How To monetise Your Content Online, Part II: Demand

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[credit provider=”Flickr Salvatore Barbera” url=””]

In Part One of “How To monetise Your Content Online,” I discussed the supply side of online publisher monetization, focusing on cultivating fans and working the “reader funnel” to drive audience engagement with four key steps:

  1. Attract new audiences
  2. Improve site recirculation
  3. Move visitors upstream
  4. Create loyal readers

But this is only half the battle. Quality content does not come cheap, and it is imperative for publishers to add new revenue streams as a multiplier to audience growth.

New Revenue Streams
While one half of the publisher puzzle is to increase audience engagement and move visitors into valuable pockets of your site, the other half is finding new ways to make money without subverting the user experience.

The last few years have seen advances in optimising remnant display advertising but this approach really nibbles around the edge of the problem, with most of the revenue growth from these advances flowing to third-party intermediaries rather than to publishers directly. True revenue catalysts for publishers need to come from breaking the banner mould entirely and looking for more fertile ground.

Less is More

On the display advertising side, many publishers have suffered from “advertising creep.” The pressure to increase revenues can lead to patchwork page design where a third, fourth, or fifth display ad has been shoved into any open seam on the page. Editorial attempts to cut the clutter are often met with resistance, as fear of depressing revenues take hold. But this need not be the case—declining CPMs are, after all, partially a result of creating an oversupply of less valuable real estate.

If a publisher with a strong brand and in-house sales force can eliminate  three out of four display ads on a page that are each yielding $0.50 CPM, chances are they can recoup that $1.50 by making ownership of the one remaining slot more valuable to advertisers.

Project Devil, by AOL, is a good example of a step in this direction: they provide one large ad unit per page. According to TechCrunch, they eliminated 55% of their ad impressions while still growing revenues. Not only could this approach help revenue, it will make a better user experience with fewer distractions, driving deeper audience engagement.

Your Users, Your Data

Sites that create content that attract niche audiences or users expressing commercial intent are sitting on a huge, largely untapped, asset: their data. For instance, a site publishing information about travel knows that people visiting their site are likely looking to book a trip within some window of time. At a more granular level, the site owner may be able to subdivide their visitors into those people interested in adventure destinations versus cruises, or luxury hotels in Europe vs. mountain retreats in the Adirondacks, all based on the specific articles they are consuming.

While some publishers have monetized this data in small packets by reselling access to it to data exchanges like Blue Kai or eXelate, the larger opportunity for publishers with a strong in-house ad sales team is to keep such information close and use it to sell offsite packages to existing advertisers. Ziff Davis’ recently released BuyerBase program is a great example of this approach. Using data they collect about purchase intent across their technology sites, they can help their advertisers reach those valuable consumers off site, targeting them through the exchanges.

For years, ad networks have aggregated publishers to sell cheap advertising across huge volume. Publishers in niche categories now have an opportunity to turn the table and use exchanges to target highly prized audiences at higher CPMs across the networks.

Help Brands with Content

Content marketing is a growing part of brand marketing budgets. According to the Content Marketing Institute, 93% of marketing professionals create or plan to create content marketing as part of their overall program. The move of brand advertisers into content production makes sense—they know that in order to engage audiences in the digital world, they need to move beyond the banner and provide people with something of value.

Similarly, content serves as a foundational layer of many social media marketing efforts: brands need something to link to from their Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, etc. in order to keep a dialogue with their followers active. But while brands want to move into content marketing, many don’t know where to start. What’s interesting to the consumers they want to attract? How do they find qualified writers and manage an editorial calendar? What is the right web layout to keep people engaged and reading more? 

Obviously, online publishers with a wealth of production and audience development experience can help brands with these processes. Whether it’s hosting a disclosed, company sponsored blog and driving traffic into it, like Forbes’ AdVoices platform, or writing a series of columns about a topic that a brand would like to sponsor with 100% share of voice, opportunities are opening up for online publishers to use their know-how to help marketers in a more significant way than just rotating billboards.

And most importantly, these integrated and user friendly content experiences are also not subject to the commoditized pricing models of a standard IAB advertising buy, making for more lucrative returns to publishers.

All three of these approaches to adding new revenue streams are predicated on a couple of core values: first, publishers need to actively add services that cannot easily be commoditized, and second, all such services need to enhance the experience of audiences on site, not detract from it. By doing so, publishers can better bring together the two halves of their ecosystem, deepening user engagement and commitment to their brand while also raising CPMs.