The Virtual Shopping Mall of Editorial Content

When I first moved into digital publishing, I was convinced that it was all about the quality of the content. Seven years and thousands of articles later, I am even more convinced that “Content is king,” or as we like to say at my company, “Content is queen.” Most marketers recognize the importance of quality content and generally distinguish between higher-value, editorially-driven content and lower-cost, user-generated or social content. However, I believe that the distinction between types of editorial content is more nuanced and only the savviest marketers identify and leverage each type for their brand’s advantage.

Just as retail outlets can be roughly grouped into three major segments for different buying occasions (boutiques and high-end department stores, value-driven mass merchandisers, and discount variety chains), so too can web publishers be arranged into three similar classifications that each serve different buying needs. Let’s face it, every day marketers are “shopping” for publishing partners to align their brand with and better engage consumers. While shopping they look at audience engagement, cost per thousand (CPM) rates, strength of content, and level of brand integration. With the number of publishers out there today a marketer can stroll through a virtual shopping mall of editorial content. So let’s go shopping…

The “Bloomingdales” of the Web

Just as consumers enjoy the experience of shopping in an elegant boutique or high-end department store, marketers appreciate running their ads on the sites with brand cache and very high-quality articles. These days that is going to be sites like the,, or These sites are producing lengthy, high-quality articles often by well-known authors, respected journalists, and even celebrities. They also often have an offline component that helps drive brand awareness. The benefits to the marketer are manyfold including loyal, engaged audiences, valuable brand rub-off from a respected publishing brand, and the opportunity to extend the campaign offline. However, these sites also have some limitations. The well-known writers and glossy photos come at a price, with article production costs as high as $300 to $500 per article. This usually means high CPMs for advertisers. These sites also tend to have very strong “church and state” editorial policies that make any brand messaging that goes beyond the confines of the banner ad somewhat problematic. These kinds of “Bloomingdale” sites are an excellent choice for marketers with compelling standard display creative willing to pay a premium for brand halo.

The “Dollar Store” of the Web

At the other end of the shopping center is where consumers go to quickly and conveniently purchase those everyday essentials at bargain prices. So too can marketers shop for bargain CPMs on sites that produce low-cost content focused on generating a large audience through search engines. Their SEO-optimized articles can often be produced for as little as $5 to $10 each, yet they frequently appear at the top of keyword searches. Publishers like Demand Media and Associated Content generate copious amounts of textual content in order to reach a wide audience. Given the large percentage of search traffic, these sites don’t necessarily provide marketers a highly engaged audience; however, they can provide marketers unmatched efficiency and reach on standard display ads.

The “Target Stores” of the Web

Finally, when consumers want to stock up on brand names for less, they head over to the big-box superstores. Similarly, marketers can stock up on brand-enhancing campaigns at reasonable prices on sites that focus on affinity content to loyal audiences at scale. These sites, which include,,, and, produce premium content usually by professional writers, industry experts, and the occasional celebrity. While these affinity sites may have a loyal online audience, they generally lack the brand aura of their higher-end counterparts. This may be due to their lack of an offline print legacy so common among the “Bloomingdales of the web.” To make up for their limited brand awareness, these publishers and their editors tend to readily partner with marketers to produce custom creative for campaigns that goes well beyond the banner. Further, their lower content costs ($30 to $60 per article) can translate into real CPM savings for marketers. These kinds of “Target stores” sites are an excellent choice for marketers looking to connect their brands with highly engaged audiences in a contextually rich environment.

There are many players in today’s online publishing world. Just as shoppers seek out different retail outlets for different reasons, so do audiences seek out various types of content websites for different reasons. By recognizing the type of editorial content that each website is publishing, marketers can better tailor their online media campaigns to leverage the brand-building strengths of each.

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