Where Is Web Publishing Headed?

It’s a model that works! Create an online destination for people interested in a specific topic, give them quality content to keep them coming back, and use your advertising space to promote related products with.

The same model is what works with Google AdSense, and even though some Internet Marketers like to call AdSense a “fool’s game” because you’re losing a visitor for a few cents rather than converting that visitor into larger commissions, the fact is I love AdSense and similar contextual programs because they’re designed to perform optimally on whatever page you add them to.

The reason is simple enough, no matter what your page content is about, AdSense works very hard behind the scenes to display the best performing and most relevant ads for that content–and their inventory of ads to pick from is larger than any individual could ever build for themselves.

Of course, all online advertising–even AdSense–is dependant on visitor intent. By that I mean if your visitors are purely seeking information or entertainment then you’re going to have a harder time converting them into revenue of any kind with advertising.

That’s why I believe that news sites, entertainment based communities and other similar venues where it’s obvious that the primary traffic is not in any sort of buying mode have such a hard time converting content–even great content–into earnings.

Of course, the flip side to that is if your topic is one that’s going to attract visitors who are in buying mode, or at least looking for the latest thing-a-ma-bob (like tech site visitors often are for example) then it’s a lot easier to convert your traffic into revenue.

But none of this is new or Earth shattering. In fact, it’s as old as marketing and advertising is.

A friend recently showed me a small (about 20 pages) book that he had found in the attic of an old home he is renovating. This book was printed in 1916 and is basically a “How To Do It Yourself” for building chicken coops. My friend thought it was a neat and funny find, but the first thing that caught my eye was the full page advertisement right inside the front cover, for a local Hardware store (that no longer exists by the way), and I realized right away the Hardware Store had either purchased the advertising spot, or possibly even published the book themselves, because they knew that anybody interested in building a chicken coop would need tools and hardware to do it with.

Fast forward to today and look at any well known tech gadget site or blog, then look at the advertising being displayed in relation to the story topics being covered and you’ll see that the only thing that’s changed is the medium holding the content and advertising.

So, if it works, what’s the problem?

There’s a never-ending battle between publishers and advertisers. It’s not openly discussed much, and often not even understood by folks on each side, but it exists and rages on none the less.

Because the web offers so much more opportunity than print advertising, like real-time results and tracking, better targeting and a lower bar to entry for publishers, online advertisers want to pay the least amount possible, and only want to measure their ROI’s for advertising spends by sales rather than on clicks and traffic.

Publishers on the other hand, want to earn the most they can from their content and resent the fact that advertisers have essentially eliminated the value of branding and product awareness from their ROI calculations for online advertising.

If you’ve been in sales for a while then you’ve heard about the “3 plus” rule. The average person needs to see/hear a message 3 times or more before it creates an impact. Many in sales will tell you with advertising it’s more like 5 to 7 times before you create an interest (with the consumer), and up to 11 times before you inspire action (a sale).

So, from a publisher’s perspective, what if I show you an ad for product “A” 5 times while you’re on my site reading 5 different quality stories, and then you go to the next site where maybe the stories aren’t grabbing your attention at all but you see the same ad for product “A” (for the 6th time) and that prompts you to click the ad and check it out?

The advertiser is going to reward that second site for sending the consumer their way, but wasn’t my site the one that did the heavy lifting?

This is where (and why) the “pay per click” and “pay per action” models fail publishers in a big way online.

I’ve read 3 different books on marketing through Google AdWords, and all 3 of them suggested that as an advertiser you should approach AdWords as a way to “pay for sales”, and not one of those books ever mentioned the value of brand/product awareness building through AdWords. This is a problem for both publishers and advertisers, because it leads to advertisers not realizing the potentials of online advertising methods, and of course it leads to publishers being undervalued for their work.

Traditional print and media advertising isn’t based on direct response, advertisers match product to market in picking where to display their advertisements, and then pay for volume of exposure. The value of that exposure is understood.

But online that model, which is much more fair to content producers doing the heavy lifting to generate the exposure for advertisers, hasn’t been widely embraced at all, and across most networks that do have (pay for impressions) models, the rates are typically very low.

What’s the answer?

Isn’t that the $64,000,000 question… it really comes down to a need to reinvent the wheel in online advertising. To redraw the lines of value for exposure and not just direct clicks and sales in a way that advertisers can clearly understand and calculate.

I don’t see that happening any time soon, though if it did it would probably help save some of the news organizations which are on the edge of failing. Because while it’s true that someone reading news stories isn’t in buying mode at that moment, having your ad displayed to them does still count towards those “message exposures” needed to eventually prompt interest and action, and if advertisers were paying publishers for that work then it would be easier for news and entertainment based sites to continue producing high quality content.

Until that time comes (and if it ever does), if you really want to build a business based on ad revenues then I’d suggest investing in a printing press. You’ll have a better chance at success printing a local community newsletter and selling print ad spots to your local businesses then you have online with straight advertising revenue as it exists today.

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