How Domain transformed its business in five steps

With many traditional publishers struggling with how to monetise and commercialise their content offerings, Domain's editorial director Toby Johnstone shares how Domain changed its journalism model into a business channel in five steps.

Johnstone says there were five steps to Domain’s transformation, the first being the need to modernise its newsroom, which included a focus on marketing platforms, SEO and video, not just people’s opinions.

Toby Johnstone at Mumbrella360 earlier this month

“We don’t just use our digital marketing platforms to push ads through the web, we use a lot of the ad spots to push content. Why? Because we know content works.

“There is a value exchange, pushing content through ad channels there is the difference between clocking an impression and making an impression,” he says.

Next up, he says, Domain got to know its audience.

“Talk to people, not cookies. If Domain targeted cookies last month we would have hit 1.018m things, different devices, different browsers, different people logged in to different computers.

“As a result our frequency would be nowhere and we would have no idea if we were annoying people, we don’t have full clarity,” he says.

Johnstone says it is important to know what your audience wants and what they are likely to want next.

For example as soon as someone decides to move, Domain figures out what else they are going to need through that moving process, such as an agent, a mortgage, house insurance or a bigger car.

Using Facebook Live to live stream auctions was another way Domain engaged its audience and managed to attract not just reach but engagement including likes, shares and comments.

“Give people content they haven’t seen before,” he says.


Diversifying content was step number three, which Domain did by pushing different content through alternative channels depending on which audience was being targeted.

Domain pushed content such as ‘What is the most liveable suburb?’ and ‘What is the most un-liveable suburb?’ Furthermore, when the company ranked every single suburb according to its liveability, it was the biggest traffic day for Domain.

From there, Domain provided calculators which enabled people to find out which suburb they were most suited to and if they could afford it.

“In terms of a contextually relevant safe space for a brand on super-high-trafficking content, this was a bit of a knockout and the numbers show that.

“2.5 million page views and more importantly 1.1 million unique views in a city of five million that means we are hitting one in five people,” he says.

Next up was creating a commercial content strategy to assist with monetising its content distribution and platforms.

Sponsored and branded content templates were new labels Domain created, which meant there were paid content options, rather than the company just pushing ads, which Jonstone says no one reads.

“The people we are hitting with these branded stories are highly targeted, we know that they are already interested in what this content is.

“People don’t read ads, they read what they like and sometimes those things are ads and that is why sponsored and branded are extremely popular,” he says quoting Howard Gossage.

Domain’s five steps to change

Embracing risks was the final stage of Domain’s transformation, Johnstone says.

Johnstone cites Domain’s eight-part series on Palm Beach residents, Avalon Now, as an example, which resulted in Domain being able to pull traffic from its Facebook content onto its website.

Domain then took its Avalon Now social series from a content series to an above-the-line campaign.

“Risk is a necessity, it’s not a luxury and that is our mantra, we want to be adventurous and not reckless.”

In summary, Johnstone says Domain is now in a position where they can speak to brands which are willing to take risks and produce cut-through content.

“To put us in a position where we could crack content we needed to build a modern newsroom, we needed to get to know our audience, we needed to diversify where we distributed our content and we had to nail a content strategy that would actually play to our strengths.”


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.