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Guest Times: Quality content – The key to publisher sustainability

Sandeep Balani, Director, Business Development, India at Outbrain, analyses how the rapid growth of social platforms is leading publishers to invest in higher quality content and various websites are reassessing their content strategies

Mumbai | February 17, 2017

Sandeep Balani Sandeep Balani

Aided by the rapid growth of social platforms, many new online publishers have sprung up to deliver bite-sized, shareable content to audiences. This phenomenon comes at a time where social networks have become a popular news source, overtaking destination news sites whose value has traditionally been pegged to their mastheads.

Over the past year, as a result, publishers have been investing in higher quality content around more serious issues. Even websites such as Buzzfeed and ScoopWhoop, typically associated with viral content, are re-assessing their content strategies. From women’s safety to LGBT rights, Buzzfeed India has married its famed listicles with social justice issues that are gaining traction in India, retaining its relatability while spreading social awareness. It also began experimenting with longer-form content to grow its positioning as an educator.

ScoopWhoop is similarly introducing more quality content – earlier in 2016, it announced a partnership with independent news media platform Newslaundry to produce a hard-hitting webisode documentary series about various issues affecting India.

This shift to quality is part of a growing trend to focus on long-term sustainability, rather than short-term optimisation. While it remains to be seen whether platforms giants like Google, and Facebook will continue eating away a disproportionate share of the publishing ad revenue, it is clear that publishers are no longer just vying for page views; they are gaining a stronger foothold by providing quality content in order to achieve greater revenue growth.

Securing a loyal audience base

Clickbait headlines may generate favourable impressions initially, but volume is no longer the only metric that matters. While viral content often attracts hordes of social users, the very same users tend to fleet without remaining loyal to any publisher. Yes, attracting new audiences is important, but so is retaining existing readers.

Loyal readers spell more profit for publishers, through higher engagement with sponsored content or native advertising. The statistics, however, are troubling – a study by web analytics firm Parse.ly revealed that loyal readers only comprise a dismal 11per cent on average across websites. Alongside this, invite-only platforms such as Instant Articles have only been extended to publishers with an existing audience base and strong editorial sensibility, signalling how crucial audience loyalty is today.

But securing the reader’s first click on any headline is only half the battle won. The real test is the unique value offered after that click – one that makes readers stay on to consume more content on the website, meets readers’ need for engagement, and converts them from one-time readers into loyal followers who keep coming back for more.

All this boils down to forging a strong relationship with readers, and this requires both a committed investment in understanding what audiences want, as well as the ability to create content that is truly differentiated. Publishers need to be able to create a brand image that readers can identify with, as well as quality content that stays true to the site’s editorial mission and flavour.

Rather than wait for readers to stream in when one of your articles goes viral on Facebook, give readers a reason to bookmark your website, and they will.

Building reliability through trustworthy content

The proliferation of fake news has been a hot-button topic as our industry enters a post-truth era, with most viral lies spreading via Facebook and Google searches based on web traffic. To combat the spread of digital misinformation, Facebook and Google have declared that they would stop serving ads to culprits propagating mistruths.

Trust in the media has hit an all-time low, and the call for more trustworthy, authentic and accurate content has never been this loud. Against the backdrop of a noisy, oversaturated media environment where it is increasingly difficult for consumers to sieve out the real from the fake, publishers today are faced with growing pressures to deliver honest, quality content that audiences can trust. As it is, reader loyalty is already extremely difficult to secure, and for a publisher to lose trust as well would foretell the beginning of an uphill struggle to re-establish its brand.

With this in mind, publishers ought to look beyond repurposing and repackaging content, and adopt a journalistic responsibility to build their stories on hard-hitting facts. At the end of the day, reliability pays off much more than a one-hit wonder article built around low quality, inaccurate content.

Enhanced engagement boost RPMs

As revenue per 1000 impressions (RPM) remains one of the key performance metrics for publishers when calculating ad revenue, publishers not only have to work to increase user time spent on site, but also engagement with ads or content widgets. While the first-ever digital ad boasted a click-through rate (CTR) of 44%, this has plummeted to an alarming 0.1%. Now, more than ever, publishers need to re-look their monetisation strategies and examine how best to boost CTR and conversion.

Keeping readers glued to the article is one way of encouraging them to engage with ads or content widgets on the site. This isn’t an easy process, seeing that people’s attention span has shortened to just 8 seconds. But many publishers have worked around this by consistently pushing out high quality content and partnering content recommendation platforms like Outbrain that enhance internal engagement through targeted recommendations.

In fact, based on data gathered from our network of publishers, we’ve found that the difference in RPMs between a social publisher and a more serious content website in India can go up to 100 per cent, indicating the massive monetising potential of quality content.

As we move further into the New Year, publishers looking to stay ahead of the curve ought to place the reader at the heart of their content strategy by exploring the diverse opportunities offered by consistent, accurate quality content.

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