What is Valley Elevation in digital publishing?

Instead of striving for virality time and time again, Valley Elevation posits that publishers should focus on ensuring their next drop in page views isn’t as deep as the one before it. It’s the belief that reliable audience growth starts with raising the depths of your metrics’ troughs. It aims to extend the shelf-life of content well beyond a lone traffic spike. The clue’s in the name!

Whilst exciting, the rewards born of huge spikes can be fleeting. Even large publishers find their traffic spikes for successful articles last just a day or two. Countless factors beyond the quality of your content dictate how it performs. As such, traffic spikes cannot reliably measure the success of your site overall, nor the effectiveness of your team’s approach. At Mathematics we believe loyal audiences are the key to driving growth in digital publishing, and spikes do also have a tendency to deliver casual readers who only visit once. Focus on them too heavily and you make your work more difficult; virality attracts a different audience each time, and they’re hard to win back.

Successful Valley Elevation allows you to grow the valley floor in your site’s metrics over time, reducing the depth of all dips in page views. One of the many perks of Valley Elevation is that while it requires monitoring and scheduling, it’s simpler than continually chasing traffic spikes and focuses on loyalty, as opposed to ‘drive-by’ readers that don’t return regularly. The latter requires constant strategic u-turns to stay ahead of the latest trending topics. Aiming for momentary spikes in traffic subverts some publishing fundamentals, too, whereas Valley Elevation goes hand-in-hand with a long-term evergreen strategy.

What does Valley Elevation look like?

Here’s an example. Your team secures an interview with a prominent musician and produces a great piece. With Valley Elevation, don’t elevate the article to all social channels immediately. Rather, share to one, and let it run some – but not all – of its course. See if it passes your title’s ‘threshold of success’: the number of impressions and engagements beyond which a post can be considered successful. If so, share it again once these numbers fall to approximately half their peak. From there, an intricately planned drip-feed can begin trickling through all your channels, as you share and re-share the article at perfect moments.

Azula - a successful example of valley elevationHere’s an overview of a specific example, and the steps taken to enact it.

A music title has lined up a feature with a world-famous artist. It goes online on Wednesday.

The music title’s timeline:

  1. The publication examines its analytics data from the past 12 months and uses it to inform its Valley Elevation posting strategy for an important new feature. It discovers that Instagram hits primarily on Wednesday, Twitter on Friday, and Facebook on Sunday.
  2. The feature goes live on Wednesday and is shared to Instagram. Our title starts here because Instagram is where most time is spent by loyal readers – we recommend starting with them. The initial flurry of attention garners 15,000 page views, which is over our title’s ‘threshold of success’, qualifying the article for re-posting.
  3. On Friday, the daily page views have dropped to 7,500; half that of the initial surge. The article is shared to Twitter at 10am and 5pm, and shared again on Instagram with a different caption, sustaining its momentum and bringing it to a wider audience. The feature gains an additional 2,000 page views from these tweets.
  4. Twitter referrals tail off quickly, so the article is tweeted once more on Sunday, and shared on Facebook for the first time. Without much competition, this weekend Facebook share earns the feature an additional 10,000 page views.
  5. By the end of Monday, Facebook is responsible for around 5,000 daily article views. So, it’s given a final push on Facebook, and shared once more.

In theory, the music title has sustained a high volume of readers for its big feature and extended that feature’s shelf-life well beyond what it might have been had it been shared to every social platform at the moment of publication. If they take the same approach with all posts that return enough page views to be considered successful relative to the publication’s size, the troughs in their page views should slowly begin to elevate

Our hypothetical music publisher would have been aided by organic re-sharing that puts the feature in the hands of additional members of relevant reader communities. The title may also communicate their posting schedule with their artist’s PR, who can ensure it doesn’t match theirs, keeping the article in feeds for as long as possible.

Of course, it makes sense to share to different platforms at different times of day. The smart publication will take stock of when its readers engage the most heavily on which channels, and allow that to inform the times of day the content is shared and re-shared. Spend time understanding how your content is consumed so you can promote it when your audience is most receptive. Although, you risk oversaturating feeds if you re-share all pieces the moment their referrals drop to half of their initial traffic surge – only do this if the first post returns enough page views to be considered a success for your title. But, if an under-performing post is attached to an article you’d like to receive more limelight, try something totally different next time.

Successful Valley Elevation settles at an elevation far above that of your start point. It’s what you have to show for a dedicated, expanding audience that never stops enjoying your output. As mentioned before, it doesn’t require an overhaul of strategy; effective Valley Elevation strategy is built on a foundation of robust marketing practices. Valley Elevation requires your publication to consider social strategy on a more atomic level than before, but its payoffs can be invaluable.