As evidenced byYahoo's acquisition of Associated Content, AOL's creation of Seed.com, and Demand Media's recent IPO, companies are attempting to leverage a cheap news model designed to create more opportunities for online ad sales. These "content mills" rank high in search engines, but low in reader engagement.
When you employ an army of unedited freelancers to produce vast quantities of low-cost, crowd-sourced content, you're essentially writing for search bots -- and while search is important, it certainly isn't the formula for brand loyalty.
Editorial-side opponents believe content mills threaten the value of content and reduce it to a commodity-like state. This commoditization strikes fear in true content creators because, rather than encouraging thoughtful and engaging feedback, it rewards keyword targeting and other SEO tricks. Meanwhile, marketers agree that neither this content's environment, nor where it lives, engages readers. As a result, ad buyers see low returns as lackluster content does not drive purchasing decisions or brand preferences. And you thought your current campaign click-thru performance was bad enough.
This scenario begs the question: "Does this signal the demise of editorial standards or is there still hope in saving our industry's integrity?"
Influence is the silver lining
Influence is founded on the notion that people who consistently create influential content will inspire their audiences to spend more time on each article, view more pages, and return more often to a property.
The Online Publishers Association (OPA) recently reported that "those emotionally connected to media sites and consumers who believe these sites fit their needs, are much more apt to purchase from their advertisers."
Marketers have long understood that ads placed next to well-written content outperform content mills consistently and across the board. High-quality content drives repeat traffic, generates more page views, and keeps people on the page longer.
According to the OPA, 80 percent of respondents who had made purchases as a result of online advertising described themselves as "having a strong, positive emotional connection to the sites where an ad ran."
Professional editorial teams have a way of integrating marketing messages into highly relevant content and as a result, they're better equipped to attract engaged buyers. Meanwhile, content mills prioritize copy for emotionless bots first and the live audience second. Regardless of how Associated Content and Demand Media defend the value and integrity of their material, it's hard to make the case that they're creating an emotional connection for brand builders -- and the engagement numbers speak for themselves.
Offline metrics like article retweets, Facebook "likes," Delicious bookmarks, and blog comments are the true indicators of the content's value and impact. As such, it is here that the marketers' messages have the greatest impact on their target audience and enable true creators of engaging, thoughtful, and actionable content to continue doing what they do best.
Despite the perceived threat of content mills to publishers and advertisers, below are a few easy steps to ensure that you're beating the bots and producing engaging content.
Identify the sites that resonate with your target, your product, and your brand. For example, in today's technology media sector, for every one editor in the old world of tech publishing, there are hundreds if not thousands of people who have as much expertise. Because this expertise is so widely distributed, marketers must look more closely to uncover the gems that can help make them more relevant to their target audiences.
To help you identify the influencers on a given topic, look into the following:
- Twitter lists, such as Listorius.com, Twellow, and WeFollow will help you hone in on key Twitter personalities, based on topic, region, or profession.
- Pay close attention to those quoted in the traditional media, since these influencers will most likely have a blog or website that draws an engaged audience.
- If you're pondering whether or not to advertise on a particular blog, check its Technorati rank or its traffic on sites like compete.com or alexa.com.
Look for how deeply people actually engage with sites, their content, and the people behind both. Remember that interaction doesn't necessarily take place within the confines of a single web property. You can look at on-site metrics like time spent and pages per visit. You should also consider offsite metrics such as tweets, re-tweets, Facebook shares, comments, trackbacks, and bookmarks. If audiences are engaging with influencers across a spectrum of services, they're more likely to engage with your associated brand and become advocates for both you and your content partner in the process. Sites like this offer a wealth of engagement-related tools to help marketers measure where their messages are resonating while grabbing a snapshot of social media activity levels.
Always be testing
If you're allocating spending on ad networks that incorporate black-box algorithms, talk to your media planner to determine how many of your ads are appearing on sites that source content from Associated Content or Demand Media. Once you identify these sites, do some A/B testing against established sites that you already advertise. From here, you can really determine where you're really placing your ads.
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