OpenFiction [Blog]

Driving traffic to OCW

One facet of my job is to manage media relations for MIT OpenCourseWare, doing the typical work of responding to inquiries and writing press releases, and also working proactively to get coverage of the site. Historically, media coverage has been a pretty good driver of traffic to the site, with articles in the New York Times, AP, and Christian Science Monitor leading to big spikes in traffic. The big jumps in the chart below at the beginning of 2007 and 2008 are just such media hits. In the last couple of years, however, media coverage hasn’t resulted in the kinds of big traffic jumps we’ve seen in the past.

Graph of MIT visits since 10/2003, starting at 250,000 and ending at 1,500,000

In part, this is because Open Educational Resources has become a much larger and more vibrant field than when we started our OCW, and I’ve always said this was the only business where you could feel good about losing market share. In many of the recent articles, we are either one of a number of resources discussed, or simply included as a background reference when talking about another resource. I think we’ve also managed to saturate the audience that frequents major news outlets as well.

What has been driving traffic to OCW lately is social media sites such as Reddit and StumbleUpon. A good example is this Reddit hit from last week:

Redit tag reading in part "MIT offers free online course materials including video lectures..."

Not calling out a specific resource, just a general, “Hey, didja know?” but nonetheless got voted up and drove an impressive amount of traffic to our site:

Screenshot of Google Analytics 8/15 to 8/20 showing 100% increase in traffic on 5/18

We more or less doubled traffic to the site on the day it hit, 82% of the Reddit visitors had never been to the site before, and 54% stayed for more than one page. I am not sure how you build an awareness strategy around this, as I’m sure you can really piss off a web community if they feel like you are gaming their referrals, but it definitely shows the power of these social media sites in driving high-quality traffic.

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