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Guest Column: How can Publishers strike the right balance between page views & unique content? : Sandeep Balani, Outbrain

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Guest Column: How can Publishers strike the right balance between page views & unique content? : Sandeep Balani, Outbrain

As social media continues its charge for dominance, publishers too are paying more attention to the way they capitalize on social platforms in order to drive traffic back to their websites writes Sandeep Balani, Director Business Development, India, Outbrain.

Over the last decade, social platforms have seen explosive growth in usage, fueled by numerous noteworthy developments – the emergence of Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and in 2011, SnapChat and GooglePlus. As social media continues its charge for dominance, publishers too are paying more attention to the way they capitalize on social platforms in order to drive traffic back to their websites. Following Facebook’s decision to promote more publisher content in its news feed, publishers now depend more than ever on social traffic.

Not only has this progress placed pressure on publishers to refine their social media strategy, it has necessitated the re-evaluation of using a principal metric to judge ad success.

The industry has been talking about moving beyond the click for years now, and that keeping attention, not merely capturing it, should be the end goal. Measurement metrics have evolved to include whitepaper downloads, video views and time spent on page - where a higher time spent on the site allows publishers to command a higher price for cost per impression. In the age where content drives engagement, publishers must promote the right stories with quality content to propel engagement and break through the social noise in order to charge premiums.

Yet, it remains a chicken-and-egg situation as publishers compete in a dynamic market where PV growth remains critical in delivering advertising revenue.

In fact, this need not be a zero-sum game. As consumers increasingly discover content through search, social, and content discovery platforms like Outbrain, publishers should focus their efforts on the following fronts.

1)Stick consistently to a strong USP: Most publishers have built a loyal following that spends considerable amount of time interacting with the site – be it browsing, watching, reading or listening. Readers, however, do not become loyal overnight. Casual readers turn into loyal ones when publishers are able to consistently present content through different prisms and fulfill an existing need. BuzzFeed and Huffington Post, for instance, have proven that as long as publishers stick to their core, retaining an audience is not difficult.

2) Drive content amplification: Though maintaining loyal readership is critical, it is equally important to acquire new readers. One effective way to do this is to tap on content discovery platforms, which allow publishers to boost PVs without compromising the user experience.

Outbrain Amplify for instance, promotes content on leading publications like, ESPN, The Guardian, New York Post, Time Inc., Indian Express, The Hindu amongst many others, serving a total of 200 billion personalized content recommendations to online audiences every month.

3)Serving social audiences: With a significant shift in content consumption patterns across devices - online, mobile and through social media channels – the digital media industry has had to figure out new behavioral patterns of audiences that are now spoilt for choice in terms of the platform they view content on. The key to building a solid multi-platform content strategy is a keen understanding of the benefits and limitations of new technology and how content must be tailored according to the platform it is going to be served on.

Making mobile a priority in particular, is a non-negotiable fact for publishers, especially with users spending the majority of their time consuming digital media on the platform.

Publishers need to leverage the extensive audience reach enabled by social networks, and build audiences outside their own sites. However, the groundwork must first be laid. Before pushing out content across new platforms, publishers will have to take into considerations and the intricacies of each platform type in order to drive maximum inbound traffic. For instance, a copy-heavy content might work better on LinkedIn than on Facebook.

Top publishers are also aware of the need to carefully analyze which platform works best. Spreading too thin across too many platforms may only sacrifice ad revenue on a publisher’s own site, which could have been fully monetized.

4)Focus on the right headlines: It is in the best interest of publishers to test, test, and test for the headline that works best and achieves a high click-through rate, simply because it is the user’s first point of interaction with any content. Through the sheer scale of data and content that Outbrain analyses, it has managed to deduce the elements that make the perfect headline, and the types of images that work well. As headline and image optimizations surge in importance, publishers must focus on best practices in order to drive the highest CTR or conversion rate.

Apart from using questions to entice the reader, and including the target audience in the headline, publishers would do well to keep to shorter permutations as they are likely to be more effective. Instead of a headline that states ‘Top 5 Running Tips you should know’, try ‘Expecting Mothers: Here are 5 Running Tips Just for You’.

5) Get the arbitrage model right: The way that most viral content websites profit is through click arbitrage, and the key to arbitrage is finding a source of cheap traffic. However, the arbitrage model might not always work to the benefit of publishers.

Publishers need to ask themselves whether it is a long-term strategy to build users, if it is a reliable source of revenue considering the pretty small margin per visitor, and if it is the best way to create investor value. Arbitrage is tricky, and a lot of traffic is needed to make it work – but in our experience, many publishers get arbitrage right if they can effectively manage the revenue sources they acquire the traffic from. 

Ultimately, for publishers to succeed, they have to deliver content with the best quality and sustain a following. In the digital and social age, however, they must also pay particular attention to how they promote and distribute the content effectively. Substance and delivery have to come together in a cohesive strategy; quality content will attract quality page views, translating into consistent user and revenue growth.

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