#GROWTHSTORY How The Next Web Has Become a Tech Media Juggernaut
With one of the most visited blogs, unparalleled conferences, and innovative services, The Next Web (TNW) has emerged as a highly influential brand in the technology arena.
TNW’s growth story is a great example of how passion, creativity, and patience can lead to long-term success even in a highly competitive space. In this post, we’ll look at how the company has transformed from a small conference into a fast-growing media platform for Generation T.
Origins: reverse route from events to publishing
TNW’s founders Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten and Patrick de Laive never had a grand plan to build a large tech media company. As is often the case with entrepreneurs, you can say they stumbled into their successful venture.
In reality, nothing happens by chance. Having failed multiple times before, they knew it would take a good deal of out-of-the-box thinking and risk-taking to get their idea off the ground.
In 2006, they were looking for a tech event to launch their new startup, and when they couldn’t find the right one, they decided to host a conference of their own. The first conference was scraped together hastily over the course of two and a half months and was attended by only 260 people, but they felt they had something unique in the making.
TNW co-founders Patrick de Laive and Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten
While other tech publishers, such as TechCrunch and Wired, got into the event market after their blog became popular, The Next Web went the other way and began publishing after its conference had traction.
The blog was launched in 2008 as a marketing channel to promote the conference. Little did the founders know that it would turn into one of the world’s largest online publications delivering the latest technology news and spreading tech culture.
Scaling a media platform
When TNW started the blog, it faced formidable competition in the form of established publishing outlets like TechCrunch, ReadWriteWeb, and GigaOM. What was the company’s strategy? In the words of Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten:
We didn’t anticipate, plan, or strategize to compete head-on with these other blogs. We just felt that there was something we wanted to say. We wanted to say it in our own way, and we thought there was an audience. We didn’t really think about the size of the audience, but thought there was an audience interested in the same stuff we are.
Nine years later, TNW has amassed a vast audience worldwide and over 8 million unique monthly visitors. To get where it is today, the company made a bet on quality content, smart SEO strategy, and relentless A/B testing.
As a publisher, how do you decide on a content strategy? For TNW, its mission and purpose define its editorial vision. The company targets so-called Generation T, a cross-generational group of people who take a special interest in technology, with the mission to provide them with original and opinionated perspective on remarkable stories that entertain, persuade, educate, and inspire.
TNW publishes around 30 articles a day. Producing great content at scale requires appropriate manpower, so TNW has invested in building a high-quality editorial team that is spread all over the world.
The company’s content strategy is also focused on producing evergreen content that provides insights into what is happening and why, which matters more to the readers, rather than trying to be the first one to deliver the news.
What’s more, evergreen content has the added benefit of outperforming news-type content from an SEO perspective.
Smart SEO strategy
The company does not write blog posts targeting specific keywords, but it does produce content with SEO in mind.
With over 80,000 posts and counting, TNW’s blog attracts more than 3 million monthly sessions from organic search, providing it with a rich data set to mine for insights that can help it understand its audience better and inform its content strategy.
“You can’t improve what you don’t measure”, the adage goes. To see how well its site performs from an SEO perspective, the company tracks tens of thousands of keywords on a weekly basis and analyzes its own performance over time.
First, the company tracks multiple groups of keywords from its Google Search Console to create a baseline for how it is ranking in search engines.
It also keeps track of specific keyword groups focused around certain topics for which it wants to rank (e.g. SXSW, Apple) to gauge its progress in these areas.
TNW’s SEO team also heavily relies on Schema, a terribly underutilized markup vocabulary for structured data developed by Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo in order to provide all the right information about its content to the search engines.
TNW’s SEO strategy also includes syndication efforts with top publishers and work with the largest technology platforms – Google Amp, Facebook Instant Articles, Apple News – to increase the reach of its content.
Optimizing your content for organic search is a great way to make it more visible and drive more traffic, but it ultimately comes down to the quality of what you produce. TNW’s CEO shares his take on it:
Lots of blogs were started with the idea of growing fast and making money fast. Pretty soon you are resorting to clickbait articles and putting all your hopes on SEO. The quality of your content degrades and soon you’ll find yourself in a negative spiral towards less quality, less traffic and less revenue. Quality is hard, and it takes a very long time before people get used to you and you become a part of their daily digital diet. We didn’t start out with an idea to make a quick buck. That’s also the reason why we are still doing well and have survived many of our competitors.
Relentless A/B testing
While the company’s SEO tactics focus on driving more traffic, its conversion rate optimization efforts center around experiments designed to increase reader engagement, which eventually leads to revenue growth.
How? Higher reader engagement results in more ad impressions. In addition, higher engagement helps create a relationship with readers and may eventually lead to them to purchase other products and services that the company offers.
To understand what motivates and triggers users to engage more, the team at TNW does a lot of A/B testing: around 5–6 tests are running on a weekly basis. With so much traffic, they can run multiple tests on different device categories and still achieve 95%+ significance and 90%+ power level for the tests.
- Page views per visit
- Page views per user
- Average time on site
- Clicks on related stories
- Number of social shares
- Number of newsletter signups
This presentation and this post provide more detail on how the company executes its A/B testing program.
How to Run 200 Tests a Year
With the support of its development team, the company is able to run a winning variant for 100 percent of users within an hour, which maximizes the program’s impact.
An important part of scaling the A/B testing program has been making the whole team more involved by communicating via Slack on experiments being launched and providing a weekly update on both the winners and the losers. This approach has enabled other team members contribute 20-40% of all ideas for the experiments.
The company also extensively uses a proprietary heat mapping tool to track user interest on items that are not clickable and to generate new ideas for testing.
Increasing engagement with new content formats
In an effort to up user engagement, the company introduced TNW Answers in the format of live AMA sessions with top influencers in the world of business and technology.
It also has a conference edition of the Answers, where scheduled speakers are available for questions before and during the TNW Conference. To participate in the Answers, users have to log in with their Twitter or LinkedIn account, enabling the company to put them into its marketing funnel.
Monetization through creative advertising
On the publishing side, TNW generates revenue primarily through advertising and content promotion.
Regular banner ad rates have gone down over the years, so the company came up with a new format called canvas ads. It allows an advertiser to design a beautiful full-page image, or a movie, that can be shown in the background of an article. If a reader is interested in seeing the full ad they can click on the background and the article will slide out of view.
The blog also has a great value as a gateway that introduces readers to the Company’s other products and services.
Building auxiliary revenue streams
The reality of low advertising rates today means publishers must chase multiple sources of revenue to build a sustainable business. TNW has made a concerted effort to diversify its revenue streams while still remaining a publisher at the core.
Conferences and events
The Next Web Conference, hosted annually in Amsterdam, has become a highlight on the global tech conference scene and a must-attend for tech entrepreneurs. From the first event that brought together fewer than 300 people in 2006, it has grown into what CNBC calls “the most intimate technology festival on the planet” with 20,000 attendees who come from all over the world to talk about the future of the web.
TNW Conference 2017 | The Official Aftermovie
A few years ago, the company decided to replicate its success across the pond and now hosts TNW New York.
Why has the company’s conference been so successful? Because the founders weren’t trying to emulate what others were doing, as explained by Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten:
It has always been our strategy to think: “What would I like in an event? What would be the event that I would like to bring the public to?” I think this is a better long-term formula for success than just looking at it as a revenue model where you try to squeeze out as much money as you can. If you have long-term vision, it makes sense to make an event that doesn’t look like one everybody else is doing. Not like the event that your competitors are organizing, but something that really fits with your audience. They will reward you for it in the long term.
The company also elevates brand visibility by organizing Tech5, Europe’s leading annual startup competition, together with the Dutch unicorn Adyen. Tech5 takes a deep dive into the six most important European markets to identify the fastest growing companies and in the past has introduced such world-class startups, as Transferwise, Deliveroo, and SwiftKey.
TNW Deals is the site’s e-commerce section that gives its readers a permanent shopping destination for technology products and services.
It serves as a solid add-on source of revenue for the company without distracting from its core competency.
Unlike its first take on an online shop called Markets, which the company practically ran on its own, TNW Deals is a much leaner operation. TNW only picks up the marketing of the offers and relies on an outside vendor to handle product sourcing, billing, order fulfilment, and customer service.
TNW Deals goes deeper than traditional affiliate programs with all repeat purchases being channeled back through their store.
It also uses freebies to grow its audience, by making users login, like or follow The Next Web on social media, and then share the item to redeem the offer.
Index: delivering value through market intelligence
Index is a market intelligence platform that serves as a matchmaker for investors, startups, and corporates on a global scale. It was previously an internal project built to help TNW’s editors keep track of the companies they want to cover and source new story ideas.
Described as a “Bloomberg for private tech companies”, it combines database functionality of CrunchBase, tech news stream of TechMeme, and a personalized feed of LinkedIn to help users stay on top of what is happening with individual companies and the global tech industry as a whole.
With a powerful engine that uses algorithms and natural language processing to analyze and extract content from hundreds of top sources combined with user-generated content, Index sources information on around 200,000 tech companies.
The service has a freemium model. Affordable pricing makes the premium versions highly competitive with other offerings in the market.
New offerings to connect people and companies around tech
Part of TNW’s mission is to bring different players in tech together and help them connect with each other. For years, it has been doing that through extraordinary events, and it has now added customized B2B services and workspaces to its offering.
Just a few weeks ago, the company launched TNW X, a B2B platform that helps corporates and governments bridge the gap with the tech community. The initiative integrates the whole suite of the company’s services and is based on the impactful programs the company has been running over the past few years.
The X connects enterprises with leading tech startups and top talent. A recent campaign for ABN AMRO is a case in point. TNW helped the Dutch bank recruit tech talent by setting up a platform on its site where users could talk about the future of banking.
The campaign received almost 20,000 applications and generated almost 30 million online impressions, which led to 377 new hires by ABN.
TNW X also helps governments showcase their ecosystem and attract companies. In a recent example, TNW worked with K-Startup, South Korea’s accelerator program, to share the success of top Korean startups at TNW Conference, while at the same time organizing K-Startup Grand Challenge to select top European startups that would join an all-expenses-paid program to set up shop in Korea.
TQ is 6,000 sq. m. tech hub opened by The Next Web in Amsterdam in 2016 to help the Dutch tech community elevate its game on an international level. Part of the Google for Entrepreneurs Network, TQ is home to a curated group of startups, offering them access to talent, resources, and training in order to help them achieve exponential growth.
Key takeaways from TNW’s growth journey
- Being patient and providing quality to the user pays off. It took TNW years of hard, consistent work to achieve success and become part of its readers’ routine.
- TNW’s heavy focus on analytics, SEO, and CRO has helped the company achieve strong growth in user acquisition and engagement on its blog.
- The company has been able to identify new sources of growth by commercializing its internal tools and packaging its services into new offerings.
What’s next for TNW?
The Next Web calls itself a “future-proof” company because it anticipates and embraces technological change. In the words of Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten:
We see new technologies every day and we write about them, but we also look at how we can apply them to our own business.
When TNW’s founders started the company, technology was a niche topic. Over the past 10+ years, there has been a massive change, and technology is now affecting everybody.
The pace of change is bound to accelerate, but by building a multifaceted and adaptive company, TNW looks to maintain growth momentum and remain an integral part of the global tech ecosystem for years to come.
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