How Publishers Can Optimize & Monetize Branded Content

branded content

The past seven months have been a whirlwind of uncertainty. However, throughout all we’ve endured, one thing is clear: digital journalism’s role in our society is critical, and isn’t going away any time soon.

While the industry itself is evolving constantly, Branded Content has proven to be a pretty sustainable revenue stream for publishers, even amidst everything that’s already transpired in 2020. In fact, publisher sponsorship revenue is up 10.9% year over year, according to the latest quarterly Digital Publisher Revenue Index, And, as you might imagine, more traditional monetization strategies, such as display placements, are declining rapidly. 

And it’s super simple to understand why: the Branded Content infrastructure allows for more effective, personalized, and engaging user experiences with brands, while pop-ups and display units intrude on the user experience, and could even create a negative perception around brands who appear in them.

Whether you’re a local news outlet, a large media conglomerate, a niche digital publication, or even a brand trying to build awareness, this post is for you.

For Publishers:

Producing high-quality Branded Content and promoting it across their owned and operated properties is essential; but today, that’s the bare minimum. Effective distribution at a meaningful volume is what elevates a Branded Content package, from simply checking off all the boxes to an impactful branding strategy for both you and your clients. And it’s a win-win: selling more guaranteed content engagement into your Branded Content deals allows for more eyeballs landing on your site, a lift in potential profit, and, ultimately, a happier client.

And For Brands:

If you’re currently or (previously!) utilizing Branded Content as part of your media strategy, knowledge is power! If you’re still working out the logistics of your next Branded Content contract, come prepared with questions, and even ideas surrounding distribution strategies. And if you have the rights and ability to promote the content on your own after the fact, do it. Oh, and lastly, give yourself a pat on the back for supporting sustainable journalism while you’re at it!

Having worked with publisher marketers for the past few years at Outbrain, I’ve gained a holistic view into the various paid strategies being used in the market today. That said, here are five branded content distribution tips and tricks that will take your sponsored content strategy to the next level.

1. Diversify Your Distribution

Diversifying where you’re promoting your Branded Content allows for both more efficient cost-per-pageview in addition to an improved ability to reach a more targeted audience.

If your client really wants to reach C-Suite executives, for example, why only target these users on one specific search engine or social platform? By expanding the paid channels you’re leveraging, the likelihood of reaching those C-Suite execs is much larger — and it probably won’t cost a fortune to do so anymore as your audience pool will be much larger.

Native Advertising, in particular, provides a unique opportunity for you to put your content in front of these desired users wherever they are on the web — in a non-intrusive, organic-feeling way, at that. Native platforms, like Outbrain, provide a unique opportunity to reach highly-engaged users while they’re already in the mindset to be consuming longer-form content. And as consumer trust in social platforms is on the decline, Native Ads allow you to promote your content across trusted premium publisher sites, which users are increasingly relying on to get their news — especially with all that’s going on in the world.

In my Customer Success experience, I’ve witnessed one too many publisher clients relying on a single platform for their distribution see an unexpected algorithm change, and BAM! — their content is no longer gaining traction at the cost-per-pageview (or CPPV!) that they need, the flight ends in two days, and they need to frantically incorporate another platform into their strategy at the last second. Eek!

You can avoid this entire mess by diversifying upfront — say with Outbrain (hint hint). And now that you see the value of doing so for all of your Branded Content distribution needs, here are some more platform-specific tips and tricks.

2. Take the (Extra) Time to Create Platform-Specific Creatives

I know what you’re thinking — using the same headlines and images across all the channels you work with will save tons of time and energy.

While tempting, it’s important to remember the varying ad formats, placements, and sizes that each platform offers will inevitably yield very different results when creatives are constant. For example, while images with text within may drive strong performance on social, this is likely true because of how large the image appears on a user’s screen in a social-feed environment. On the other hand, more lifestyle-oriented images often drive better performance on Native platforms like Outbrain, due to the fact that they appear more natural in the organic content pages they’re appearing on. That said, be sure to check out our creative best practices for more insights and tips.

And not only will higher CTR ads drive down costs, but this will also allow you to be pickier with the audiences you’re targeting, if that’s an element your client values, given that more users out of that more refined audience pool will be engaging with your content.

3. Stretch Out Your Flight Duration (When Possible!)

When creating and distributing evergreen content — or, even longer-term seasonal content — the longer your campaign is live, the lower you’ll be able to wiggle the cost-per-pageview down over time. And in order to gain traction on the most competitive sources possible, always start your campaign CPC at the maximum you’re willing to pay.

After a day or two, if the campaign is capping its daily budget early in the day, you can go ahead and lower the campaign CPC by about 10%. Repeat this process until you find your CPC sweet spot — when the campaign is capping around 8 pm or later.

Longer-duration campaigns are also beneficial as you’ll be able to understand the sources that are driving the best on-site engagement and begin leaning into them earlier on in the flight.

4. Utilize Video Products for Video Content

Instead of running a traditional Outbrain campaign driving to a landing page which hosts your video, create a more seamless path to video consumption with one of Outbrain’s video products — from Outstream to Click-to-Watch. 

Depending on your client’s primary KPI and the length of the video, we support multiple video solutions offering up the ability to:

  1. Link to your and/or the client’s site within the video
  2. Play multiple videos consecutively as part of a series
  3. Include logos within the video player
  4. Add a video description providing text details, beyond a headline
  5. Track video starts, completions, and other valuable metrics
  6. Feature a branded background surrounding the video player

And here’s the icing on the cake: taking advantage of video-specific products creates both a more immersive experience for your audience and a more cost-effective route for you to rack in video views.

Why take them to a landing page and hope they start the video, when the video start can be the first click?

5. Leverage Tracking Pixels to Optimize for Client KPIs

Branded Content studios are in a unique position: while you’re working with various clients to promote their brand, almost like an agency, all the content you’re promoting is hosted on your owned and operated properties. This provides the sought-after ability to apply tracking pixels to your pages and reach your clients’ goals with certainty by leveraging tools like Outbrain’s Conversion Bid Strategy to optimize towards them, rather than optimizing towards traffic and hoping for the best.

You can also collect custom audiences of users who have performed the actions your clients value most, and retarget them and/or create lookalike audiences off of them to utilize for future campaigns!

Now what are you waiting for? Log into the Outbrain dashboard (or register — takes seconds!) and get your Branded Content campaigns up and running already.

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