now, but through experimenting with emerging digital platforms like Snapchat, Periscope, Meerkat and Facebook video. He said creating content for apps will help People's audience grow but also reach new, younger readers. 

"A lot of it is about making [our videos] part of our audience's habit," Lee said. "It doesn't matter what the demographic is on site. For example, our Snapchat audience is totally different from our website readers. It's an experience for the next generation of users."