With so much negative coverage of news publishing, we at Bibblio wanted to shine a spotlight on the many vertical publishers that are thriving. So we created an interview series called "Vertical Heroes".
In this first edition, Simple Flying founder Arran Rice takes us through the success of his go-to publication for aviation geeks. Bibblio CEO Mads Holmen sat him down to talk about repeat visitor rates, ad revenue, apps and quality content. Enjoy.
Mads: Who is your publication’s target audience?
Arran: We have two main audience pools for Simple Flying. One being frequent flyers who travel a lot for work or pleasure. Our other main audience are aviation geeks, who can probably tell you which plane is flying above their head just by listening to the engine noise.
Mads: What different types of content are you offering them?
Arran: Simple Flying offers a wide range of content. Our main focus is of course aviation news, this could be anything from an airline launching a new route to a story of a passenger being kicked off a flight for stealing an exit sign. Secondary to aviation news we publish a lot of analytical content based on current industry trends. For example: What plane will Qantas order for Project Sunrise (London to Sydney direct flights).
Mads: How large is your publication in terms of audience and staff?
Arran: Simple Flying gets on average around 2.5 million page views each month. Our aim is to reach 4.5 million page views per month by the end of 2019. Simple Flying currently has 20 staff members. Most of our staff are of course writing up content for the site, then we also have a small video production team, a developer and 2 people in marketing and business development.
We don’t believe in working in an office 9-5. All staff members work fully remote from around the world. As the founder, I press for a life over work balance. Staff members can take unlimited time off, travel as much as they want and can be location independent. I'm a digital nomad myself and travel the world full time chasing the sun. A lot of our staff members do the same.
Mads: You’ve managed to grow impressively, what has been the secret sauce?
Arran: Simple Flying required a large upfront investment to get off the ground and breaking even took a lot longer than expected. Our secret sauce to growth has been lots of good quality content.
Mads: How do you prioritize attracting new audiences vs. engaging existing users deeper?
Arran: Our motto is, if our content is good and there is a good volume of content being created audiences will stick. This is certainly the case, our repeat visitor rate is growing at double digits percentage-wise every month. On a technical side, we allow users to subscribe to a daily ‘aviation digest’ as well as sign up to push notifications for breaking stories.
This month (May 2019), Simple Flying will be launching a brand new mobile app for both Android and iOS. This will allow existing users to be more engaged with our content and receive notifications for any major stories. We also work with a number of ‘aviation’ influencers (people who travel the world and review flights) and they work with Simple Flying writing up trip reports.
Mads: What are the key audience metrics you define success by?
Arran: As a bottom line we always want to increase our users, but drilling further down there is a big push for making users return and lowering our bounce rate whilst increasing time on site.
Mads: Could you define what SEO means to you these days?
Arran: SEO to Simple Flying is one thing: Good quality content. We believe if we produce good quality content SEO benefits will come. This is certainly true, large publications such as the BBC and Forbes have given us backlinks to aviation stories we broke. These backlinks occurred naturally and go a long way to increasing search engine rankings.
Mads: What’s your social media strategy, and how important is it for you to be present on those platforms? What’s the newest trend you’re seeing?
Arran: We obviously have profiles on all of the major social platforms and post all of our content on to them. Right now we are doing a big push into video and YouTube. As of late April, Simple Flying is producing daily weekday videos covering an array of aviation topics on YouTube.
Mads: Would you describe your business as data-driven?
Arran: We look at data on a daily basis, especially traffic and revenue data. We have yield management tools in place to help us make the most out of every impression we get on Simple Flying.
Mads: Could you shed a bit of light on how you generate revenue?
Arran: Our primary revenue model right now is advertising. To diversify we will soon be moving into affiliate marketing writing about top credit cards, and amazon products. We also plan to start offering paid ad-free subscriptions for our mobile apps.
Mads: Why do you think your revenue model has been successful?
Arran: As a site, the model has been very successful and there is still a ton of room for growth and diversification when it comes to revenue. Personally, running the site has enabled me to fully realise my passion for aviation and share it with others on a huge level.
Mads: Can you share some milestones/stats on the business to illustrate?
Arran: Other than the fact we launched in June 2018, and are already achieving 2.5 million page views per month less than 11 months later - not really. Revenue wise there is still a lot of work.
Mads: What's the area you’re most excited about?
As the Simple Flying audience grows, and ad revenues along with it, it enables us to create even more content focusing on specific geographies. I’m excited for the site to cover more aviation stories from emerging markets.
Mads: From your own journey, what do you think other vertical publishers could learn?
Arran: Hiring people who work remote, although the management is harder, it can be very successful. Especially for Simple Flying, our staff fly and travel as a lifestyle and this helps our content quality massively.
Mads: Which other publishers do you look to for inspiration?
Arran: I love Business Insider, they have created the go-to site for everything business. I take inspiration from them as I want to make the go-to site for everything aviation.