Considering the many wrathful prophecies that predicted the fall of content – mainly due to short attention span and cat GIFs – publishers are doing well. Content is not only alive but thriving and finding creative solutions to new problems. Still, the challenges are beginning to add up: ad blockers, changing readership patterns and the unwillingness to pay for content are some of the biggest concerns for publishers at the moment. How can these be overcome?
Problems in the horizon
One of the main questions on publishers’ minds at the moment is regarding platforms: which ones to use and how. In the past, content websites used to be their own exclusive platform, posting articles and behaving as stand-alone portals. If as user wanted to know what The New York Times has to say about recent developments, they browsed the NYT website; if they then wanted to compare what The Washington Post had to say, they browsed away.
But that’s no longer the case. As many expert have already noted, the homepage is dead and with it was buried the notion of a single platform, as web page referrals come in from all over the web. Today’s publishers have to spread their goods all over, posting content and links on social networks and on specialized monetizable platforms such as Apple News. The key here is to approach the readers where they naturally are and use relevant platforms to reach them and bring them to the content, rather than wait for them to come along.
Another issue at hand is premium subscriptions. When content was only distributed physically the business model ran (relatively) smooth. But the internet brought with it the promise of freedom, not only in information but in dollars too. Why would a user pay for content when they can get other, similar content for free elsewhere?
The first solution for this was of course ads. But with ad blockers rising in popularity, brand need to invent new strategies (and indeed some big brands like GQ are already reacting.) Respected and successful publishers with decades of experience now find themselves at a loss: how are they expected to run a quality operation without income? One current solution is to set up paywalls: basics are handed out for no fee, but premium articles, videos and so on need to be paid for as part of a monthly subscription. The New Yorker is one of the most prominent examples. But what works for a highbrow magazine might not work for newspapers, online content publishers or blogs, especially in light of the huge competition that exists in every corner of the industry.
Smart solutions to monetize
For most publishers, then, salvation will have to come from ads and from a smarter distribution of their own content around the web. Monetization is changing and content brands need to adapt to these content-rich times. Here are some of the most popular methods we’re going to be seeing this year.
Search engine optimization first came into our lives over a decade ago, but no doubt recent years have upgraded its status tremendously. Google’s algorithm itself is constantly changing, and frequent updates are making the task ever more complex. That’s why content marketers as well as publishers need to keep up: Quality SEO is a necessary part of any content distribution strategy, and can help make sure articles are actually accessible to people rather than gradually disappearing into the endless abyss of Google results.
#2 Responsive ads
Another challenge for publishers is that users are getting smarter – and they want more. They want entertainment even from ads, and a simple image plus copy doesn’t cut it anymore. The biggest trend du jour is responsive ads, which create a whole ‘experience’ around them while users see them on their smartphones. And seeing as how we’ve recently learnt that more people search on mobiles than on desktops, that might not be such a bad idea.
#3 Email marketing
It’s easy to dismiss, and many companies do, but in fact email marketing is stronger than ever. 2015 saw it blooming, even achieving the highest status of all – popularity among the young and influential, with Lena Dunham’s successful Lenny newsletter proving there’s more ways than one to bring content to readers. Within email marketing, one of the biggest trends to look out for is interactive emails, which give the reader a more inspiring experience using image carousels, social media feedback within the email and more.
#4 Brand journalism
Advertising Age marked brand journalism as an essential imperative more than a year ago. It continued to grow since. Brand journalism is a way for brands to give their clients an extra something, and at the same time, done well it can be a source of great content for publishers that doesn’t cost but instead makes them money. Joint ventures of this type are not easy to do – a lot of work needs to go into making sure the content really does have added value and isn’t just one big meaningless ad. But done right, it can be a very powerful combination, as exemplified by content from brands like Dell and Disney’s Babble.
Parallel to brand journalism, affiliate marketing is another way to connect to the clientele beyond a straightforward ad campaign. It’s a more organic approach, helping content publishers monetize their sites by promoting brands themselves. As expert Adam Weiss points out, it’s all about community: trusted thought leaders validating the product is that much more powerful than having to trust the brand’s own opinion of itself. One of the most successful examples is the Amazon Associates, working with bloggers all over the world on turning traffic into shopping, as are affiliation platforms PeerFly and ClickBank.
The mash-up between content and the internet is a bumpy road for sure. Old standards and methods are fast losing relevance and the players that manage to remain on the field have to reinvent themselves with the times and find ways to stress their unique value, earn their reader’s loyalty and make money too. But the good news are that it’s not impossible to do. It takes trying new things, rethinking the business model, investing in ad partnerships and most important of all, it takes keeping constantly updated with industry news.