Ever since the Internet dropped a bomb on the status quo in media, many publishers have been struggling to adapt. Even when they seem to make some headway, a new twist forces them to, yet again, change course to keep up.
The rise of mobile!
The rise of social!
The rise of Buzzfeed, Vox and “new media”!
The old world of paid users and paid advertisers existing within a tidy, combined ecosystem is long gone. The new world is one where many media companies are still finding their way and trying to build business models that work.
With all this constant upheaval, what strategies should publishers put in place to most profitably monetize their content? Which types of ad units make the most sense in a marketplace awash in inventory? How can emerging sell-side technologies and data analytics help?
Here are three key considerations:
1. What kind of attention are you getting?
Capturing the attention of audiences is job No. 1 for publishers. Their content should do this, as well as the ads that run on their properties.
Naturally, publishers have the most control over their own content, and it’s important to understand the difference, and relative value, of commanding attention versus following attention.
Publishers who follow attention by re-purposing viral stories and luring audiences with clickbait can certainly drive up traffic. But those who focus on building a brand and creating compelling and unique original content are often able to offer advertisers access to more precise, and ultimately more valuable, audiences.
The most successful publishers seem to be striking just the right balance between quantity and quality.
With ad units, viewability is an issue that’s getting more and more scrutiny as of late. Are ads actually being seen, and are they persistent in front of users? But beyond that, how can publishers most profitably leverage the attention their content commands? Branded content and native ad units are currently presenting a big opportunity for publishers looking to provide advertisers with more opportunities for deeper engagement with audiences. For an example, see Forbes’ BrandVoices. When it comes to branded content, the same “golden rule” applies: present audiences with information that’s interesting, relevant and unique. Quality commands attention.
2. Know your audience – inside and out.
Excellent content will attract an audience. The question is, do you know who they are? Online media has one big advantage over traditional channels: access to data about what people click on, what they read, buy and where they choose to spend their time.
With so much data available in digital, there’s no excuse not to leverage it to understand everything there is to know about your audience. Publishers that identify their most valuable media segments can focus their most creative selling efforts on these “prime cuts,” and automate the rest of their sales via programmatic platforms to take advantage of the efficiencies and economies of scale.
Publishers can also leverage the innovative analytics and machine learning embedded in programmatic technologies to deepen their understanding of their core audiences beyond what they get with comScore and Nielsen, so they can get the right ad, in front of the right user, at the right time.
3. Play a long game.
When it comes to yield, publishers should be wary of only focusing on the here and now. It can be really tempting to make decisions weighed toward driving higher audience numbers, rather than overall content quality. In the long run, this may not be the path to a business model with staying power.
When making strategic content decisions, selecting technology partners and thinking about scale, consider the long game. It might be better to concentrate on growing an audience gradually, or even to seek out a niche audience, rather than going too broad.
For example, The Huffington Post got its start in political news and opinion, but has expanded its scope over time to include coverage of entertainment, tech, business, lifestyle coverage and more. Today, it’s ranked as one of top news sites on the Web, but it can also segment audiences into niches and small groups.
Finally, in an environment where the only constant is change, publishers should focus on strategies and technologies that can easily adapt with their business over time. Resources are finite, and it simply doesn’t make sense to keep replacing one monetization tool with another. It’s often better to have a technology platform in place that’s flexible, offers multiple capabilities and can accommodate changing requirements.
Every publisher wants to maximize yield, but in a continually changing media landscape, it can be challenging to find the best approach. Publishers who focus on commanding attention, clearly defining and packaging their audiences, and who have a long-term vision will be best positioned to succeed and thrive.