Founder and CEO of BestTechie talks with Boost the News about the challenges faced by online publishers, and what they can do to overcome them.

Jeff Weisbein_smallIn our last articles we have been discussing the challenges of content distribution and traffic acquisition for online publishers and content marketers. We wanted to have a deeper understanding of how these challenges look like from the side of the publishers themselves, so we invited for an interview Jeff Weisbein, Founder & CEO of
BestTechie (an online technology magazine) and of KYA, an analytics platform for publishers.

Boost the News: Jeff, thanks for agreeing to take these questions. We’re excited to hear what you have to say. You are the Founder and CEO of a big online publisher, and also the founder of a special analytics platform for online publishers. You know the challenges of online publishers from each possible perspective. Do you feel that more content being created online is increasing competition and making it harder for publishers to attract readers? Do you see an increase in this type of competition in the market in the last year?

Jeff Weisbein: I don’t believe that an increase in the volume of content of being created directly correlates to an increase in competition amongst publishers. I also do not believe that an increase in the amount of content being produced makes it harder to attract an audience. While there is a lot of content (and noise) on the web and the amount of content being created is increasing, there are also a lot of people on the web as well, meaning there are lots of opportunities to attract readers and see growth. Publishers who will face the most challenges with regard to growing and maintaining an audience in today’s environment will be the one’s who disregard data and insights about their audience’s engagement and interests on their site(s).

BTN: How are online publishers reacting to this challenge? What are the steps they are taking to maintain readers?

JW: While I don’t believe the creation of more content is responsible for a direct increase in competition, I do believe there are several things publishers are doing when it comes to growing and maintaining an audience in a more competitive environment.

In terms of growing and maintaining an audience, many publishers are becoming nimbler or are being built to be able to be more agile from the beginning. That approach means improving efficiency in two main areas: organizational structure and the use of technology and data.

The use of technology such as automation to improve the speed and accuracy at which certain tasks can be accomplished has been super helpful. It lets publishers react more quickly and ensure they are producing a quality piece of content. In addition to automation, the use of tools to build more engaging data visualizations has also started to become more popular. And of course, using tools that let you keep your audience engaged on your site longer through personalization is also a growing trend. You want to turn those first time visitors into returning ones and the best way to do that is by making their first experience on your site memorable.

When it comes to data it’s all about understanding what their audience is engaging with and figuring out ways to leverage those insights into “here’s what we should write next.”

BTN: Social media used to be the saviors of online publishers – with their help, publishers could engage readers and bring them to read articles. But now social media are closing up on organic reach. What other distribution strategies are left for publishers?

I’ve always been a big fan of telling publishers to own their home. What I mean by that is that publishers should a) have their own domain, database, etc. but perhaps more importantly is that b) they shouldn’t rely on one third-party source for too much of their traffic. An example of that is relying too heavily on social or search traffic to drive readers to your site. So what else is there that is a more “homegrown” approach? Build a newsletter/mailing list. Get your audience’s emails and send content directly to them.

BTN: The struggle to increase traffic hides behind it a bigger struggle – for monetization of content. The continuous struggle of publishers to monetize content has become a topic for discussion. Do you see the decline in traffic hurting the monetization efforts of online publishers? Which, do you think, are going to be the dominant monetization strategies for publishers this year? Do you see innovative monetization strategies coming along?

JW: Generally speaking, the answer is yes, a decline in traffic will affect monetization efforts for digital publishers. However, more specifically, as with anything, it really depends on the publication. Digital publications that are more niche in nature and have very targeted and specific audiences can likely weather [small] declines in traffic better than sites that are more general.

In terms of monetization strategies, I’d expect to see sponsored content/native ads continue to gain traction. I also expect to see an increase in sponsorships that can be tied to specific content (video and podcasts, for example), but aren’t necessarily direct sponsored content.

BTN: Sponsored content has become a popular way for publishers to monetize content, but it presents a certain challenge. To succeed in sponsored content, publishers must combine between three goals:

  • Creating content that will satisfy readers and be worth of their attention.
  • Satisfying the client and providing content that enjoys high traffic and popularity.
  • Keep ethics and make a clear separation between editorial and sponsored content.

How do you evaluate the development of sponsored content in the online publishing industry? Do you think publishers are doing sponsored content properly? What can they improve?

JW: This is a great question. I think some publishers are doing sponsored content properly while others not so much. There’s a lot of room for the industry to improve. In fact, my company, KYA, just launched a podcast called Know Your Audience and the very first episode we released featured the then Director of Creative Strategy at Time, Inc, Melanie Deziel, and in her episode we specifically focused on sponsored content. In the episode she spoke about how the best way to do sponsored content is to have it produced by a separate team that’s “housed” outside of editorial. In addition to that, the sponsored content team should absolutely include people with journalistic backgrounds – you don’t want a piece of sponsored content written by a marketing person, for example.

Clearly there are a lot more stakeholders involved in a sponsored content piece, but as a publisher, it’s important to work to find a balance between pleasing your advertiser and maintaining your integrity. It can be done, it may just require some more work.

Truthfully, there really isn’t anything inherently wrong with sponsored content. If done right, it can be just as useful and informative as a non-sponsored piece of content. As Melanie said in the podcast, the key is to find your area of authority and stick with that. For example, I was once approached to create a sponsored piece of content about sneakers on my tech publication. I immediately turned it down. Why? Well, for one, I don’t know anything about sneakers, but more importantly, it’s not something my site is a considered an authority in so a post about sneakers would seem out of place and chances are my audience wouldn’t find it interesting anyway. Bottom line: staying within your area of expertise will result in a more interesting sponsored piece of content.

BTN: Speaking of traffic and of sponsored content, recent researches by Boost the News show that the life span of online articles is short – even if traffic is high in the first moments following publication, it disappears almost completely after merely a few days. How are publishers able to ensure long-lasting traffic for brands investing in sponsored articles?

JW: There’s a few things you can do. You can promote the article on social networks and/or content networks after the initial traffic drop to drive new traffic to it with the goal to have it shared by the new visitors. You can link back to the article in newer pieces of content when it’s relevant and work to drive some traffic to the older piece of content that way. Additionally, you could also utilize your own social channels and re-share the content.

It’s also worth noting that these tactics will be most successful with content that is considered to be more “evergreen.” And if you think about it, it makes sense as to why, if your site is a news site, your content is time sensitive a majority of the time.

BTN: Summarizing the previous questions, the challenges and trends presented in them: how will online publishing look like one year from now? What will be the dominating trends that will help the industry to strive and succeed?

JW: I think the digital publishing space will be a bit more consolidated a year from now. In terms of trends, I think it will be more data driven (or at the very least the shift to using more data will have started) and that personalization will start becoming more popular and widely used.