The phrase “content is king” may sound cliche, but it has never felt more true across the media industry. The rise of generative AI has pushed the media industry to a crossroads, with many companies looking across a landscape where agencies are using AI for creative and content seed ideas.
Media companies, which own decades worth of content, need to decide not just if they want to use AI, but how they want to use it. There are advantages and risks in using different AI tools, and a misstep at this critical juncture could be costly for any media company’s long-term prospects.
Fortunately, there are ways to introduce AI for productivity improvements while also accounting for the various challenges associated with AI adoption.
The benefits of AI adoption
The media industry is full of challenges. Traditional newspapers and magazines are looking for new revenue opportunities amid declining ad revenue. Streaming services are trying to stem the tide of subscriber churn. And every single media company is competing for consumer attention and engagement in an era of unprecedented choice.
AI can help. Whether it’s buzzy generative AI or the more established predictive AI, there are applications that solve some of the media industries biggest challenges.
At a very basic level, AI can help with user personalization, creating unique experiences based on consumers’ interests, behaviors, connections, and other patterns. This can happen on a webpage, a streaming content library, or in an email newsletter. AI also has a firmly established track record with ad optimization, utilizing consumer behavior to match the best ads with the best prospective consumer on a website.
Then there’s the prospect of content creation, which is one of the capabilities getting the most attention right now. The ability to quickly produce small pieces of content, be it voiceover or an article summary, can be extremely helpful.
Protecting IP in the AI era
While those are all clear benefits, there are challenges as well – some obvious, some less-so. There are lots of off-the-shelf tools available, and brands can also pay to develop their own, which would live behind a firewall. Many media companies will look at the open-source platforms that are getting a lot of attention and think these are no-brainer choices, in part due to their recognition among consumers.
The availability and efficacy of these platforms may be appealing, but it is important to consider the danger in using open-source AI solutions. Many free platforms own the data, queries, and outputs, for every use of their platform. This extends to everything from articles, video voice over, animation, and images. Media companies that utilize these tools to build anything may run into ownership and licensing issues down the line, even if the original input was the media company’s own intellectual property.
Where to get started
To leverage and innovate with AI, media companies should first focus on cloud optimization and data cleanup. Since content IP is king for many media companies, the wise near-term solution is to focus on AI solutions that improve productivity while protecting IP. These solutions are available today, and offer a great deal of utility around productivity, automation, and, ultimately, cost savings.
One big area is search engine optimization (SEO). AI can aid with both external SEO (how pages appear in engines like Google) and internal SEO (how pages appear in on-site search). Any improvement to search across helps customers and internal teams, encouraging more traffic and deeper engagement.
There’s also digital asset management (DAM), which uses AI to index and leverage in-house content. DAM systems can ingest and index every media asset, including video, photos, written content, and audio, that has been published or that has never been shared with the public. The resulting index of these assets creates an amazing content discovery tool, allowing your team to leverage work that has already been produced.
Finally, there’s dynamic content optimization (DCO), a cutting-edge digital advertising technology that uses AI to optimize the best version of ad creative to an audience. Media companies can leverage DCO within their own advertising to ensure greater campaign performance.
Navigating AI’s future
There are certainly pitfalls with adopting any nascent technology, and AI is no different. However, there are easy ways to lean into AI with simple, safe use cases while determining the risk of more complex applications. SEO, DAM, and DCO are all instant productivity tools that can be put into place without running into issues of ownership. All of these provide help, something that no media company can afford to turn down right now.
Voice technologies are hot right now. Consumers are increasingly using voice-driven services on smartphones and smart speakers, which is changing the way content is sought out and consumed. This escalating trend has clear implications for marketers, content creators, and consumers.
Here’s how this market is evolving and what it means for media companies.
Mobile and the rise of voice-based tools
Nearly ubiquitous smartphone adoption has created opportunities for a plethora of new products and services, including those driven by voice. Perhaps the best known of these are personal digital assistants like Siri, which was introduced by Apple in 2011. It was followed by Alexa (Amazon) and Cortana (Microsoft) in 2014, and Google Assistant in 2017. Today, nearly half of US adults (46%) use these tools.
And as voice recognition programs become more accurate, they are impacting online search habits. In 2016, Google reported that 20% of searches on Android were already being made using voice. GlobalWebIndex also observed that, in the 34 markets it covered, 25% of those aged 16-24 had used voice search on their mobile in the past month. In fact, by 2020, comScore predicts that half of all searches will be conducted by voice.
Voice on Smart Speakers
Smart speakers are one of the top consumer tech trends right now. The 2018 Digital News Report, produced by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, found that in major markets such as the US, UK, and Germany, usage of these products had more than doubled over the past year.
A March 2018 study from Voicebot.ai and the voice app company, PullString, found that “19.7% of US adults [about 47.3 million] have access to smart speakers today. That is up from less than 1% of the population just two years ago.” By 2022, according to Forrester Research, 50% of US households will have a smart speaker.
The rapid adoption of voice technologies – from voice search to smart speakers – is noteworthy, especially when benchmarked against the take-up of many other more established technologies.
Why these technologies are growing
Typically housed in shared spaces like the living room and/or kitchen, smart speakers can be used by multiple people. Google has noted how “in a short period of time, voice-activated speakers have become part of people’s routines.”
Reasons for this include the ability to use the technology while doing something else (multi-tasking), the fact that people speak more quickly than they can type (speed), and increasingly “human” interfaces.
Indeed, “People perceive the devices as more than just an electronic toy.” Google found that “they’re more akin to another person or a friend.” In 2017 research with over 1,600 users of voice-activated speakers, 41% said that using the technology feels like they’re “talking to a friend of another person.” All of these traits are only going to grow as these technologies continue to evolve and improve.
What this means: Four key considerations
Given the rise of voice-enabled devices and tools, here are four strategic considerations and opportunities for brands and media companies:
1. Ensure your content is optimized for voice search
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) never stands still, but the voice revolution presents some new challenges. Recognizing this emerging trend, back in 2016, Campaign advised “savvy marketers” to “write content in a natural, conversational voice that answers the questions your consumers are asking.”
“Website content in the era of voice search isn’t about keywords,” they wrote, “it’s about semantic search and building the context related to answering a question.”
On smart speakers, as Trustpilot’s Jason Barnard and Chee Lo have explained, there’s a further consideration. Unlike traditional search engine results on desktop or mobile, where you get a range of options, voice searches tend to be highly specific and typically result in a single response.
As Rebecca Sentancereflected on Search Engine Watch, “the rise of voice search is transforming search engines into “answer engines,” which require a different strategy and set of ingredients for success. This strategy has come to be known as AEO, or “answer engine optimization”.”
There’s a raft of tip sheets and detailed articles on this topic for those new to this topic. In one of them, Bryson Meunier, SEO Director at Vivid Seats, recently outlined 12 recommendations in an article for Search Engine Land, advising: “Focus first on optimizing for conversational keywords and implement Actions for Google to get more traffic from voice search.”
2. Harness opportunities for content innovation and delivery
To date, most activity on smart speakers tends to be functional. Consumers typically ask for a weather updates, jokes, or travel directions. consumption of news content and podcast playback typically fall much lower on the list. But that doesn’t mean that publishers and media companies are not experimenting with content and new interactive formats for these platforms.
Publishers from NPR to Reuters, the New York Times and CNN, as well as local news providers such as the Tennessean, IndyStar, and Texas Tribune, are all creating short audio briefings designed to be heard on smart speakers. Apple’s new HomePod will feature content from the Washington Post by default.
Alongside more broadcast-like content delivery, 2018’s Digital News Report noted how “media companies like Quartz are also developing apps (or ‘skills’ as they are known) that allow conversational interaction with the devices.” One such experiment, produced by the BBC in late 2017, featured a 20-minute “interactive science fiction comedy story” for Amazon Alexa and Google Home – called The Inspection Chamber – which encouraged listened to “play your part through voice interactions.”
And in April 2018, Netflix launched an interactive audio drama to promote its Lost in Space reboot. According to Variety: “The audio adventure, which lasts between five and six minutes, features a branched narrative and multiple-choice questions and answers. It was recorded with participation of the show’s cast, and produced in collaboration between Netflix and Google.”
These examples show how international, national, and local players across the media spectrum are experimenting with content being heard through smart speakers.
3. Explore opportunities for consumers to make voice-activated purchases
Jeff Malmad, managing director, Head of Life+, for WPP Group’s Mindshare North America, argued at the Mobile Marketing Association’s Impact conference earlier this year that “depending on your marketing category… 30 percent of your sales will be from incidental loyalty, based on voice searches, and based on voice purchases.”
Although this functionality perhaps lends itself more naturally to other products (Malmad highlighted an advert featuring a couple placing their usual Starbucks order through the Alexa app in their Ford car), voice shopping is predictedto be a $40 billion market by 2022. That’s up from just $2 billion today.
It could be used by media companies for on-going, or one-off, subscriptions, memberships, micropayments, downloads, or access to exclusive content.
Either way, this is an emerging vertical which – like voice technology per se – that cannot be overlooked.
4. Determine if there are new revenue opportunities
Although the eCommerce functionality of this technology remains relatively nascent, companies like CNBC are exploring more traditional advertising packages, such as sponsorships, on these platforms.
John Trimble chief revenue officer of Pandora, has highlighted the advertising potential, given the ability of consumers to respond to audio messages in a manner not previously possible. As he wrote in Recode earlier this year:
“Radio ads have been around since the days of Marconi, but listeners to this day still can’t respond to an ad the way an Alexa user can interact directly with the device.”
That this happens in an increasingly screen-free environment will require creative solutions in order to unlock the commercial opportunities. Gartner has predicted that “by 2020, 30 percent of web browsing sessions will be done without a screen.”
Screen-less, voice-only platforms, will not only represent a very different way for consumers to find information online. They will also disrupt a number of traditional online advertising models too.
This technology is still relatively nascent, but it’s playing out against a wider background whereby voice technology is becoming increasingly integrated into our lives. And, in case you’re not yet convinced that the voice market merits your attention, keep in mind that this trend is global and impacting devices of all kinds.
Alibaba sold 1 million Tmall Genie X1 smart speakers in the last four months of 2017, a device they plan to install in 100,000 Marriott hotel rooms across China. And closer to home, Roku TV’s will soon feature built in voice assistants, while Dish already allows you to search and surf for content using voice functionality in their TV remote control. In the era of the Internet of Things, domestic appliances – such as those from Whirlpool – can already be managed by Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.
Undoubtedly, voice technology will become all-pervasive. In November, Amazon announced Alexa for Business, “a new service that enables businesses and organizations to bring Alexa into the workplace at scale.” This is just one way that voice-triggered activities – from search through to content discovery and shopping – will move out of the home and into the office and car.
Voice search and screen-less content consumption are areas that are already beginning to take off. And this trend will increasingly impact media and information habits in the future. As a result, understanding the potential – and pitfalls – of this technology is an area that brands and publishers need to be exploring, if they aren’t already.
In January, Facebook introduced algorithm changes to its News Feed, prioritizing the content that friends and family share and comment on, while de-emphasizing content from publishers and brands. The changes shifted expectations and strategies for content owners who’ve long valued Facebook for both traffic and engagement.
On April 5th, 2018, MediaRadar hosted a panel to discuss the state of the media industry in the wake of these sweeping Facebook changes. The name of the event was “Facebook vs. Snapchat: What’s Next for Third-Party Distribution?”
Marty Swant, Staff Writer from AdWeek moderated this discussion. I was honored to be a part of this panel, which included four other industry experts with various and impressive backgrounds: Maia McCann, former Editor-in Chief & EVP of Programming from Little Things, Emily Cohn, Executive Growth Editor from Insider Inc., Kieley Taylor, Managing Partner, Global Head of Social, [m]PLATFORM, and Brian Madden, SVP Development at Hearst Digital.
Here are 5 takeaways from the conversation:
1. LittleThings isn’t holding agrudge against Facebook.
Maia McCann entered the panel with an experience completely unique to any of the other panelists. She was the Editor-in-Chief for LittleThings, the digital media firm that recently shuttered in the wake of Facebook’s algorithm changes.
Marty Swant’s very first question of the night was directed solely at McCann. He simply asked, “What happened? Could you tell us about the rise and fall of LittleThings?”
Maia stated that the company was “born out of viral Facebook traffic.” She went on to say, “We toyed with the idea of diversifying traffic, but we made a decision to look at Facebook as five different avenues of distribution. We looked at Facebook as a landscape. There was an idea that this landscape was never really going to change.”
Unfortunately, their strategy did not serve them well, as Facebook’s landscape did change. LittleThings was not built to withstand those changes. It lost about 75% of its organic traffic, which killed their profits and caused the company to shut down.
In light of the outcome, one might assume that McCann could have bitter feelings towards Facebook’s algorithm changes. However, she expressed a much more positive outlook, devoid of grudges. In fact, she appeared grateful: “There’s been a lot in the press about how Facebook killed LittleThings. I really don’t feel that way. I don’t have rage dreams about Mark Zuckerberg. Facebook made my career.”
She noted that Facebook gave her the giant audience that led to her success. Without it, she’d just be “writing somewhere.” McCann also added that there was “probably a route out of it,” in reference to the decisions LittleThings made leading up to its shut down. “Hindsight is 20/20,” said McCann.
2. Traffic sourcing strategies vary greatly.
Something to note in McCann’s comments about LittleThings was how they approached traffic sourcing. They relied almost solely on Facebook. Regardless of LittleThings’ fate, however, this showed one very specific approach to gaining an audience.
When the other panelists discussed their own strategies, it became evident that media companies can, and do, approach traffic sourcing in completely different ways.
Brian Madden of Hearst Digital discussed how the company “never wanted to focus on a single source of traffic.” They focused on multiple sources, to diversify their audience, maximize growth potential, and avoid having a heavy dependence on a single source (i.e. Facebook).
LittleThings and Hearst presented two contrary ways of seeking traffic. Regardless of outcome, however, neither one of these ways is right or wrong. They’re simply different.
3. In media, experimentation is key.
Throughout the panel, one of the consistent themes was that, for media companies, experimenting with different content platforms is crucial. Brian Madden spoke heavily on Hearst’s diligence with experimentation and how it has fueled their multi-platform and overall success.
“We always knew something else was coming, so we wondered how we’d be first on every platform… Being able to experiment in a lot of different places has been key.”
Even in rehashing the story of LittleThings, Maia McCann stated that, if given a second chance, she would, “diversify traffic, hire people for SEO, look at YouTube, and look at Snapchat.” In other words, she wishes they had experimented with more platforms.
Experimentation allows media companies to better understand which platforms and audiences are the most profitable, and where they might be able to find long-term success.
4. Content should be “story”-driven.
One thing that Snapchat and Instagram do extremely well, is showcase content in a “story” format. Kieley Taylor of GroupM’s [m]PLATFORM expressed her thoughts that “Stories” and “Moments” would be a large factor in filling the Facebook void.
“The story-telling format that we’ve seen the most success with, is the ‘Stories’ format. The thing that is working across a lot of distribution points, where a lot of people are trying to spend their time, is ‘Stories.’ [i.e.] Instagram Stories, obviously Snapchat.”
She referred to this “mobile-first, social native” format as something of great value.
Not only should publishers and advertisers look to tell a story within their content, they should also look to utilize the “Stories” format on Snapchat and Instagram to communicate that content to their audience, and potentially fill the vertical content void left by Facebook.
5. SEO fuels long-term success.
Emily Cohn of Insider and Business Insider was a strong advocate for search engine optimization (SEO), especially as it relates to the long-term success and profitability of content.
“Search is our number one source of traffic,” said Cohn. “Around 80% of our search traffic is to stories that were not published today. One of our top-searched stories is from 2014. Search is valuable to us because it’s making our whole ten years’ worth of content really valuable.”
While media companies may find high rates of traffic from social media, a single viral post may not lead to long-term content profitability.
Maia McCann also expressed her belief in the value of SEO, saying that LittleThings got rid of their SEO team amidst company cuts, and that in hindsight, doing so was a “huge mistake.”
While these takeaways were certainly some of the highlights of the night, the entire panel was filled with many terrific questions from Marty Swant and the audience, and a ton of great insights. Overall, we learned there is a lot of opportunity out there through social media channels. Now, it is up to media outlets to harness and monetize that opportunity.
A veritable bonanza of market developments – ranging from pedestrian pricing pressure to international political drama – have conspired to cause the “‘pendulum’ of power in global media to [finally] swing away from Google and Facebook” and “signal that their domination of global media is not guaranteed”. Though by no means a fait accompli, the digital media landscape could very well be undergoing a significant change during this first half of 2018. And the net result could mean that the “duopoly” – Google and Facebook – could be vulnerable to eroding market share for the first time in nearly a decade. Here’s a list of issues that competitors need to attend to in order to take advantage of the opportunity.
The Google algorithm rewards websites that download quickly – on both desktop and mobile devices – with favorable results placements. This is a constant challenge for publishers that try to cram as many advertisements as possible into a finite amount of real estate. Finding the correct balance is more art than science, and requires constant monitoring and tweaking to maintain the proper balance.
Action Items: Ensure your website is housed in a formidable hosting environment, and configured to run as fast and smoothly as possible.
While driving reporters and editors crazy, savvy keyword strategies are the linchpin to healthy inbound traffic volume and exposure to new audiences. Publishers are well-served by building teams that combine data-intensive digital marketing analysts with writers who understand audience needs. This is straightforward in concept, but exceedingly difficult in practice.
Action Items: Formalize a keyword strategy – which could include hundreds of keywords if you’re a midsize or large publication – and make its governance and evolution part of someone’s job description.
By now, we all know the value of “viral” content – i.e., the rare but impactful piece of prose (or image, meme, or video clip) that strikes a chord and makes its way around the internet at warp speed, registering hundreds of thousands or even millions of “shares”. Less celebrated, however, is the regular amplification of content by means of a coordinated effort that transforms a typical content asset into one that has meaningful engagement and marketplace impact.
Action Items: Make sure your publication’s content is easy to share, effectively promoted and re-purposed; and make use of your employees’ digital footprints to promote and disseminate content.
Old School Tactics
Considering the mind-blowing pace at which digital tactics take hold, proliferate, and sometimes fizzle –- remember MySpace, AOL, Ask Jeeves, Tumblr, etc.? – it’s easy to forget about the staying power and effectiveness of some of the *old school* tactics. Using the principle of relativity, remember that tactics involving email newsletters, LinkedIn (especially with B2B), and Bing (a Microsoft property that continues to grow steadily, if not remarkably), are the closest things that resemble sure bets in the digital ecosystem.
Action Items: Audit your properties’ promotional tactics, and make sure they incorporate proven (but admittedly, less sexy) initiatives that target audiences use regularly. Note: this may even include things like direct postal mail; given the massive drop-off in DM efforts, it’s easier to stand out as unique through the channel now as a result.
One of the most impactful metrics in digital success is “domain authority”, which is generally understood to be the relative value of what the internet (i.e., Google and Bing) assigns to a specific domain URL. For example, one measurement company rates IBM.com and NYTimes.com as scoring in the 95+ range (on a scale of 1-100), which makes sense, considering the value of the brands, and the level of effort they both put into maintaining successful websites.
Action Items: Multi-property publishing outfits can help their titles maximize domain authority through strategic cross-promotion, since a significant criteria in the algorithm is “inbound links”.
Since the category’s inception two decades ago, the digital advertising marketplace has mostly confounded traditional publishers. Only a handful of organizations have been able to incorporate online channels into their operations without residual upheaval and near-debilitating transformation. Far more organizations failed at managing the evolution, and shuttered. For those that survived, there are signs that new opportunities may soon become apparent, and preparing for a market turn would be prudent.
Since January 2017, we’ve watched with interest as traffic from Google Search to publisher sites globally has risen by more than 25%, more than outpacing the much-publicized decline in Facebook referrals over the same time period. We’ve spent some time digging into our data and today, we conclude that this is driven by a 100% increase in mobile search traffic from Google on sites using Accelerated Mobile Pages (“AMP”).
Below is Chartbeat’s early analysis of the trend, why it’s a good thing for publishers, and some initial recommendations on how to take advantage of this growth.
Google Search has always been the largest referrer to Chartbeat clients, who represent a large majority of leading news media sites in the U.S. and globally. From January 2017 through August 2017, Google Search steadily drove approximately 1.3 billion visits per week, representing 40% of external traffic referrals and 21% of total page views.
In late August, Chartbeat data scientists noticed that Google Search referrals across our client base were trending up. The sheer force of nature drove initial bumps: on August 17, much of the United States saw a total solar eclipse, accounting for the first peak in the above chart. In early September, Hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida, resulting in the second peak.
We initially assumed that after these events, traffic would fall back to normal levels. Instead, as these events receded in the news cycle, we were surprised to see that Google Search continued to drive increased traffic to our clients, hitting approximately 1.65 billion visits per week by early February, an increase of over 25% since July.
Chartbeat’s Data Science team began an investigation in partnership with our clients to understand what drove this change. Initially, our team checked if this was either a bug or the un-darkening of previously dark social traffic. In both cases, it was not. We also looked to see if Apple’s switch on iOS (from using Bing to Google as the default on Siri and Spotlight) was the key factor. It wasn’t. The growth is visible on both iOS and Android, and we have not seen a corresponding drop in Bing traffic.
We then looked specifically at search traffic by device and the answer was clear from our data set. Mobile Google Search referrals were up significantly while Desktop Google Search referrals were flat.
We then looked specifically at Mobile Google Search to compare sites that are using AMP versus those that are not. The difference was stark. While Mobile Google Search traffic to our AMP-enabled publishers is up 100% over the same time-frame, traffic to publishers not using AMP is flat.
This is stunning news. The data shows that Google Mobile Search referrals have grown so much in the last six months that they now outpace all Facebook referrals (mobile and desktop).
Why This Is A Good Thing
At the same time that publishers are seeing increased traffic from Google, the industry and the search giant, long at odds, are reaching a kind of detente. In a recent survey by the Reuters Institute, Google ranked as the platform that publishers [felt] “the most positively about.”(Full Disclosure, I worked for Google from 2007-2011). It’s true that Google is far from perfect — not to mention that the Reuters survey may be the only popularity contest where a score of 3.47 out of 5 can win — but there are real reasons to feel positive about the warming relationship between the two parties.
For one, there’s the cause: the underlying business models of each are pushing them closer together.
Google’s business depends on an open web that is searchable and contains as much of the world’s information as possible. The biggest threat to Google is a world in which essential information remains inside the walled gardens of platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, where its crawlers cannot go. In fact the AMP Project, although independent and open-source by design, was spearheaded by Google from the outset to “make the web better for all.” The roots of AMP clearly lie in Google’s need for, and corresponding commitment to, the open web.
This strategy aligns well with the vast majority of publishers, who also depend on an open web. Few, if any, have the intent to create meaningful walled gardens. Instead, they’re focused on an open web for discovery, monetization, and distribution.
Lost in the discussion about platforms and publishers is how the business model of Google differs from other platforms. Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat depend on capturing as much of an individual’s attention as possible, and keeping it within that platform. Users only have so much time to spend with media, and a minute spent on The Washington Post is a minute that a user can’t be spending on a platform. Google, on the other hand, is primarily interested (with YouTube being the biggest exception) in getting users off of Google Search and onto another page as quickly as possible.
Google also sends traffic to publishers directly, where they can monetize using their own ad sales team and infrastructure. Google’s DoubleClick business remains the ad server of choice for publishers, and Google’s Ad Exchange is in almost every programmatic publisher stack.
Listen and Learn
Perhaps most importantly, they’ve also listened to publishers and made changes. In October, Google provided more support for publishers with subscription-based businesses by no longer requiring them to use the “First-Click-Free” program to be fully indexed in Google Search. Upon abandoning this policy, Google earned positive feedback from publisher partners around the globe.
That said, Chartbeat clients still have a long list of important — and, in my view, valid — criticisms of Google. Publishers share with us their frustrations around Google monetization, ad blocking in the Chrome browser, the Google “Answer Boxes,” and the proliferation of inappropriate content and “fake news” on YouTube in particular. We know that AMP not only has benefits in referral traffic, but that it also boosts engagement by up to 35%. Our clients continue to tell us anecdotally that AMP-formatted pages do not monetize as well as their own pages, yet they continue to experiment.
Perhaps most importantly, we should remember that Google and Facebook still capture 80% of every new advertising dollar in the world. The duopoly represents an existential threat to ad-supported media, pushing media stakeholders to work towards new business models like subscriptions, affiliate revenue, and commerce. Still, there’s a thaw in the relationship. Now, the question is what to do about it.
The Importance of a Search Strategy
Informed by the new data, it’s clear that leveraging Google and AMP effectively is more important now than ever.
First, we encourage all those who have not already done so to take a long look at “AMP-ing” their pages. The growing prominence of AMP, combined with the fact that AMP was already found to be more engaging for users than the mobile web, should make the ROI calculation even more compelling for publishers.
Second, it is important for all content teams to revisit their overall search strategies, particularly on mobile. SEO may feel like an acronym from another time, but these data trends make it clear that SEO and AMP strategies are as relevant as ever.
Chartbeat clients who publish evergreen content never lost the SEO muscle. Using tried-and-true techniques around keywords, authenticity, and swift page-load times on both mobile and desktop, they continue to drive audience traffic effectively through Search.
In news, entertainment, and sports, savvy publishers know to take advantage of Google around big events like elections and sporting events. The results can be tremendous. While most U.S. Chartbeat clients saw some increase during the 2016 U.S. Election, and many saw increases of 20x, those with the best SEO (who ranked in the top 2 or 3 for key searches like “Election Map,” for example) saw peaks of up to 100 times their nightly average on election night. 2018 promises to be a huge year in events: The Winter Olympics, the World Cup, and the 2018 U.S. Congressional Elections. All should drive global traffic, and dozens of elections and sporting events will drive outsized results regionally.
Readers and Revenue
All of this traffic can be used to generate incremental advertising dollars. More importantly, it can drive new readers to publishers where they can be converted from fly-by searchers to loyal, direct visitors to revenue-generating customers no matter the business model.
We will continue to analyze and examine the data for insights and underlying causes. If you have any hypotheses, see interesting things in your own data, or just want to talk, please reach out to us.
We’d also love to hear some contrarian views on Google. Are there ways in which their growth could be hurting publishers, in addition to what I’ve outlined here? Let us know. Same goes for sharing best practices around search.
John Saroff is Chief Executive Officer of Chartbeat, a leading content intelligence platform used by more than 50,000 of the world’s top media properties in over 60 countries. He has worked on the cutting-edge of media and technology for 17+ years, setting the daily operations and business development agendas of companies as diverse as Google, NBC-Universal, and vente-privee. John received his undergraduate degree in History from Haverford College and a joint degree in Law and Business from Columbia University.
On the web, content fraudsters run sites that generate millions of views, get hundreds of thousands of fans, and even claw their way up to the top of search pages. Some of these sites are nothing but one person. With low-cost cash grabs taking over search and social, how can publishers win? To fix the system, they first must break it.
To beat content fraudsters at their own game publishers have to understand them. At its most dangerous, content fraud dresses itself up like news. It also includes misleading memes, and thinly veiled sales pitches. Some sites may do this for amusement, others may be cause-driven. Many do it to make money by reaping numerous impressions on low cost ad buys, often using content networks like those recommendations you see at the bottom of most news articles, or affiliate marketing.
Fraudsters can succeed using the same systems as news outlets and, occasionally, content stolen from legitimate creators. Despite networks of cheap sites and Facebook pages run by one or a small number of people, fraudsters consistently beat large organizations to trending positions.
If the media is going to improve social networks and regularly duplicate victories there are things publishers can learn and patterns they can emulate while staying ethical.
Trending algorithms on Facebook or Google are trying to understand the relationship between points of data to spot behavior that indicates a pattern of growing strong connections. Think of a cat’s cradle, where every bend increases not just the number of connections, but the complexity of the pattern. The reliability rating of each connecting node is important but sometimes the numbers have greater significance. A Facebook link only needs about 1,000 shares in a close time-frame to trend, according to their tool for journalists, Signal.
The first strategy outlets can reclaim from fraudsters is that it isn’t just about their own content. Successful content fraud pages on Facebook don’t just share their own content, but others’ as well. And some of the links may even be to legitimate sites. Publishers who make their internet presences all about themselves are at a disadvantage.
Second, publishers must simply to be more massive. Some are already starting to figure this out, BuzzFeed’s Food vertical alone has five Facebook pages. Even with huge platforms like Facebook, it doesn’t take much to create a trend. Posting to multiple pages can significantly boost readership numbers for a publication and its social media professionals.
A notable factor in Facebook trends is centering a large number of posts very close to each other with very similar titles. This is another way to apply viral cooperation, in that Facebook uniqueness (in headlines) can actually work against you. Seeking to publish similar headlines (or at least social headlines) between publications can be useful, especially if the topic is important to readers and worth promoting, regardless of which publication gets the clicks. Make massiveness for big important stories easier by coordinating with content partnerships on which big stories to publish when. It seems like it is less competitive, but it elevates all participants.
Narrow with a Focus
A third lesson, gleaned from examining content fraud Facebook pages, is that many of them are focused on small verticals but often share large stories that are related to the central focus. This is a behavior worth emulating: Approach readers via social networks on the smallest slices of their interests, and when there is a big story that affects more than one of those tiny slices, share it massively across all of them.
Go big, go narrow and don’t be afraid to make friends. Publishers have a choice: Complain about the system, or take advantage of it. If media outlets force their way into the flaws of the system, they can compete effectively, and push platforms to build better methodologies.
Aram Zucker-Scharff is the Director for Ad Engineering in The Washington Post’s Research, Experimentation and Development group. He is also the lead developer for the open-source tool PressForward and a consultant on content strategy and newsroom workflows. He was one of Folio Magazine’s 15 under 30 in the magazine media industry. He previously worked as Salon.com’s full stack developer. His work has been covered multiple times in journalism.co.uk and he has appeared in The Atlantic, Digiday, Poynter, and Columbia Journalism Review. He has also worked as a journalist, a community manager and a journalism educator.