November 22, 2016 Last Updated 3:35 pm

Digital-first content: A critical step toward digital publishing revenues and success

Guest column: Joe Alderson, Director of Advertising Operations for Valnet, says digital content publishers have learned how to leverage the web for content-related revenues and eyeballs, not adapt to it

Publishers that entered the world of media after widespread adoption of the Internet in 2000-2001 have had an advantage; they haven’t had to figure out how to adapt a legacy print industry to the digital environment and make money from it.

valnet-joe-alderson-headshot-660Instead, digital publishers that have known only Internet publishing – complete with its rigors, search algorithms, technologies and multiple channels – have built content and companies around the realities of the online environment rather than trying to reshape their print-focused content and revenue models to fit into it.

By leveraging an efficient way of producing and packaging content so that it’s informative and profitable, digital publishers have created a business case study that explains why digital content is exploding while traditional print newspapers and their advertising revenues are slowly shrinking.

According to the Wall Street Journal, newspaper print ad revenues in 2016 dropped to their lowest total ($52.6 billion) since 2009, while $121 billion in digital media spending is 10 times larger than in 2001.

As traditional publishers try to figure out the formula for success in the digital environment, they can take a few cues from their digital-only counterparts.

Digital-First Content
Content is no longer solely about an idea, theme or topic. In the digital environment, finding content is as important as publishing it. Digital publishers approach words, articles, images and videos so that they are interesting to well-defined audiences and demographics, and equally attractive to marketers and advertisers who sponsor it.

Instead of optimizing and creating search engine optimization (SEO) keywords for content after it is created, digital publishers consider SEO from conception and ideation all the way through to publication. It guides and informs content, rather than serving as an after-thought. Doing so positions content for increasingly niche audiences who seek it and for the advertisers who want to fine-tune their marketing dollars for well-targeted audiences.

As result of this digital-first approach to content, readers and viewers might see catchier headlines, more specialized content, more niche sites, news subdomains dedicated to single-issue topics or causes, and more “listicles” – articles based on numbered lists. They might encounter bolder photographs and more videos featuring attention-grabbing thumbnail images that encourage clicking and viewing.

Optimized for every channel, aided by ad technology
In the digital environment, content is as much about engagement and activity as it is about information and the public good – a concept that might be a bitter pill to swallow for diehard news junkies. Digital publishers approach their work knowing that digital content must be monetized, quick to load on screens of all sizes, and fully optimized for every possible channel – PC, laptop, smartphone, table, wearable, etc.

Other factors are impacting digital publishing, including the rising importance of programmatic advertising. Programmatic advertising involves artificial intelligence-aided software and real-time bidding processes that identify, target and retarget ad placement on digital-mobile sites, based on advertisers’ desired demographics, audiences, regions and other metrics.

According to Forrester, twice as many marketers bought ads programmatically in 2016 (79%) compared to 2014 (35%), with the highest purchases for online display, online video, mobile display and mobile video ads. AdWeek predicts programmatic ad sales will rise to $32 billion by the end of 2017, up more than half from $15 billion in 2015.

In the automated, programmatic world of digital advertising, publishers earn more revenue for each piece of content that attracts marketing dollars, and revenue rises if content is particularly engaging, entertaining and able to keep users coming back.  Content publishers benefit from the ability to acquire more users, boost site traffic and increase engagement by users – all at a lower cost of acquisition compared to marketing directly to online users.

What’s ahead? More challenges, channels and imagery
Technological advances, too, are opening new opportunities for even more seamless digital content creation. New software, aided by artificial intelligence and pre-built content libraries, can scrape raw text from news stories and use keywords to craft full-featured video segments in a matter of seconds, complete with narration, music, stills and video clips.

Some experts predict that 90% of content by 2019 will be video, and it will increasingly shift to digital formats. Sites that are not positioning themselves now for a video-centric future are missing a prime opportunity for success.

As the print publishing industry wanes in face of digital technologies and changing consumer behaviors, digital publishing has filled the void. Publishers and content specialists who embrace the unique characteristics, rigors and placement of digital content will be well-positioned to capture the revenues and eyeballs it can produce.

Joe Alderson is Director of Advertising Operations for Valnet, a digital publisher that owns seven websites and a dedicated YouTube business, including The Sportster, ScreenRant, BabyGaga, The Talko, The Richest, The Things, CBR, and Little Angel. He can be reached by email here or LinkedIn.

Photo (home page): Woman reading Overexposed Smartphone by Jaroslav A. Polák used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

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