What Do Publishers Really Sell?

To paraphrase the motto that guided Bill Clinton’s successful ’92 presidential campaign, “It’s the Audience, Stupid.”

If you are a site publisher, print that in large, bold letters and slap it on your wall. Put it on your monitor. Tape it to your bathroom mirror.

There is no single factor more important to a site publisher than audience. Your understanding, knowledge, and awareness of your audience, and your relationship to it, defines your business. Period.

If your revenue model is primarily advertising-based, the product you sell is access to your audience.

You don’t sell content. Content attracts and retains audience.

You don’t sell ads. Ads are the vehicles advertisers use to reach your audience.

You don’t sell page impressions. Page impressions are a peripheral reflection on your audience’s activity on your site.

You don’t sell clicks. Click-throughs are merely one of many indicators that an ad has elicited a response from your audience.

You sell your audience, period.

So the first of many questions you need to ask yourself is, “Who is our audience?” Actually, your first question should be, “Who SHOULD our audience be?”

Let me tell you what I mean. At ClickZ, we’re developing and interacting with a number of audiences. As the online marketing industry becomes increasingly granular, we HAVE to respond to that by seeking and nurturing multiple markets.

As a site publisher, you are a member of at least one of those audiences. Probably you are a member of more than one.

For example, if you buy interactive advertising in order to build your brand and drive traffic, you are part of our media buying audience. If you use email as a tool to interact with your audience, to drive sales, or to attract traffic, you are part of our email marketing audience. So there is a great deal of overlap among what might seem at first to be very distinct audiences.

Let’s look at how to determine which audiences to pursue a relationship with and thereby build a business upon. It’s actually fairly simple.

  1. Common interest, common need. Identify a problem, a technology, or an area that has a lot of questions around it. People need information about it.

    Developing a profitable site publishing model is one such area, but so is the question of how to build an opt-in email list. So is how to build your brand online. So is how to design an effective banner. All of these are issues that no one has the answer to, and for which there is a huge need for good information.

  2. Critical mass. Are there a significant number of people who need this information? Many people having this problem? Or just an isolated few? If just a few, have they tapped onto something that ultimately will affect a significant number of people? Without some degree of critical mass, some efficiency in reaching a significant number of people through a single venue, you have a hard time making a case for a good audience.

  3. Community of support. The biggest indicator to use to validate whether or not the audience is sufficiently large and/or valuable is whether or not there are businesses established to provide solutions for this group. For our media buyers, there are a wide array of businesses that offer products and services to make their work easier and more effective. For email marketers, there are an increasing number of companies that provide them lists, delivery, tracking, copywriting, and so on. In short, is there an industry forming around this audience?

After you’ve asked those questions, look at some of the more important details.

Does that audience represent value, in that they are willing to spend money (preferably frequently and a lot of it!) on the solutions they are looking for?

Are the companies that are pursuing this audience spending money to reach them? Are they funded? Are they spending online dollars now to reach them, or do they need pioneer work?

If you as a site publisher can consistently offer value by providing great information and resources to a group of people with similar interests and needs, you can build a valuable audience.

If you can then offer value to companies vitally interested in that audience by helping them reach that audience in appropriate and effective ways, you can then build a profitable site publishing business.

It’s your job to bring them together in a win-win way… and only in so doing can YOU win.

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