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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

CPM is old news: The business case for selling content differently

February 12, 2019 | By Trisha Stefani, VP, Media Partnerships – Pressboard @trisha_stefani

Of the millions pieces of content that are published online every day, only 10% are ever seen.

If that shockingly low statistic makes your heart sink, you’re certainly not alone. Publishers across the globe are fighting the increasingly difficult battle to get their articles in front of the right people – or even just real people. From fake ad impressions to the death of organic traffic, the digital maze that your content needs to navigate its way through before appearing on the newsfeeds of your target audience is becoming more and more complex.

This crowded, often disingenuous advertising landscape has brought the industry to something of a crossroads. Quality engagement is both publishers’ most valuable and scarcest commodity. It’s also more expensive to achieve than ever before. So how do publishers give advertisers more of what they want without spending themselves into the red to deliver it?

Perhaps the greatest obstacle to winning the fight for engagement is the CPM, or cost per thousand impressions, model. Only by tossing this outdated method of ad performance measurement out the window can the industry move forward. But what’s so bad about CPM, and what should be called upon to replace it?

Out With the Old…

The CPM model was created during a time when banner ads and impressions reigned supreme. Getting an impression on a banner ad only required a reader to open the webpage and view the ad for a second, which is fine when you’re raising awareness of a shoe sale or a flight deal. But it simply doesn’t work for content. Whether that content is an article, a video, or a social post, its power comes from engaging readers or viewers with a story for an extended period of time, during which they become aware of your values and develop a connection with a brand’s voice. Scrolling past a sponsored headline on your homepage just doesn’t deliver the same result.

The mass publisher shift towards branded content and content marketing arose out of a desire to forge more meaningful relationships with customers — and when was the last time you made a connection with someone in a second? For this reason, selling on impressions and praying you succeed doesn’t work. This model also doesn’t put value on the thing publishers are best at: crafting an engaging, powerful story. Content needs a new measurement (and pricing) strategy that better reflects its strengths and rewards publishers for their efforts.  

… And in With the New

If you’re seeking guaranteed, meaningful interactions with your stories, one possible solution could be the Cost Per Read (CPR) model. Where CPM measures split-second impressions better suited to display ads, CPR bundles the content with a number of high-quality reads, so advertisers know exactly what to expect.

The rapidly growing and evolving digital advertising landscape also demands a greater degree of flexibility and control over content. To cover the reach limitations of models like CPM, publishers often tack on things like banners, social posts, and e-newsletter mentions in order to drive engagement. These tactics (and their associated costs) can earn pushback from advertisers who want to see as many of their hard-earned dollars go towards content as possible. To better reflect this modern mindset, the CPR model focuses solely on drawing in quality views to a piece of content, making investing in branded content less risky and removing ambiguity around campaign deliverables.

How the Death of Organic Traffic Killed the CPM

CPR also puts publishers back in the driver’s seat in terms of amplification. Organic traffic has been rapidly declining since 2014. And when Facebook swung its metaphorical axe down upon the News Feed in 2018, it seemed as though the industry would never recover. Publishers had spent years honing their Facebook promotion skills and building a larger, more dedicated audience through the platform, only to have that effort made to feel pointless. Reaching the same readers they used to reach suddenly cost significantly more, making content amplification a loss-leader for many sites.

But it doesn’t have to be. Business models like CPR allow publishers to charge a premium on amplification. That’s because advertisers want to leverage a publisher’s brand and audience to reach as many people as possible. From a profitability standpoint, it also creates an opportunity to generate more revenue on additional earned reads. As long as you’re confident in your story and your amplification skills, you can earn incremental revenue for every new person reached.

Additionally, CPR allows you to grow site traffic on someone else’s dime, because the cost of the social amplification used to drive traffic to branded content is factored into the pre-set cost per read. This wider readership closely aligns with your own target audience, meaning you can connect with new readers who may someday become a loyal part of your audience.

Digital advertising is an innovative, fleet-footed industry that demands a great deal of adaptability from publishers, brands and agencies alike. In the tug-of-war over audience engagement, you’ll want the business model that favors quality attention over cursory impressions on your side.

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