Profitable publishers do, in fact, exist, and here's what they're doing to succeed, including creating original and enticing content and diversifying revenue streams.
My kids have great imaginations and are fascinated with mythical creatures like leprechauns. They make up these descriptions and stories that are so detailed and vivid that I can’t help but play along, wishing right along with them that these fantastic creatures existed. In the last couple of years, they’ve even taken to creating leprechaun traps in the hopes that they might snag one who might lead them to riches untold.
Late last week, it occurred to me that as I was talking to a digital publisher, that she was also searching for something that she thought might only exist in her imagination. She was beginning to wonder if there was such a thing as a "profitable publisher" — or if such a creature might exist only in her imagination. It took quite a conversation to convince her that she wasn’t imagining things, that she was indeed on the right track, and that she actually was doing what she needed to do to achieve her desired results. After chatting with her, I wondered, "How many other publishers doubt themselves or wonder the same thing?" Let me assure you that profitable publishers do exist — and here’s what they’re doing.
Create original, visually enticing, interesting content — regularly.
There’s no escaping great content. The very best publishers are constantly creating unique content. These publishers update their sites at least once per week and have a good balance of rich visual and written content that is aligned with their site’s focus. Good content is what draws an audience, entices advertisers, and drives up CPM.
Engage their audience in as many different ways as possible.
Contrary to many publishers’ beliefs, you don’t have to be a big-name brand to earn good money. However, you do have to engage your audience on many levels. The very best publishers solicit and engage with reader comments in a personable manner and in a timely fashion. These same publishers ensure that social sharing is available on every single article and every single page. Profitable publishers work hard to grow their followers and facilitate conversations on the social media networks that drive the most traffic and engagement for them. Many profitable publishers even have exclusive newsletters that are sent to regularly to their fans. Sometimes these newsletters are subscription-based, but they frequently contain information that is not available in their blog.
Diversify revenue streams.
Profitable publishers don’t rely on just one source of income from their site. They frequently have several programmatic advertising partners helping them to monetize the space on their page. They work with these partners to optimize their ad chains, their ad sizes and placements, and serve up the campaigns that are relevant to their site, their audience, and their content. They take great pains to make sure that their content is complemented and balanced by the advertising — and they always make sure that they don’t sacrifice site load performance for the sake of advertising. For the very best publishers, this usually means keeping less than five ad zones on every page — with one of them frequently serving video advertising (as long as it’s not auto-play).
The most profitable publishers also don’t just monetize the blank space on their sites, they monetize their links using affiliate marketing programs. Publishers are often concerned about trying this one because they worry about performance or "weird looking" or "weird performing" links. However, there are hosts of affiliate marketing programs out there and I promise there’s one that will suit your needs. And since all readers eventually leave your site, you increase your chances of making money if your readers leave on an affiliate partner link.
In addition to programmatic and affiliate advertising, profitable publishers frequently host guest blogs or sponsored posts from other well-known publishers and brands and also act as guest bloggers and experts for other publishing outlets. As these direct relationships grow, they often bring with them the opportunity to directly host premium advertising and brand-specific contests, as well as become a sponsored spokesperson.
Make it and sell it.
The very best publishers frequently go above and beyond digital publishing. They write books and sell them. They make the products that they talk about on their sites and sell them. They make fan gear and merchandise and sell it to promote their site... as long as it makes financial sense for them. I’ve seen everything from action figures to knee-high socks to best-selling books used to promote websites.
Keep it real. Make it personal.
Successful and profitable publishers don’t hide behind their screens. They meet and network with their fans and peers at blogging and industry events. They talk with each other and promote each other. They find a mentor (or mentors) and learn from them. They become a mentor to other publishers. Bottom line is they brand their content and their site and all of their hard work with a real name and face. No matter how digital we become, we are still human — and the more human you are to your readers and peers, the more likely it is they will bond with you and your message and keep coming back.
Keep it in perspective and keep experimenting.
After I had chatted with this publisher, we looked back at where she had started months ago when she began her journey. Within six months, she had blown away her original revenue and traffic goals. Her uncertainty and disbelief came from the fact that she just wasn’t sure what to do next or what her next goal should be. She kept telling me, "I don’t know what I’m doing!" In return, I told her that many publishers feel the same way and that it was clear that what she was doing was working for her. In fact, many publishers would actually envy her success; she had become one of the elusive, but not so very rare and probably far too modest, profitable publishers that many would like to emulate.
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Karinn is director of Publisher Marketing for sovrn Holdings, Inc. She took a unique route to marketing through the physical sciences and tends to approach marketing from a data-driven perspective. Not everything works for everyone and it doesn't matter if it's "industry standard." Karinn is an information junkie and is constantly plugged into every social and information feed she can get through her phone or whatever computer is at hand. When she is pretending to be disconnected, you can find Karinn skiing, hiking, biking, or running the Colorado hills. Connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.
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