If Content is King, Context is Queen
First published in In Publishing Issue 39, Mar / Apr 2010
The rise of the social web and increasing prevalence of consuming disaggregated content across multiple platforms has brought a new dynamic with a host of new challenges and opportunities for publishers.
The simple extension of this statement to say, “if content is king, context is queen”, is intended to highlight that to provide a valuable user experience for your readers, now more than ever, it is essential to deliver timely targeted content, in context, to the appropriate device. The added context, analysis, and related features, drive audience engagement, conversion, and support any successful online publishing business model.
An effective content strategy
It is essential to arm yourself with the necessary tools to take control of content and marketing - delivering the right content to the right people at the right time, and in the right place. Cut through the noise by providing relevancy and authority, giving your readers the content of interest to them in the right context.
There are key differences between online and print in readers’ expectations and goals, and how content is consumed. Online readers dip in and out more readily, finding your content from different channels on different platforms at different times. With competing distractions only a click away, it is essential to provide context and added value at every opportunity. This does not mean that you should fight for control by attempting to replicate the print experience online. I would echo Erick Schonfeld’s thoughts that, “...[publishers] ignore the link structure of the web at their peril... information does not exist in a vacuum... [readers find] information these days by following links or passing them around. If you close the door to the web, you’ll only be locking yourself in...” (Erick Schonfeld, Techcrunch, Oct 2009).
The best approach will depend on the type of content and publication. One of the reasons for the success of digital magazine Monkey is how each issue is packaged up with a beginning and end so it’s clear it only takes a short time to read. It’s possible to make your content available across different channels in a range of digital formats. The salient point being you can allow your audience to find your content on their terms whilst ensuring they have the full context.
It’s important to expose the depth of content available, both your own and where appropriate relevant third party or user-generated-content for wider discussion. Content management software should enable you to classify all of your content assets easily (by topic and geography, for example), with minimal administrative overhead. It is also possible to programmatically query imported content (ie. from an archive, or third party source), to pick out keywords, company names, topical references, even meaning and sentiment, in an automated way. The system should then look at this taxonomy, as well as defined keywords and date fields, to dynamically present the most related site content available, of any type, and to drive personalised content delivery; more on that later.
An ongoing strategy is required for effective consistent taxonomy classification of all content assets.
Delivering well structured content will in itself benefit search engine optimisation and help drive targeted traffic. A successful website attracts the majority of visitors to deep-linked pages, rather than the homepage. It’s therefore even more important to clearly signpost the most recent related content and calls-to-action, to increase time on site, audience engagement, and ultimately conversions. Giving visitors a temporal anchor (eg. to browse all today’s news, and displaying dates), is also important. How you hang your content together to provide the full context is a key element of ‘landing page optimisation’, to be tested ongoing to achieve the best results.
Simply publishing even good quality editorial in itself isn’t enough. A successful strategy has to focus on connecting audiences with the content they want to consume, when and where they want, and providing a rewarding, enjoyable, and valuable user experience. There are opportunities to pursue in attracting users on disaggregated news posts and free ‘headlines’, then add value and engage visitors through providing context and analysis, offering premium related features, and becoming an established trusted filter.
Chris Cramer, Reuters’ global editor multimedia, discussed this challenge at the AOP summit in London. Talking about Reuters’ Project Insider strategy, he refers to their approach of ‘narrowcasting’ for delivering targeted information and interactivity to paying clients at the workplace and on the move. He also stresses the importance of a two-way link economy in adding value to their own content and to that of others, and sees strengthening business models from becoming not just content providers but curators providing a valuable service in filtering, editing, and adding context.
An even more rewarding user experience can be provided through personalising targeted content delivery according to audience intelligence derived from both explicit profile settings as well as implicit user behavioural data gathered on page views, downloads, site searches etc... A value-add service that can be offered to registered subscribers is personalising the delivery of even more relevant content according to their specific interests. This can be achieved by combining traditional web analytics data with a contextual understanding of their particular online reading habits in order to develop a more complete profile. Increasingly, it is possible to manage this in an automated way with emerging technology standards such as Attention Profiling Mark-up Language (APML), used by the likes of Last.fm to align recommendations according to the user’s musical taste profile, and that of their network, which is automatically built up and refined by what they listen to. This profile data is made publicly available and leads us to consider wider implications for targeted and behavioural advertising.
The importance of context is equally relevant for adding value for advertisers. Delivering contextually relevant content, as well as mapping visitor profile information and consumption patterns, facilitates more effective behavioural advertising and retargeting to drive an ad supported business model. With accurate taxonomy in place for your content, you can dynamically display contextually relevant advertising. This is already a feature of online media buying and ad networks focussing on personalisation and behavioural targeting (www.audiencescience.com; www.dotomi.com; www.pubmatic.com; etc...). The privacy debate aside, there are clear benefits not just commercially but also to web users in only being served appropriate ads. Taxonomy and user profiling also facilitates targeting your own onsite calls-to-action, and marketing efforts that can support, for example, the ‘freemium’ model optimising the typical user journey (eg. through free registration, e-newsletter, pay-per-view, subscription, high value reports, events, etc...).
An increased understanding of your readers’ browsing habits should also guide editorial strategy, responding to your audience. Analytics should not just be the preserve of the marketing team and information on how people find and interact with your content can be fed back to the editorial teams. Audience intelligence and visibility of related content available within your network and externally should guide a flexible approach to editorial strategy, and, most importantly, in measuring engagement.
Impact of Social Discovery and the Real-time Web
As William Buist noted in his piece for the May / June 2009 issue of this magazine, it’s “no longer enough to understand your customer, but also to understand those that they know, like, and trust, and those who influence their behaviour and activity.”
With a shift towards an increasingly participatory culture and networked society, in the realm of content marketing, social optimisation has become as important as search engine optimisation in achieving success. Publishers can proactively take advantage of tools to identify target audiences expressing interest in a particular topic and respond with relevant content. We have, for example, been using the Twitter API to track keyword hashtags and attract readers based on specific topics.
There are also opportunities to embrace the new rules of engagement and host an active community around your content to facilitate what we call social discovery, (peer-to-peer recommendations). Enabling readers to share content easily and find content of interest based on what like-minded peers have read or flagged as relevant is all part of the democratisation of content. One only has to look at the explosive growth of sites like delicious; digg; newsvine etc... to see how important this is. A burgeoning demographic of Twitter and LinkedIn users are also deriving benefit predominately from link sharing and recommendation.
The technology journalist Marshall Kirkpatrick talks about how the web is now “a synced-up... presence-aware discovery, sharing and communication tool”. Systems are being developed to deliver true value via the ‘Real-time Web’, where users are able to easily monitor timely content of interest, pool information and collaborate to solve problems far quicker than could otherwise be achieved individually. Some compelling examples include the Red Cross HQ’s use of services like breaking news online (www.bnonews.com) to monitor disasters around the world and help coordinate volunteers; or how Mendeley’s real-time data collection software is letting scientists find colleagues, and relevant recommended research.
Open standards and technologies will inevitably drive more innovative ways of enabling users to find information of interest and value and provide further opportunities to publishers for audience engagement. Indeed, central government, as part of their Digital Engagement strategy, has taken steps to embrace this through an ‘Open Data’ initiative to invite the developer community to lead the way in leveraging public sector information. We applaud this level of transparency but “if the government is going to be naked, it had better be buff”. We’d all better shape up to take advantage of this new culture of openness and collaboration if we’re not to be left exposed.
Through effective content management, enabling the delivery of content in context as well as providing a targeted and personalised user experience guided by audience intelligence, publishers can connect their audience to the right information at the right time and add real value. Understanding and embracing developments for open standards, social discovery, the semantic and real-time web, will present further opportunities. The benefits of becoming more timely, relevant and contextual in your content delivery include attracting quality targeted traffic, deeper audience engagement, understanding and trust, increased conversions, new premium services, added value for advertisers... all in turn driving revenue and profits.
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