March 31, 2017 Last Updated 4:01 pm

The Formula for Digital Publishing Success: Flexibility, Vigilance and a Focus on Value

Guest column: Joe Alderson, Director of Ad Operators for Valnet, says digital publishers should understand how to position, bid and place content on key distribution channels

If there’s one thing to remember about positioning digital content for profitability, it’s this: don’t get comfortable with the formulas, processes, algorithms and practices that currently dictate how to attract advertisers and encourage readers/viewers to keep viewing, clicking and scrolling.

Even though content distribution standards and practices are fairly well established, they’re also highly unpredictable, subject to change at a moment’s notice, and increasingly being leveraged by more traditional publishers. Digital publishers, for example, are finding new competition from mainstream publishers who are trying to reframe and position their content for audiences accustomed to list-based content, quizzes or more engaging digital content formats.

Standard procedures require vigilance
The practice of positioning content is based on key variables: the value of each page view of a website, the average length of each page view on a website, and the cost of acquiring viewers/readers on the site. It’s a relatively simple nuts-and-bolts calculation, but achieving success with every variable in the calculation is not only hard to learn, it’s also difficult to replicate and even harder to replicate consistently.

The complexity, of course, is in the details. Content distribution has changed in the age of social media and channel partners – and it continues to change in real time. No longer do websites “own” their content exclusively. No longer do all viewers click directly to the primary domain first. Today, readers and viewers increasingly encounter content first on other platforms, like Facebook or YouTube or content aggregation sites.

In this market, digital publishers must understand how to position, bid and place content on key distribution channels, and they must factor into their profitability equation the cost of user acquisition from those channels. And they must be able to react quickly and skillfully to new trends, new topics, themes, memes, as well as to Google, Facebook or YouTube publishing guidelines that might change at a moment’s notice.

Speed, in fact, is increasingly important in digital publishing, especially now that Facebook and promoted content now serves as the major sources for new users. Websites are publishing content to larger audiences faster than ever before, meaning digital publishers have less time to think about what to do. Instead, they must rely on multi-faceted, nimble, and ready-for anything strategies that will increase the chances of their content being seen, clicked on and shared.

Fine-tune content strategies for optimum profitability
Most digital publishers, of course, use the same online platforms to promote and position their content. They rely on the same cost-per-click (CPC) and cost-per-thousand-impression (CPM) rates. They attend the same certification classes. But in this new competitive and profit-driven distribution model, they must adapt and tweak their own internal practices to keep their content fresh, relevant and profitable.

It’s important to keep these things in mind when developing and executing a digital content strategy:

  • Position your content for visibility and profitability: Have an assigned dollar value or quality score for each piece of content, based on how marketable it is. Loop in the editorial team so that writers and editors are familiar with the value parameters, topics, keywords and guidelines for each piece of content. Reward editors and writers for content topics and formats, such as list-based content, that have higher associated advertising rates. Decrease the costs of user acquisition by optimizing content and targeting it as precisely as possible.
  • Make each page view count. Make it your goal to optimize the value of every page view. If your advertising operations team is monitoring and measuring revenue per every 1,000 pages, the content team should be, too.
  • Increase the value of each page. Beyond page views, focus on improving the stickiness, relevance and timeliness of every single page. Tweak copy so that it’s timely and relevant. Increase or decrease word counts, if necessary, to improve the value of the page. Offer different types of content that encourage engagement – quizzes, lists, video articles and the like.
  • Never get complacent or comfortable: Keep an eye ever-focused on what’s happening with your content once it’s published. Is it suddenly being rejected or flagged by certain publishers? Why? Do these new activities signal pending changes that have not yet been announced or implemented? If so, what might the various scenarios and changes involve, and how should you adjust and plan now for what you think might be coming? What’s your backup plan? How will you implement the plan if one platform’s guidelines or terms of service change tomorrow?

Successful digital publishers represent an elite group – a group that others try to join, often without results. Some publishers do achieve success are not able to sustain it, either because industry guidelines change or because they rest easy in momentary success and cannot adapt quickly enough to market changes. Each tiny shift in how content is published and promoted can affect the ROI calculation of overall content profitability.

No one in the digital publishing business should ever feel as if they’ve figured it out. Publishers and content producers need to stay attuned to accepted industry standards, practices, terms of service and placement strategies. Because everything can change without notice, publishers need to be open to change, too.

Joe Alderson is Director of Advertising Operators for Valnet, a digital publisher that owns nine websites and a dedicated YouTube business, including The Sportster, BabyGaga, The Talko, The Richest, The Things, CBS, The Clever, The Gamer and Little Angel. He can be reached by email here.

Home Page Photo: Katie Doup on CNN Newsource by Michael Locklear for The Rookie Reporter, used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

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