By not covering news, U.S. News has turned itself into a quiet powerhouse

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Holiber: U.S., yes. News? Not so much
Holiber: U.S., yes. News? Not so much

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For a publication with "news" in its title, U.S. News doesn't focus much on what's happening in the papers these days. Known also as U.S. News & World Report, the publisher is perhaps best known among the average reader for its annual college rankings. But it is actually something of a digital pioneer. The media brand ditched its print magazine in 2010 to go all-digital and shifted its focus to a pure service brand. While its core business is still advertising-based it does a monster business in lead generation, or, as its president and CEO Bill Holiber calls it, performance marketing.

Something seems to be working. The brand sees roughly 40 million monthly visitors, about 10 million going to each of its four core subject areas: education, health, government and money. The emphasis is on SEO-friendly advice and evergreen practical information. In May, U.S. News ditched its opinion section, which Holiber said, had become off-brand.

"We were grappling with what was going on in the news cycle: the level of political commentary that was going on and goes on 24/7. And we felt that it got to the point that it deviated so much from what our brand was," he says in this episode of the Ad Lib podcast. "We've always focused on analyzing why things are the way they are. People want answers, but they want answers that are based on fact."

Holiber, who's been at the Mort Zuckerman-owned title for 20 years now, pulls back the curtain a bit to explore how U.S. News has not only survived where other publishers flounder, but thrived by providing readers with actionable, practical information—and by providing marketers with data. Lots and lots of first-party data.

"What we really do first and foremost is what [examine] questions a consumer is asking themselves. We focus on that, we build content around that whether it be advice content or data content," he says.

"We also think about it from a marketer's perspective, the people we partner with or do business with. How can we make that connection so that a consumer that comes to our site is there for a particular purpose? … There's branding opportunities and there's performance marketing opportunities."

Holiber also weighs in on the recent publisher trends of chasing scale and pivoting to video, and discusses his long career, which started out in trades.

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