4 Biggest Challenges Faced by Online Publishers

Online Publishers

The shift in the publishing industry to online publishing medium has brought a revolution in the way news was produced and consumed. But with every opportunity comes a challenge. The low entry barrier, outdated tools, declining ad revenue, and continuous change in search engine algorithms combine with short-attention span of the online audiences has forced many online publishers to go out of business.

Modern Publishers need to put in place a comprehensive strategy to produce quality and original content at scale while ensuring production time and cost don’t increase.

In my previous startup, I was editor in chief of an online luxury lifestyle magazine. We scored by focusing at a niche in the highly segmented media world. But then came the tricky part of growing our audience and fueling our content production to engage them.

If you too are facing the Catch-22 situation, keep reading to know our insights and strategies; how we converted the four big challenges of online publishing into real opportunities.

1. Maintaining efficiency during Scaling up

Smaller teams are inherently efficient. But when publishers try to scale up content creation, inefficiency starts to sink in.

Publishers adopt different strategy for scaling up content production. One of the most common is to bring in freelance staff. But with a distributed workforce and a 24×7 operation comes multiple issues.

  • More administrative tasks and lesser time to focus on content strategy
  • Hiring and training
  • Managing deadlines with a distributed team
  • Sending feedback in real time
  • Proper communication channels
  • Content versioning
  • Managing payments

In order to overcome these operational challenges, you need a robust CMS with integrated project management features to help you manage your team of freelance writers rather than dealing with separate tools & system for each problem, separately.

Publishers, who have invested most heavily in their content management system from day one, have been able to accelerate their content production. Demand Media has invested millions in a platform called Demand Studios, AOL has Seed and Vox Media has invested in their next-generation publishing platform called Chorus.

Vox Media CEO Jim Bankoff says, “Media companies, whether they like it or not, must become tech companies too.”

2. Mastering Content Distribution

The online digital space has extremely low barrier-to-entry as it gives access to vast array of distribution channels to everyone. Traditional media’s tyranny on distribution is over.

But to engage your community present on these social distribution channels, you need to tailor your content as per the medium. Just sharing article links from your site on the social networks is plain lazy. You need to produce bespoke content for each channel.

The secret sauce of publishers that have made it big in social media space is by thinking about the distribution medium first followed by creation. Publishers are hiring community managers to manage their social channels in addition to writers and editors. You need to build your community on your website as well as on these networks. In one of my previous companies, we used to build exclusive quizzes and giveaways for our Facebook community. Our Instagram channel was handled by a dedicated resource, who used to share beautiful photos to boost our visual marketing strategy. We did cross promotion on these networks. But we used to work on a network based strategy in addition to our content strategy.

Another challenge is measuring the impact of these social channels. Page views and Unique visitors based analytics don’t work well on these networks. These networks can give you great insights about your community if measured correctly.

3. Juggling revenue Streams in a Post-Click era

The online space has been majorly dominated by the banner ads until now, but the display advertising is on the verge of disruption. Ask any online publisher who has been in this business for sometime; CPM rates have gone down drastically.

You, as a publisher, can’t afford to sustain your publication on just display ads. As they say in the industry, “You are more likely to survive a plane crash than click on a banner ad.” It turns out not that many people click on the ads anymore. As per ComScore – only 8% of U.S. internet users account for 85% of clicks on display ads (and some of them aren’t even humans!).

So if you are a publisher, you need to experiment with alternative revenue sources to stay profitable. Here are some of the most performing alternatives to standard banner ads.

1. Native advertising

Modern publishers are embracing a mix of native advertising, sponsored posts to create an interactive income stream in the era of social media. Buzzfeed, one of the poster child for native advertising revolution, has put together a network of like-minded sites to run its sponsored content posts.Publishers like Mashable, Forbes have been successfully running Sponsored content on their sites.

Start thinking of your site as a platform instead of just a billboard. A platform where you can bring relevant advertisers to have a meaningful dialogue with your community without disrupting them.

2. Behavioural data

You as a publisher need to capture user behavioral data in addition to plan demographics. Publishers can easily sell more inventory at a higher value using behavioral data.

3. Paywalls and Content Lockers

Though I am not a big fan of paywalls and subscription-based economy, but if it works for you – then go for it. Some publishers have also achieved success with soft paywalls, where consumers pay by giving attention instead of real money. Content locking popups can be seen on thousands of websites asking you to do something before you can read their content. Quora forces you to log in before you have access to the content. Though not a direct revenue model, but increasing its community is a great way to build its valuation.

4. Affiliate Marketing

Gawker Media, a pioneer in online publishing space is gearing towards affiliate marketing in their revenue stream according to a leaked memo from Nick Denton.

If you site focus on information around products, affiliate links can bump up your revenue significantly. Though it’s also advisable to provide a disclaimer beneath your posts for readers to know that some of your links are affiliate to maintain the trust of your readers.

4. Content Production Post Panda and Penguin

The world wide web contains at least 4.09 billion indexed pages today. But with Google constantly reinventing its ranking algorithm, it’s getting harder and harder for publishers to rank in Google search results. Traditional SEO as we know it is dead. Social signals are becoming more important every day in ranking algorithms.

Though quality content still is the centerpiece of both search and social. Here’s what you can do to be relevant in Google and other search engines.

1) Expand your Content Types

  • Become a resource – Try to create evergreen content like Lists, Tips and How-to articles on topics relevant to your niche.  Choose timeless topics, so anyone who is looking for information related to your niche find it resourceful irrespective of time.
  • Visual Content – Enhance your content by adding more visual media to make it more interesting and entertaining. Infographics, videos, ebooks, podcasts will help you in making your content more resourceful and give you an edge over your competitors.

2) Be Consistent

Producing quality content is not enough. Google’s Content Freshness index showed the importance of fresh and timely content in influencing site rankings. Make an editorial calendar to plan timely updates to your site. Even if you are a small business owner and does not have a regular blogging schedule, you can stick to definitive guides and topics which continue to be relevant to your business and can be updated regularly.

3)  Google + and Authorship

Google’s latest SERP formula pays a lot of weightage to sites with strong social signals. This is the reason why Google launched itself into social with Google Plus. And Google Plus is one of the most important social networks, owned by the search provider himself. So getting a “+1” does have a correlation with better rankings.

Having a Google Plus account allows you to claim authorship of your original content. This makes it tougher for the content scrapers to be accredited for duplicate content. Take time to complete your Google+ profile, add contacts to your circles and start making updates to engage with other influencers in your circles.

Online publishing is being disrupted like never before. You as a publisher need to understand the ever-changing landscape and build a strategy to stay profitable and relevant.

Would love to hear if you have any comments or suggestions..

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