trafficWhen I talk with many online publishers they often tell me that they need to increase their website traffic. When I ask them why they want to increase their site traffic, the answer is always “Well, my competitors get more traffic than I do.” What this really means is that their competitors are generating more display ad revenue than they are and to compete with their competitors, they believe, they must increase their website traffic.

I believe publishers are trying to solve the wrong problem. There’s no denying that advertising is one of the largest revenue streams to online publishers. According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, online advertising spending in the United States increased 15.6% during the first quarter in 2013.  BUT during that same time period display ad revenue fell 8%.

Advertisers are getting smarter, they’ve learned that one-third to half of Web display ads are not even seen and that many banner ads appear below the fold, can be removed by ad blockers and often times don't load before visitors move off of the page. Even if a banner ad is seen, the average click thru rate (CTR) is a very low 0.1%.

What I'm starting to see happen is that less trafficked publishers are trying to play catch up by increasing traffic. But, higher trafficked publishers are trying to figure out how to replace lost display ad revenue. In the end, most of the publishers I speak with are just plain scratching their heads. 

Here are four things publishers of all sizes should do to increase their revenue and their advertisers revenue.

1) Focus less on more traffic and more on the traffic you already have

Publishers often overlook their biggest asset, their audience. They think they need more traffic but in reality they just need to know more about the traffic they already have. 9 out of 10 publishers I speak with can’t tell if a visitor on their website is a subscriber (paid or free) or a stranger. Think of what a different experience your audience would have if your content responded to them based upon who they are.

Publishers should think of subscribers as family and welcome them with personalized messages and an engaging experience, which would cut back on consumption fragmentation. On the other hand, they should treat first time visitors like sales leads and get the lead to convert on an offer so they become a contact in the publisher's database. A great way to get a first time visitor or stranger to convert into a contact in your database is to offer them a free issue of your magazine. Then, once that stranger becomes a contact in your database, you now have a permanent profile of that contact and can market to them until they do become a subscriber.


2) Engage your readers with more of what they like

Now that you can differentiate if your website visitors are strangers versus contacts, and contacts versus subscribers, delight your audience with more of what they love. Publishers often forget that CONTENT is the reason that people visit their website, not advertising. So track what articles every person in your database is reading. Know what videos they are watching. If they are opening newsletters you send to them, how do they interact with the newsletters? Are they engaging with you in social media and how does that tie back to your website? When you know all of this about every person in your database, suddenly the audience that you already have becomes much more valuable to you and to your advertisers.

3) Be in the Leads Business

Publishers have been selling access to their email lists for years. What the advertiser wants from a purchased email blast and what they actually receive are two different things. The advertiser starts with high hopes, working with the publisher to narrow down a list of contacts from the publishers database. (Remember, this is the same database that doesn't know what digital content its contacts' consume on the publishers website.) From there the publisher queries that database to find a segment of contacts that -- let's say have a certain title or work for a certain company. The advertiser wants leads and sales opportunities as a result of their email blast. What they actually get though is an average open rate, an average click through rate and (if they are lucky) perhaps a few email addresses.

Now, imagine if you could say to your advertisers, "Our database is unlike others. Our database actually keeps a contact profile of each of our readers and subscribers. That profile includes a timeline of interactions that each contact takes on our website. So, not only can we send your offer to a contact with a certain title, at a certain company and in a certain geography, but we can also send your offer to contacts who have read articles about trends in your product category and who have read your product reviews, as well as your competitors." How do you think your advertisers would react if you could do this? 

Publishers who invest in focusing on the traffic they have, engaging readers with content and being in the lead business have the ability to do all of this and they are generating high quality leads that turn into sales opportunities and revenue for their advertisers. As far as how this impacts the bottom line for publishers, well, HubSpot customer Seth Nichols of Cadalyst has seen his CPLs increase 120% and his lead generation revenue increase 32% in 9 months of using HubSpot.

4) Consider Sponsored Content and Contextual Ads

Emails aren’t the only way publishers can generate leads for their advertisers though. According to the Association of Media Magazine’s Factbook, 67% of digital magazine readers actually want to buy directly from magazine ads and 62% of readers want to buy directly from articles.

If you are a publisher that focuses on #1 and #2 above this is great news because it is simple to predict where your readers and subscribers are in the buying cycle for particular products that your advertisers want to sell to them. (If you need advice on how to develop a strategy like this How to Differentiate your Media Company with Inbound Leads for Advertisers and How Publishing Companies can Increase their Cost Per Lead with Inbound Marketing are two great blog posts to guide you.)

Let’s say that based upon your readers' contact timelines you know that they’ve read the article, “What you need to know about CAD WorkStations.” This might indicate that the people who read this article are at the early stages of the buying cycle for a CAD WorkStation. As a result, you decide to create a "top of the funnel" list of everyone who read this article. Then if any of those same readers read the article “3 Things you Need to Know about WorkStations” and then also download the “3 Reasons Management Should Support Your Workstation Replacement” whitepaper, a workflow would send these readers to a "middle of the funnel list." Then after readers compare two product reviews, a workflow would send them to a "bottom of the funnel list."

What lists allow publishers to do is deliver the right content, whether it be editorial or sponsored by advertisers, to the right reader at the right time. Looking at this example below, there are plenty of opportunties, editorial and advertiser driven, for a reader to engage with "workstation" content.


The point is, if your readers want to buy from ads and articles, give them the opportunity to do so. And, if someone gets stuck in the buying cycle in the middle of your workflow, worst case scenario is that you generate a highly qualified lead that you can give to your advertiser. The average CTR on a display ad is 0.1%, but HubSpot publishers’ SMART CTAs have seen up to a 56% click to lead conversion rate. This is proof positive that relevant ads can generate not only clicks but leads. Of course, if the reader makes it to the end of the workflow, well, the cash register rings. Either way, you’ve come a long way from sending email blasts from a list created in a database that knows nothing about what your readers' consume on your website or what they are interested in purchasing.  



Originally published Apr 4, 2014 8:00:00 AM, updated January 18 2023


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