How to Monetise Online Content - Part Two
It is widely recognised that there has been a significant shift in the way readers consume content, using the web and mobile to access information when and where they want it. Yet, for many, finding the best approach to capitalise on this is far from clear.
In the publishing industry, there is still evidence of a reluctance to embrace fully the online medium and a concern over cannibalising print properties. Policies that focus on protecting what many consider a declining distribution channel in print, rather than fulfilling new media opportunities, have been met with fierce criticism in some corners. The reaction online to the Philadelphia Inquirer’s recent decision to restrict their online content to breaking news, until stories are first released in print, shows this remains a hotly debated topic. (Sarah Lacy - http://tinyurl.com/6feyhp; Paidcontent.org - http://tinyurl.com/6opbqa, Aug 2008).
The first part of this article, published in the previous issue, began to look at ideas for developing a successful and profitable online strategy, and some of the challenges publishers face when trying to monetise their online content. In part 2, the focus is on how to engage your audience, provide value for the readership, and how to improve site performance measurably on a continuing basis.
1. Do leverage niche networks
If you look at how people are finding your site, and research wider trends in your sector for what people are searching for, you may find there are distinct niche areas a level below your current positioning which you could effectively target. Use your analytics data as well as keyword tracker tools and Google trends to identify opportunities. This is particularly relevant for publishers that have a large database of aggregated information from which you can carve out niches; for example, aimed at individuals who have a specific role within a company.
Where appropriate, create a network of micro-sites to market the niche sectors and make your content work even harder. This should provide further opportunities for you to cross and up-sell within and across your micro-sites. As well as leveraging topical niche sectors, creating regional micro-sites for specific geographical markets will facilitate the delivery of targeted content and strengthen local search positioning and visibility.
However, a successful strategy to implement micro-sites should consider the dangers of duplicating content. In certain contexts, one strong large site is more effective than numerous ‘hot-dog stand’ sites that dilute the core brand and visibility. This will depend on the segmentation and overlap that exists within your target markets. Even if discreet micro-sites are not appropriate, it’s still possible to brand niche sub-sections of targeted content, and create search marketing campaigns to drive traffic to optimised landing pages.
2. Don’t pollute the web
in part 1, we discussed the opportunities to repurpose and disseminate your content across the web. At the same time, it is important to remember the freedom of distributing content online does create a problem of information overload. Anyone can have their own blog or social network and send out streams of new content. Inevitably, this generates a lot of duplication of stories and many are left feeling overwhelmed by the saturation of content, much of which doesn’t provide any added value. It has become increasingly difficult to find relevant quality content. Therefore it is important to make your content visible to the right target audience and to market the niche.
The use of linking, tagging, and taxonomy to tie together relevant and useful content, helps to filter the constant output of online content. You should use tools to publish related content, and dynamically link articles and features, in order to make it easier for your readers to find what interests
them. Many see the importance of developing better filtering tools and standards as a core element for a move to ‘Web 3.0’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_3.0). Internet founder Tim Berners-Lee talks of his vision for the ‘Semantic Web’ as a universal medium for the exchange of information (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semantic_Web).
Others stress the need to ‘join the web content conservation movement’ in ensuring your output of content always adds value (Scott Karp, Publishing 2.0, April 2008: http://tinyurl.com/5275pk). As the InCirculation editor quite rightly pointed out in his notes for the January/February 2008 issue, “quality content is the USP of professional publishers..., and the surfeit of information on the web makes quality more important not less.” Content (and community) is still king, but only original content of value and relevance to your readers will justify a premium. It is therefore crucial to achieve visibility and alert readers when new content of interest is available.
3. Do embrace Web 2.0 and build communities
‘Web 2.0’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_2.0) has received much hype. Almost anything new and creative online has fallen under this moniker. A core aspect has been a shift towards collaboration among users, and the development of communities interacting online. It is possible to start adding some interactive functionality to your site, that doesn’t require a large investment of time and resource, such as tagging, social bookmarking, article commenting, and forums.
Community members will provide a ‘human’ aspect to your site and will strengthen your image as an active authority in your sector. Members will also contribute search engine friendly User Generated Content (UGC). Active community marketing campaigns and are more likely to renew subscriptions, pay for additional premium content, and have a longer customer lifetime.
There is an element of ‘me too’ about the way many sites have rushed to adopt Web 2.0 features, and questions remain about the return on investment. Communities do require internal resource and management. It is therefore important to develop a sustainable strategy for developing communities online based on features that are appropriate for your specific audience.
As web users start to use more and more different networks and engage with a multitude of community sites, it is important to be aware of the growing importance of data portability. The ‘Open Social’ initiative and tools such as ‘Open ID’ for a single sign-on, will allow users to carry a profile around with them which you will need to map to. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DataPortability; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OpenSocial).
4. Don’t forget to listen to your readers
The rise of online communities and UGC has made it more important than ever for companies to listen to their users. Brands can no longer talk at people, but should engage in two way conversations. There are increasing opportunities to interact with your readers online, and to learn from the audience. It is important to monitor and respond to feedback and internet chatter, and to gather ‘voice of customer’ information. This, alongside the wealth of analytics data at your fingertips, will enable you to report regularly on site performance to identify where improvements can be made.
It is advisable to engage with existing subscribers when planning changes to the site, using private beta tests, e.g. for new community features (people like to see an existing community working before they join).
You should capture profile information from your readers and use it to deliver highly targeted content. Get the right content in front of the right people and target advertising based on user status. There are privacy concerns as users give up personal information and companies take advantage of this. However, this doesn’t pose a problem as long as users remain in control and they can understand how their data will be used to their benefit. What will turn them off is if there is a saturation of blanket advertising and content that is of no interest to them.
5. Do test everything
A key benefit of web versus print is the opportunity to monitor user behaviour, the wealth of analytics data, and the ease of testing against set performance goals. Without clear goals, there is no point measuring anything. So setting up Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) will provide the visibility you need from your site’s analytics data. Regular reporting against KPIs, suited to the type
of website and business model, should underpin web development decisions. There is no formula for the perfect website, so you need to test what combinations of page elements and design are most effective. As stressed above, you should listen to your users who will implicitly and explicitly tell you what works best.
Continual testing and optimisation is fundamentally important for site owners looking to improve usability, conversion rates, and ultimately drive revenue. Tools such as Google’s ‘Website Optimizer’ will allow for multivariate testing of different versions of a page (http://tinyurl.com/5e3c66). Minor tweaks that achieve small percentage gains can translate to dramatic improvements to your bottom line. Adopting an iterative and agile approach to web development ensures functionality is delivered quickly and there is a continual feedback and testing loop to cater for changing requirements.
It is important to instil a culture of testing and to make incremental improvements to achieve the greatest success. A site should never sit still but should be seen to be in ‘a permanent state of beta’, where you embrace technological advances and evolving functional requirements, continually making iterative improvements. Small tweaks and refinements will help achieve the optimum commercial return from your website.
The current climate of a more open and collaborative web has continued to focus on community development, audience, and traction. In this context, it’s easy to lose sight of the important question of how to drive revenue online. Google admits that, despite paying over a billion dollars for YouTube, they have not yet worked out how best to make money from it! (Times Online, June 2008: http://tinyurl.com/4hxmy8)
There are many more suggestions and discussion areas surrounding this question. There is no silver bullet, one-size-fits-all, solution for publishers to make money from their content but you can learn from your readers, and your peers. To keep pace you have to be adaptable and embrace change. How to make money publishing content online is a salient question because of the undeniable importance of the internet as a communication medium.
It is questionable whether we will see the death of print, but it’s interesting that Neil McIntosh, the head of editorial development at the Guardian, speaking at a recent Chinwag event, admitted they feel they may have bought their last set of printing presses. The importance of the electronic medium has also been underlined by the rapid adoption of Amazon’s Kindle screen reader, with projections quoted at up to $750 million by 2010 (Citigroup, Techcrunch, May 2008: http://tinyurl.com/6g7qnq).
I would argue that, whatever the future of print holds, maximising revenue from your online activity is paramount.
Replublished with the kind permission of InPublishing magazine.
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