It’s tough being an online content publisher these days.
While the flow of advertising dollars into digital continues to increase—online advertising spending is expected to grow 20% to $31.3 billion in 2011 in the U.S. alone, according to eMarketer—it has not resulted in higher CPMs for publishers.
Rather, the increase in spending is spread thin across a crowded field of technology middlemen (i.e. ad networks, exchanges, data providers, DSPs, etc.).
And it is largely following increased audience usage of digital media as opposed to resulting in larger payouts per page view for content creators.
Meanwhile, the cost of producing content remains stubbornly high. Recent developments like Google’s Panda update, which rewards original and high quality content in search results, as well as the increasing amount of traffic directed by the social Web via “word-of-mouth” will likely sustain the expensive cost of developing quality content.
When the balance sheet reflects a disparity between the price of producing content and the revenue it can realize, a shift is necessary. In order to increase monetization, online publishers must recognize the two halves of the problem and tackle them in different ways:
1. Drive higher audience engagement to increase valuable supply
2. Add new revenue streams, without subverting goal No. 1, to increase demand
INCREASING AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT
A dirty little secret about online audiences is that they don’t stick easily. According to a Columbia Journalism Review study, over 75% of monthly unique users visit publisher sites only once a month. Folio cited a similar study putting the number somewhere between 70%-80%. As a result, advertisers placing media on publisher sites are often going broad and shallow: high on reach but low on frequency. To command higher pricing power, publishers need to show advertisers that they can bring them a more engaged audience with more effective integrations; otherwise content creators are no different than a small ad network.
Cultivate Your Fans
Publishers can use their analytics to isolate fans and learn how to improve engagement by observing their behavior. Look for the people checking your site more than twice a week. This group is usually a small portion of total uniques (typically under 5%) but they will represent a disproportionately higher percentage of your page views. Find out which sections of the site they gravitate to, and which stories they consume, and promote those areas more forcefully to your general audiences.
You can use this insight to inform editorial direction as well, focusing limited resources on the kind of content that loyal readers think truly represent and differentiate your brand. It may be helpful to change audience development goals from simply growing uniques to trying to grow the number of “fans” you have month over month.
Over time, this accomplishes two goals: 1) it reduces dependency on SEO and methods for syndicating content through external channels and 2) it allows you to sell a much more specific, engaged audience to advertisers, fueling price increases.
Work Your “Reader Funnel”
Just as marketers think about a “purchase funnel”—trying to move consumers from brand awareness, through persuasion, to an eventual transaction—publishers should seek to improve their own “reader funnel”:
- Drive New Audiences
The traditional role for audience development, this essential step involves marketing your content and casting a wide net to people who could become loyal fans. Get links to your content out through SEO, content discovery platforms and through syndication on other publisher sites. Make it easy for readers to share articles throughout the social Web with integrations that allow your audience to drive their own friends and followers to your content.
Metric of success? Growth in uniques at the lowest cost per new user.
- Improve Recirculation
After executing the steps needed to bring new readers to your site, don’t make the mistake of providing them with a bad user experience. Make sure they see the best your site has to offer, including prominent teasers to additional content that may spark their interest. Use the information you’ve tracked about how your existing fan base navigates and uses your site and try to send new users down the same path.
Metric of success? Increasing time spent on your site and pageviews per session from new visitors.
- Create Loyal Fans
By providing a great experience the first time people read your content and by giving new visitors a reason to return, convert people into repeat visitors who go to your site directly. What are the areas of content you produce that would cause someone to come back to see what’s fresh? Commoditized news you may have reprinted won’t usually suffice, it’s available everywhere. Think instead about your opinion pieces that reflect brand attitude, your in-depth analysis or your original video. Add social components like lively commenting areas or interactive tools that can be used again and again. Whatever it is that makes your publication different needs to be exposed to new users early and often so they will choose to come back on their own accord.
Metric of success? Increasing the number of users who visit your site at least once per week.
- Move Visitors Upstream
All publishers monetize different parts of their site at different rates: video assets often out-monetize articles, articles out-monetize photo galleries, content in the health, financial and travel verticals pays out better than news, sports, entertainment, etc. Unfortunately, it is often the case that the areas with the most page views are also the areas that yield a lower CPM. When attracting new users, it’s difficult to avoid this. You need that wide net to drive an audience into whichever pockets of your content can hook them. In other words, you need to get them into the store.
But once they’re inside, especially if they‘re returning customers, it’s OK (and useful!) to prominently showcase your most valuable merchandise. Think of how a retailer encourages those that pass by to explore the inventory behind the glass window, and then places its high margin products in the checkout aisle. Work on cross-promoting your highly monetized content assets within those pages and sections that attract the biggest crowds.
Metric of success? Increasing the percentage of traffic flowing into highly monetized site sections and an overall lift in page CPM site-wide.