Contrary to popular belief, amusement parks are not in the entertainment business. They're in the business of keeping you there for as long as possible. That’s why you find yourself trying to win a teddy bear and drowning in cotton candy two hours after riding the rollercoaster you came to try.
In the publishing business, the story is quite similar. Someone who was in a rush to find an apple pie recipe to impress their guests stumbles onto a magnificent headline for the perfect recipe. An hour later, they're still reading other interesting recipes and before they know it, a purchase for a blender (that they didn’t even know they needed) is made through a side banner ad.
User journeys can often go down a rabbit hole, at least the good ones. A publisher's job is to make that journey as exciting as the steepest descent on a rollercoaster.
Rollercoasters may be fun, but nobody wants to see them in their business charts. Below are a few strategies to drive more engagement for your content and ultimately more revenue. Instead of the ups and downs, these simple strategies are aimed at giving you some ideas for consistent, rocket-like growth.
In this business, you need to make sure you're seen, heard and perceived to have unique value to offer. The last thing you want is to be just another website pumping out useless information, and let’s be honest there is no shortage of those.
The value exchange happens at the point of intersection between a need satisfied and a service given. For people to consume your content, keep coming back and ultimately hand you their money, you need to give them a reason, perhaps many. A couple of pointers to help identify or refine your proposition:
A few select publishers have defined a solid proposition and have therefore mastered the value exchange. Lonely Planet is for many the go-to site for all things travel and a great example of producing content people want to read, share and reference. They go beyond the stories and give readers an experience with expert recommendations, guidebooks and subscriber discounts.
"Ask and you shall receive" - remember that one? So simple, right?
If you want more engagement, ask your readers to comment below the article. Assuming that’s even possible. That's right, many publishers still neglect this part. They don't even have a widget for people to share their thoughts. Now, in some cases, it might not make sense to enable comments. But you can still include, for example, an upvote/downvote widget, emoji reaction or social share – anything that will help generate engagement.
If you are allowing readers to comment, you can spur them on by simply asking a question at the end of the article. Something like "what are your thoughts on X?" or my favourite, "what in this article resonated the most with you?"
Of all the people who reach out to me because they read an article and loved it, 99% say the content resonated with them. I'm pretty sure your readers speak the same language.
A study suggests that some 62% of marketing professionals believe audience segmentation is important for ad targeting and see it as a top priority. It should come as no surprise then that these same advertisers are willing to bid higher for properly segmented audiences.
Often publishers without proper segmentation find themselves dealing with advertisers who want to pay bargain-basement prices. These advertisers also tend to bring lower-quality offers and can even have a negative impact on your readership.
Investing in a data management platform (DMP) isn't a luxury anymore, it's a requirement if you want to attract a high-quality, diverse group of advertisers who provide better ad experiences to your users. Ultimately, a DMP allows you to better understand your users and use those insights to inform your monetization strategy.
Striking a direct deal with an advertiser for a promoted piece of content can be a quick way to boost your revenue, although this probably works best for publishers with high traffic. Some of these advertisers want to make sure they "stay on brand", preferring to work with the publisher directly and having more control over where their message shows up.
The advertiser or brand will typically provide the content and its publication is up to you. You can even have different levels of exposure and packages. For instance, you might have a package where it's a featured article that is also promoted to your email list, which you charge a premium for. Or it might be that the article that just sits on your site without any additional exposure, for a more modest charge.
For those looking for a "ninja tactic", you could charge per page views, using sort of a CPM model. Let's say you price the sponsored article at $100 per 1,000 page views (according to your web analytics). With 10,000 article views, you could generate an extra $1,000 in revenue with minimal resources spent on your end.
When we talk about getting attention, native is king. It can often be even more effective than your own editorial content. One study reveals that native ads get more visual engagement than the surrounding editorial content.
With attention spans getting shorter or shorter (are you still with me?), native formats are a solid contender for getting and keeping attention. A study from Yahoo concluded that the top ad formats for driving active attention on mobile are native-like, with two video formats amongst the top three.
If you're still relying on traditional banner ads to power your publishing site forward, you'll probably be in for a rough ride as more advertisers become more and more aware of native and its benefits. Modern advertisers are looking for brand-safe environments, relevant audience segments and, most importantly, efficiency at scale. That is why many are turning to native programmatic and the smartest publishers are following them.
Massive publishers such as The Wall Street Journal have been the example to follow when it comes to content monetization and adapting to market trends. There are always going to be audience segments who want premium content or more access to what they already love. But it's not just for the sake of striking people's egos and pulling from their innate need for exclusivity. Any access to premium content should include more value and a better experience for the consumer.
There are many ways to package your subscriptions, which we won't get deep into here but these are some ideas:
These probably aren't the "end all be all." The point is to start thinking about different ways to drive growth and bring in revenue. If this strategy resonates with you, you will find a way to implement it in your company and make it work.
For many top publishers, events can be another key source of revenue. But it may not be a feasible option for all publishers, which is why I’m talking about it last.
Events are typically a lower-funnel strategy to convert readers and subscribers into higher-value members. There are many benefits of hosting events but they require a big commitment and can be a tough challenge – especially if you lack the resources to truly pull it off.
That's one of the reasons virtual events have taken off in the past couple of years. If you're still not bold enough for the live experience, there's always the option of dipping your toes into virtual events. The pandemic may be over, but I don’t think these virtual gatherings are going to go away anytime soon.
This isn't an exhaustive list by any means. There are probably a dozen other ways to drive more revenue for your publishing business. Whatever strategy you choose, make sure it's sustainable. Businesses often make short-term decisions just to impress shareholders and end up regretting them later.
That being said, I have my favourite strategy. Which is yours? Or to steal my own line… which of these strategies resonated with you the most? Hit me up on LinkedIn or shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'd love to hear your thoughts and share my favourite with you.
Pedro is an advertising consultant at Advertongue, the world's leading all-in-one, performance-based native agency. An award-winning professional with multi-million dollar budgets spent for a wide range of industries worldwide, across search, social, programmatic display, audio, video and connected TV, specializing in native. Sought out by peers for his creativity, wisdom and positive vibe.
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