Home Mobile Now Accounts For 10% of Topix Traffic – And It’s Mostly From Small Towns

Mobile Now Accounts For 10% of Topix Traffic – And It’s Mostly From Small Towns

This morning I caught up with Chris Tolles, CEO of news aggregation service Topix. I’ve been following Topix since it began, back in 2004, so it was interesting to find out how the service has evolved. Originally, as the name suggests, Topix was focused on being a news site that categorized its content into topics. Nowadays Topix is very focused on localized news, particularly for small towns across America. Tolles said that 44% of their traffic comes from rural areas, rather than metropolitan areas.

Topix has also seen rapid growth in mobile access over the past year, from about 1% of their total traffic to 10% now. Tolles told me that 70% of that mobile traffic is coming from the iPhone.

When Topix began in 2004, just 10% of Topix’s channels were local. But soon after, Tolles told me, they noticed that about 45% of their traffic was coming from those local channels. Topix then embarked on a journey to “own local news” for towns. By 2007, Topix was focusing almost exclusively on local news. It aimed to become the “home of local voice on the Web.”

Small Town News

Topix is about discussion, rather than traditional journalism. Tolles explained that they use a community approach to get people to participate and add news for their town. The content on the site is largely driven by community discussion. Tolles said that small towns often don’t have enough news, so “discussion is what fills this out.”

According to Tolles, Topix can be a substitute for traditional press in some small towns – especially if there’s no local paper (or if there is one, it’s not daily but, for example, a weekly publication). Given its focus on discussions, Tolles said that Topix is the place to go “if you want to throw rocks at your mayor.”

As noted, Topix does well in small towns. The southeast of the U.S. is currently working very well, said Tolles, with some small towns attracting thousands of comments a day. However, by his own admission Topix does poorly in big metropolitan cities like New York City and San Francisco. Tolles attributes this to increased competition in those places, but also in smaller cities or towns locals often “have axe to grind” and so that fosters discussions.

I asked how Topix markets itself to towns. Tolles replied that the biggest way Topix is discovered is through Google – for example, people searching for their town’s news. He said that 40% of Topix’s traffic comes from Google, but that 50% is organic – meaning that people come via the URL or a bookmark. That means that a solid percentage of Topix’s traffic is return visitors. Tolles noted that when people first visit Topix, they are attracted to the comments.

Mobile Usage Dramatically Increased

Probably the most interesting factoid I discovered about Topix today is that mobile usage is increasing at a rapid rate. Tolles said that in just one year mobile traffic went from 1% to 10% of the site’s total traffic. Most of these are iPhone users: 70% of mobile traffic, as noted above.

What’s more, mobile users are good commenters, too. Tolles said that about 30% of mobile users leave comments on Topix, which is a high ratio when you consider how difficult it is to leave comments via a mobile device.

Tolles noted that Topix has an iPhone app, which was released almost two years ago. However, he said that most of the mobile traffic comes from a mobile browser. Topix supports 38,000 towns or cities, all of which are available via mobile.

Mobile is by far the fastest growing aspect of Topix currently, said Tolles. He also remarked that advertising space in mobile is an open field. Topix monetizes well on the Web, at almost $4 per CPM. However, the mobile side is not quite so high currently. He expects this to grow, but he isn’t sure if it will be Google, Apple or another company that will provide the optimal mobile advertising platform.

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