Three people pointing at a laptop

How Publishers can Find High-Value Email Subscribers on Facebook

Creating a solid, valuable email subscriber list is more important than ever. Among their many benefits, email newsletters help drive traffic to your site, promote brand loyalty, and can generate considerable revenue by way of native advertising. An audience in the habit of regularly checking a branded email is more engaged, and therefore more valuable.

Growing a huge email list shouldn’t necessarily be the endgame, though. For the vast majority of publishers, the ultimate goal should be to cultivate a list that’s high in both quality and quantity. In this post, we examine the methods through which publishers can most effectively gather high-value subscribers with the help of Facebook, through “Content-to-Capture”.

What is Content-to-Capture?

Content-to-Capture is an approach developed by Keywee. It’s a Facebook ad campaign that offers a Facebook user a free article in exchange for their email address. Once the user has entered their email they are directed to the publisher’s site, bringing two benefits to publishers: you acquire new email subscribers and drive quality traffic to your site. 

Here’s a Content-to-Capture success story from Kiplinger.

“Within a few months of using Content-to-Capture, Kiplinger acquired over 30,000 high-value newsletter subscribers at an average CPA of about $1. Given that the publisher earns around $3 per email subscriber, Keywee helped Kiplinger achieve 3X ROI on its email acquisition efforts.”

“We sustain that [subscriber] list and grow that list largely through Facebook now, we find that to be very good ROI.” - Andy Nolen, Kiplinger’s Director of Digital Operations & Advertising, in a conversation with Digiday

Let’s walk through the steps you’ll need to take in order to implement a Content-to-Capture campaign:

Locate a strong piece of your content that represents your brand. Open Facebook Ad Centre and create a “Lead ad”. Follow the steps to create an ad that collects email addresses, either through a form hosted on your site or through a form on Facebook. Enter your link, an eye-catching image and copy for the ad. After targeting an audience that are highly likely to be interested in your content, set the ad live.

The audience will be met with an ad like the below:

content-to-capture campaign example

After clicking the post’s call-to-action - ‘Subscribe’ - the user is presented with an extended preview of the content and a form to fill out. The form automatically populates any information the user has already provided to Facebook.

content-to-capture pre-populated signup form

A signup confirmation will then show alongside a link to the whole piece on the publisher’s site. It’s at this point that new subscriber details can be downloaded from Facebook Business Manager or sent directly to a publisher’s mailing list via an integration.

content-to-capture signup confirmation

And there you have it. An elegant, demonstrably effective method of driving newsletter subscriptions using Facebook. The Content-to-Capture approach has been adopted by some of the world’s largest publishers, including The New York Times, Forbes, The Guardian and National Geographic - we’re looking forward to monitoring the effect it has on other publishers in the future.


Smartphone with amazon logo

Amazon Polly and Why it Matters to Publishers

Wouldn’t it be convenient if your readers could engage with your content whilst on their morning jog, making breakfast or driving to work, all without detriment to their routine? That’s the thinking behind Amazon’s sophisticated text-to-speech engine, Polly, unveiled in 2016. Sure, text-to-speech has existed in mainstream media for the best part of two decades, but it’s struggled to catch on in the mainstream, mainly due to its lack of naturalistic expression. However, with a company the size of Amazon behind it, Polly represents a massive leap forward in text-to-speech technology, as it’s by far the closest we’ve come to a realistic human voice in multiple languages.

Publishers’ interest in text-to-speech stems from consumers now listening to an average of around 17 hours of audio per week:

Average time spent listening to audio

So while audio still doesn’t compete with text or video, it’s quickly becoming a contender. Its convenience serves as a real asset.

Amazon Polly uses “advanced deep learning technologies to synthesize speech that sounds like a human voice”, which makes consuming journalism as audio all the more appealing. It’s a flexible service, with dozens of realistic voices across a variety of languages and even multiple speaking styles: “a Newscaster reading style that is tailored to news narration use cases and a Conversational speaking style which can be used for many use cases including telephony applications.” This hints at the future possibilities of Polly. That it was developed by a company as large as Amazon suggests a serious degree of support and resource for the application, so it only stands to develop and improve from this point. With that in mind, publishers looking to implement audio on-site or efficiently produce a new podcast may have just found their dream tool.

Reuters Institute for Journalism recently published a report entitled The Future of Voice and the Implications for News, in which it reveals that purchases of voice-activated speakers such as Amazon’s Alexa are growing faster than smartphones and tablets at a similar stage. The use of voice-activated speakers in the US, UK and Germany has doubled in the last year

Mathematics client The Face already integrates audio with its content. It boasts a bespoke audio player, currently used for specific features which are enhanced by audio, such as a transcription of songwriter and poet Arlo Parks’ ode to London:

The Face audio player

Amazon’s Polly could be an asset to your publication; the tool could dictate to users any article they wish, rather than specific features. Perhaps you pride yourself on the breadth of your coverage - Polly’s multiple language functionalities could be instrumental in expanding your readership.

Despite this explosive growth, the most effective audio monetisation strategy for publishers is still contested. One solution involves “a sponsorship message at the beginning of the listening experience. Esra Celebi for Purple Publish suggests “a 15 or 30-second ad could be one quick and easy way to generate revenue from audio content” but in reality most publishers won’t be able to put much sales resource into this area yet. Programmatic audio advertising is here, however, with Google rolling out audio ads to DoubleClick Bid Manager last year.

In all likelihood, much of the text-to-speech innovation built on Amazon’s Polly is still ahead of us. But, small-to-medium publishers would do well to start paying attention to the tool now. Audio is a tested and trusted way of consuming content and audio consumption is growing because consumers are rapidly realising its benefits. Whether you work for a blog or an internationally-renowned newsroom, audio is here to stay, and publishers would do well to take it seriously. 


How Publishers Can Monetise Black Friday

Traditionally, Black Friday represents the point around which advertisers spend the most significant portions of their budgets to capitalise on the beginning of the holiday shopping season. An increase in competition yields higher earnings for digital publishers, and this year will be the same: November 29 marks the end of one of the year’s most important weeks for publishers’ consumer revenue. 

Generally, publishers are advised to increase the amount of content you publish in the days leading up to Black Friday. It’s not as if everything you publish has to be directly related to the holidays, but an editorial calendar planned with a ‘content cadence’ (that is, arranged in such a way that publishers don’t bombard their readers with, say, gift guides) ensures you still publish the same amount of high-quality editorial. As such, valuable users don’t become alienated by the publication they love. 

Black Friday has proliferated to such an extent that it’s defined as much by the days which immediately precede it as its specific 24-hours. There’s Christmas, and there’s Christmas Eve. As such, as well as publishing more coverage earlier in the week, brands are announcing big deals further in advance of Black Friday. In 2018, BuzzFeed, which maintains several hundred gift guides, increased its total number by 15%. Future’s editorial teams work in shifts to ensure that deal coverage doesn’t stop for the entirety of the Black Friday week. 

Here are some Black Friday-centric types of content you could experiment with in the run-up to the big day:

  • Gift guides: Black Friday takes place at the end of November to mark the beginning of the Christmas shopping season, so the gift guide gets a nod. Naturally, it’s one of the most commonly published types of holiday content, but it’s beauty is its flexibility. Your gift guide can be as safe or as niche, surreal and head-turning as you like. Let the nature of the gifts be guided by the focus of your publication, and please, be more specific than ‘Gift Ideas for Mum’. Some publishers have begun using their own ad inventory to promote commerce initiatives that include branded gift guides. Here’s a great example of a gift guide that caters perfectly to a niche reader.
  • How-tos: the how-to is often overlooked in favour of click-focused gift guides, but they present an invaluable opportunity for content that remains evergreen every holiday season. At some stage, everyone needs to know how to baste a turkey, how to make mince pies or how to house more guests than you have beds. 
  • Reviews: naturally, many Christmas shoppers make their biggest purchases during the Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales. As such, it’s a good idea to have product reviews in place on your publication’s site in advance of the date, if applicable. 

To maximise your chances of capitalising on Black Friday this year, conduct an SEO audit of your site. At no time of the year is this more vital than the end of November through to December. Even fundamental SEO work like optimising your meta tags, ensuring your images are properly alt-tagged and tidying your tagging framework will lend a hand. Make sure your evergreen articles are up-to-date for this year, with all links pointing to active product pages. Fix your broken links - they could cost you the revenue this process works towards. Trackonomics’ Link Scanner tool identifies broken links automatically. 

For large publications, commerce content is often produced by separate editorial teams and hidden in relevant sections of publishers’ sites. Lately, more publications are displaying it loud and proud. In 2018, CNN unveiled a stopwatch-style ticker on its homepage displaying the time left until Black Friday deals by Underscored (CNN’s own online shopping guide) expired. 

The Black Friday SEO best-in-show rosette goes to Ziff Davis. In 2017, they purchased the domain BlackFriday.com, refurbished it then stuffed it to the gills with links to their properties, including PCMag and Mashable. They also hosted ‘ad scans’ on large outlets including Amazon - that is, roundups of Black Friday deals they offer, compiled into a singular list. 

Black Friday’s approach means it’s open season on affiliate links for publishers. Whether you work for a powerhouse publication or a niche title, affiliate deals can be a good revenue stream with a mix of revenue drivers. Every time a visitor follows an affiliate link you have included in editorial, you’re rewarded with a commission on sales. Below, you’ll find a list of some popular affiliate networks available to publishers.

Rakuten

Rakuten is an affiliate marketing kingpin; as of the start of 2019, it had facilitated over 110 million orders worldwide. As a network they market brands such as Clarins, Farfetch and Whistles.

Trackonomics

Trackonomics provides a user-friendly affiliate marketing service, consolidating all data into one dashboard to save reporting time. Its service includes alerts for expired links, and ‘click-to-sale attribution’, which reveals how individual pieces of content perform. Publishers they work with include BuzzFeed and Condé Nast, who are able to link to the likes of Uber, ASOS and more.

eBay Partner Network

eBay carries 1.4 billion listings, with 183 million buyers in 190 markets. Their landing pages tend to drive high conversions which helps their affiliate program remain successful. Be aware, however, that eBay’s percentage commission is smaller than some competitors and publishers are only paid monthly. 

Amazon Affiliate Program

Amazon’s affiliate marketing program is undeniably the largest out there; to most, it’s considered the industry standard, and a benchmark to which competitors are compared. Its interface is very intuitive and as they carry so much it’s easy to find the right product to include in a piece. Consider this, though: because most products sold on Amazon are physical goods, publishers will have few options to refer sales that generate a recurring monthly income. 

AWIN

Founded in Germany in 2000, AWIN (formerly Affiliate Window) today boasts a network of over 100,000 affiliate publishers and 15,500 active advertisers from across all sectors, including Emirates, Etsy, Ted Baker and Hewlett-Packard. In 2018, AWIN’s affiliates earned £556m. 

AWIN pays out twice a month and offer real-time reports, heavy vetting of publishers and advertisers, an intuitive dashboard with plenty of plugin options and solid customer service, with 900 members of staff in 15 offices around the globe. 

There are many other networks and retailers that offer affiliate deals - if you cater to a specific niche, it’s definitely worth entering search terms in Google followed by ‘affiliate’ to uncover those best suited to you. 

Black Friday falls on November 29 this year. On the surface, it seems sure to be one of the most stressful and competitive periods in the digital publishing calendar as countless publications clamour for clicks. We hope this article makes clear that with the right affiliate network on your side, you can capitalise upon the start of the holiday shopping season in various creative ways, without compromising your reputation or editorial schedule. With some patience, publishers can reap Black Friday’s rewards on a yearly basis.


Woman typing on Facebook

Facebook to Label ‘Fake News’ and State-Controlled Media

Back in 2017, Facebook introduced a “Disputed by Fact-Checkers” tag. The rationale was to provide an unobtrusive but clear warning that the factual accuracy of a shared piece of content is questionable. It proved ineffective. Facebook’s co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has recently backpedalled on his claim made in a Georgetown University speech: “I don’t think most people want to live in a world where you can only post things that tech companies judge to be 100 percent true”.

Now, the opposite is the case. In a recent Facebook press conference (the complete transcript of which can be found here), Zuckerberg revealed the following:

“We're announcing a few improvements to our services today. The first is we're going to show much more prominent labels on content that independent fact-checkers have marked as false. 

We already show labels today, but the new labels will increase transparency of the fact check and ensure that anyone who comes across fact-checked content will see that it has been fact-checked and marked false before tapping through to see the content. 

We're also introducing clearer labeling for fact-checked content on Instagram too. The second thing we're doing is we're going to label content coming from state-sponsored media. In the U.S., we have the benefit of a free press here, and because of that, we think it's especially important to call out transparently when media coming from any country around the world is acting as an organ of the government and not a free press. So we're going to label them prominently.“

In essence, if Facebook receives signals that a piece of content is false, it will reduce its distribution pending review by a third-party fact-checker. If found to be false, the user who encounters the content will be met by the following notification:

Facebook and Instagram's fake news warnings
Source: https://whatsnewinpublishing.com/zuckerberg-pivots-facebook-to-start-detecting-and-labeling-fake-news

Facebook also intends to implement the following initiatives in addition:

  • Combating inauthentic behaviour, on which they’ll soon clarify how they enforce against the “spectrum of deceptive practices” on their platform
  • Labeling state-controlled media on their Facebook Page
  • Banning paid ads suggesting users don’t vote
  • Displaying clearly on pages what country the page is operated from and the legal name of the person or organisation that is operating the page

These initiatives follow the most controversial years in Facebook’s history, during which Zuckerberg’s platform has inadvertently promoted totally polarised political discourse as a side-effect of its updates.

Legitimate publishers need not be concerned: these initiatives are to be introduced with the specific purpose of targeting and nixing malicious content that threatens the democratic process. You may be wondering if the ability to flag stories for fact-checking is susceptible to abuse at the hands of Facebook users who are either careless or consciously attempting to erase points of view out of line with their own. This seems, in theory, like a risk to honest, opinionated publishers. But, Facebook has the tools and algorithmic power to identify the truly dubious articles and differentiate them from opinionated but innocent journalism, so this needn’t be a worry.

All this effort could be read as an attempt by Facebook to rekindle favour with publishers. The tech giant may be attempting to clean up its act as it tries to court publishers with integrity once again. Its News tab also acts as evidence of this. 


Apple News Ad Deal Could Boost Revenue for Publishers

What’s happening?

On October 17th, Verizon Media - the company founded as a result of Verizon Communications’ acquisitions of AOL and Yahoo! - won the right to sell ads for Apple News and Apple Stocks in its Canada, Australia and UK territories, as Apple tries to make its news aggregator more inviting to advertisers. The same rights will be held by NBC in the US.

It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement for these tech heavyweights: Verizon and NBC only stand to benefit from extra ad inventory to sell, and Apple may not wish to invest in a sales force of the size required to maximise the value of that inventory. 

How will it benefit publishers?

While Apple News comes with many benefits - not least its 90 million-strong user base - the financial returns of Apple News have historically proven challenging. “The money is underwhelming”, one anonymous publishing ad sales executive told AdAge. So, this new deal will increase returns for publishers as it aims to maximise the ad inventory sold. 

Are there any drawbacks?

These deals arrived alongside an update to Apple’s publisher guidelines, detailing how media companies can operate on its platform. They provide some pretty clear indication of what Apple deems too offensive for marketers. To put it simply, Apple has revealed the Apple News topics it will not display ads alongside. The guidelines state:  “As part of our commitment to a brand-safe environment for publishers, ads won’t display in the following Apple News sensitive content categories: Accidents and disasters; Corporate crime; Historical events; Obesity; Reckless endangerment; War and unrest.”  

This is difficult for news publishers, many of whom cover one or more of these topics daily. These updates come as part of Apple’s commitment to a “brand-safe” environment for publishers, whereby Apple strives to other itself from Facebook and Google, two platforms whose advertisers are concerned about their messages appearing alongside potentially inflammatory material.

Is there anything else publishers should consider?

Publishers can sell their own ads for display on their channels and articles. Publications keep 100% of revenue from ads they sell, but 70% of the ads Apple sells through into their channels through its deals with Verizon and NBC. 

 

If you’d like to seamlessly integrate your publication with Apple News, click here.


Google sign on office

Is Google Really Removing EU Publishers From Search?

In March 2019 a European Parliament vote dictated that, for the first time, publishers will have the opportunity to negotiate with major technology platforms such as Google for use of their content at a fair price. For digital publishers, the two most significant articles in the directive are Article 11 and Article 17 (formerly known as Article 13). The former states that search engines and news aggregation platforms must pay to use third-party content, while the latter makes platform owners responsible for any content posted without a copyright license. 

When first announced, Christian van Thillo, chairman of the European Publishers Council (EPC) claimed the directive “modernises copyright without stifling digital innovation. As press publishers, we would like to thank Europe’s regulators for adopting this important directive that acknowledges the value of the press to society and the need for fair remuneration for the commercial re-use of our intellectual property”.

Google’s response has publishers concerned. France is the first EU country to progress this directive into national legislation, from October 24th. However, as a result, it has become the first nation to fall victim to the directive’s loopholes. Google has refused to pay French publishers for links and has removed snippets and thumbnail images for publishers displaying content in France unless they have specified they wish to have this content shown in search results.

How could this impact publishers?

The intention of the legislation is to improve the rights and revenues of small to medium-size authors, content creators and publishers. But, the response of Google aims to circumvent this - by ‘opting in’ to show snippets and thumbnails, a publisher agrees not to require payment from Google.

After selecting to allow snippets and thumbnails the following message is shown, requiring confirmation.

This property will no longer be treated as a European press publication within the meaning of Directive (EU) 2019/790 on Copyright and Related Rights in the Digital Single Market. To the extent you have rights in this property under current or future laws implementing Article 15 of the Directive, you consent to the display of preview content with no further compensation to you in Google Search, Discover, YouTube, and other search products offered by Google in the European Union and the European Economic Area, and you confirm you have the authority necessary to consent on behalf of the property. You can re-add your property to the list of European press publications at any time through this checkbox. Changes may take a day to take effect.

Here’s how Google articulated their decision:

“At the moment, when we display news results, we show a headline, which links directly to the relevant news site. For some results, we also show you a short preview of the article, such as a few lines of text (also known as a “snippet”) or a small “thumbnail” image. Together, these headlines and previews can help you decide whether a result is relevant to your search, and whether you want to click on it.

When the French law comes into force, we will not show preview content in France for a European news publication unless the publisher has taken steps to tell us that's what they want. This applies to search results across Google services.”

How should publishers respond?

You may have received an email from Google related to this change, but this email doesn’t explain how to check or change your status. Here’s what you should do.

  1. Find out who in your organisation has access to Google Search Console - this is likely to be handled by your tech team, SEO team, product team or senior editorial team
  2. Ask them to login with this link
  3. Ensure a decision-maker from the business reads over the page and selects the correct option for your publication. Publishers are required to untick the box if it is ticked, ensuring they aren’t included in the list of European press publications
  4. The message mentioned earlier this article will be displayed, requiring confirmation
  5. Should you need to, consult your legal team before ticking or unticking this box

What else should we be aware of?

A politico.eu report estimates that French publishers alone lose up to €320 million per year because of Google and Facebooks’ influence in online advertising. Publishers expected this new legislation to be a significant bargaining chip to use against tech giants publishers feel should compensate their losses. Unless the EU finds a way around Google’s approach this legislation could be limited in scope, and as such, France is planning to create a tech regulator to slap sanctions and fines on the companies.

While unrelated to this change in law, Facebook has reached agreements with major publishers to pay them for content displayed in the upcoming Facebook news tab. Does this mean smaller publishers will start receiving a new revenue stream from Facebook? We’ll have to wait and see.

Further reading:

Google's European Press Publisher FAQ 


Orange speech bubbles

How Publishers can Master the Comments Section

As publisher ad revenue shrinks and we accept that Facebook traffic won’t return to previous highs, there seems to be a growing desire to create direct reader revenue through engaged audiences. Interactivity increases engagement and time spent: assets for publishers that are hard to come by in a time when Facebook can’t be relied upon like it used to, and before the usefulness of Facebook’s upcoming News tab can be understood. 

Comments sections are a tried and tested method of supplementing this interactivity, but they’re not without their downsides. Conversations concerning the ethics of comment sections (and how useful they really are for publishers, anyway) began globally around 2014, and soon, internationally renowned titles such as Reuters, NPR, Mic, and Bloomberg all dropped their comments sections. The thing is, these decisions were made on the back of the belief that social media was now the place for the kind of discussion formerly catalysed by comments. Now that publishers can’t rely on Facebook, is it time for them to reopen comments sections in the pursuit of increased engagement, and consequently, revenue?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple answer. In 2016, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers published a report questioning the purpose of comments, where it mentioned “potential brand damage”. Resident Advisor attributes the 2019 closure of its popular comments section to callous remarks made by trolls. The University of Texas’ Centre for Media Engagement found, in its recent study “Attacks in the Comment Sections: What It Means for News Sites”, that users who view news stories with high numbers of uncivil comments had negative attitudes towards the site. The site was viewed as less valuable than those whose comments sections boasted mainly positivity.

But, it doesn’t have to be this way. Andrew Losowsky, Head of Coral (an open-source project helping publishers build better communities around their journalism) at Vox Media, told What’s New In Publishing:

“There are compelling reasons why it’s worth investing in comments on your site. While they’re usually a small percentage of your total audience, commenters are often your most loyal and most valuable readers. They spend longer on the site, they come back more often, they share more links to your site, and they’re more likely to pay for subscriptions and other services. They’re also potential sources for ideas and stories.”

There are a few methods publishers can use to monitor their comments sections. Consider using a strong spam filter to keep spam sequestered in a spam folder, and feature a clearly displayed comment policy. You don’t have to resign yourself to old excuses, like “that’s just the internet”!

It’s difficult, however, to moderate comments at scale. One way around this is to only allow paying subscribers to comment on site. This is likely to deter trolls, and helps publishers keep a handle on moderation. Sanjay Sindhwani, CEO of Indian Express Digital, has previously acknowledged that “if packaged well, publishers can extract good value from comments by bringing out good ones and promoting healthy conversations with limited resources”. 

Thankfully, technology exists that can work in tandem with publishers to keep their comments sections home to constructive discussion. Perspective uses machine learning models to score the perceived impact a comment might have on a conversation. Developers and publishers can use this score to give real time feedback to commenters, help moderators do their job, and allow readers to more easily find relevant information. If you’re looking at interactivity methods to increase engagement and time spent, consider implementing Perspective. 

The aforementioned University of Texas study strongly suggests that publishers’ reputations and pockets would benefit from an overhaul of their comments sections. As Bassey Etim, Community Editor at The New York Times puts it, “The best thing you can do for a community is to actively show people that somebody at the organization is listening. The more you do on that end, the less intense moderation you need to have.”


Snapchat on iPhone with yellow background

Everything we Know About Snapchat's News Tab - So Far

Back in August, we heard that Facebook was to launch a dedicated ‘News’ tab, on which it would showcase top stories by a host of publishers. Now, social app Snapchat has followed suit, announcing its intention to introduce a dedicated news tab to its ‘Discover’ page some time in 2020. It’s a change that Snapchat needed to make if it were to find favour with publishers, and once live, this tab could provide some serious benefits for your publication.

Snapchat’s Discover page is famously chaotic; users must navigate all manner of stories in a seemingly random order to find news they’re interested in. They may find serious political news from a publisher such as The Guardian next to light-hearted entertainment reporting. Even chief exec Evan Spiegel told investors in a recent earnings call that the current approach is like going into a "supermarket without the aisles labeled." Clearly, the company is not shy about its desire for an overhaul of Discover, and its intention to work with publishers in a more serious way. A specific section within Discover that's dedicated to news would make it far easier for users to find what the stories they want. This news section is set to "...present real-time, breaking news from a handful of trusted news partners." This could be the moment Snapchat finds faith with publishers who were apprehensive about Discover before.

Discover received a redesign in 2018 to separate publisher content, but this marks the first of a number of changes. Snapchat’s parent company, Snap Inc, is already in talks with publishers about potential partnerships, where publications could create and distribute daily content optimised for mobile. So far, the company has partnered with a number of big-hitter publications, from Refinery29 to The Washington Post. Generally, though, Snap’s conversations with publishers are only just beginning. Their arrangements, which could include sharing of ad revenue or the payment of licensing fees to publishers, have yet to be agreed.

Despite of its flaws, some media companies have already enjoy successes in Discover’s current iteration. NBC News’ ‘Stay Tuned’ show has tens of millions of regular viewers. CNN, on the other hand, cancelled its daily Snapchat Discover news show way back in 2017, as it simply wasn’t generating enough revenue. 

An overhaul of Discover could do Snapchat some much-needed favours. While it appears to be returning to growth, it still struggles to match the numbers of the likes of Instagram.


Photo by Todd Quackenbush on Unsplash

Evergreen Content Transforms Publishing Companies - Here's Why

Let’s think about the typical journey of a story posted on your website.

A writer is made aware of a topic they believe will intrigue their readership. They devote time to research, accruing quotes and assets, and clarify their findings. They write the story. It’s subbed, added to their publications’ CMS and published. For a brief period, the story occupies a precious few pixels on a homepage. It’s aggregated to platforms such as Apple News and Flipboard, and surfaced through social media. Readers may share the story across their timelines. There’s a chance it’ll feature in the publication’s weekly newsletter. A strong story might have a shelf life of a week, but some stories will survive for a few short hours.

For many of these stories, short shelf life isn’t just, and requiring this much resource for one short influx of traffic makes for an inefficient and ineffective business model. But it doesn’t need to be this way. Evergreen content - stories that remain relevant regardless of the passing of time - can yield noticeable returns for publishers. In this post we’ll explain why evergreen content is so valuable, how to create it, how to repurpose existing content, how to drive traffic to evergreen content and how to measure its success.

How do you define evergreen content?

Evergreen stories are those that visitors continue to derive value from over a long period. Traffic may arrive to them through backlinks, social posts, through search or through your own website architecture, continually notching up article views over a longer than normal lifespan.

Why is evergreen content so valuable?

Different publications have different measures of success. At Mathematics we focus on lifetime value; working to turn casual visitors into return readers, using loyalty to maximise the lifetime value of a reader. You may measure success through unique users, read times, watch times or ad impressions, but whatever the metric, one thing remains true: the harder your content works, the higher the potential revenue. It's possible to measure the success of your stories through lifetime value too - put simply, requiring three hours of resource to drive 100,000 pageviews over the course of two hours just doesn’t compare to allotting five hours to drive 1,000,000 pageviews over the course of two years. An evergreen content strategy focuses on the creation of articles, videos or audio that continually drive views and maximise the lifetime value of that content.

How do we create evergreen content?

A good evergreen content strategy starts by reframing the way we produce content. As a first step, journalists can ask a question - will this story still be relevant in a month, six months or a year? If not, is it possible to approach the piece in a way that offers that longevity? Instead of creating multiple short pieces on a developing story, look at creating a well-structured, in-depth piece that offers the reader a complete overview. Instead of covering a story by referring only to the press release, approach it from an evergreen angle and accrue original quotes, background, data and bring together other coverage, including other sources.

Certain formats will make for better evergreen candidates, so a strategy that balances news pieces with the following types of format can work well:

  • How-tos
  • Tutorials
  • Infographics
  • 'Explainer' videos
  • 'History of' roundups
  • Reviews
  • FAQs
  • Biographies
  • Timelines

Updating these pieces in due course will extend shelf life. This could mark a big shift from how your publication creates content, but this shift can have a big effect on the value your readers derive from your content.

How do we identify which of our stories could be evergreen?

We can identify candidates for this type of content by looking at 'lifetime value'. You may calculate this value in a number of ways but we would suggest looking at read time, scroll depth and overall views since the story was published. There's no designated tool for this in Google Analytics but these metrics can be found using Google Tag Manager - speak with your development team about setting this up.

A simple way to find stories with evergreen potential is to access Behaviour > Site Content > All Pages in Google Analytics and download a list of the most popular articles in the last full month, then do the same for each preceding month, looking for stories that show up across multiple months. Then dig into the data for that story to get a feel for its performance.

Parse.ly have some useful tools for calculating which pieces of content you should optimise to turn evergreen including the ‘Evergreen Overview’ report. Here's a sample report:

Parse.ly Evergreen Overview report example

As you can see, Parse.ly conglomerates data from all posts it deems to be evergreen within a timeframe of your choosing. It selects these posts according to whether or not they continue to drive significant traffic to your site three days after publishing.

Once you’ve recorded these evergreen stories, it’s time to go one further to aid a truly thorough evergreen content strategy.

At WIRED - whose evergreen strategy is excellent - the team sometimes select “Average Engaged Time” to find evergreen articles that may not be getting traffic. The most important metric in this process is the lifecycle filter: ‘Evergreen’ or ‘Evergreen Candidate’. ‘Evergreen’ filters for steadily-trafficked posts more than 20 days old. ‘Evergreen Candidate’ filters for steadily-trafficked posts between 8-20 days old. For a thorough explanation, click here.

Now that you know which pieces of content are providing the evergreen effect, it’s time to ensure that they continue to do so.

How do we keep our content evergreen?

Your older articles may predate the latest updates to your site, so ensure that these pieces match the current look and feel of your site, with correct headings, no broken or low res images, or missing, outdated embeds.

Once this is covered it's just a case of removing the timeliness of a post. Amend wording tied to a specific time period, add further context, update the story and if using data, look into updating this data or making this data 'live' by using a tool like Data Studio.

Be sure to maintain and update a list of your evergreen URLs so that you’re able to periodically check them and update them. Don’t hesitate to make these updates; they resurface stories in the eyes of Google which lends itself to a great SEO strategy, as do additional links to internal and external sources that may not have been available when the piece was initially published. Be sure to carefully monitor your metadata when updating articles in this way to avoid discrepancies between its headline and URL. For more advice on SEO best practice, click here

How do we drive traffic back to evergreen content?

Now, you can have fun with the distribution and re-promotion of your evergreen content. The WIRED team take the best stories to social in a number of ways. Here’s what Indu Chandrasekhar, Director of Audience Development, told Parse.ly: “We’ve played around with language. We’ve pulled quotes from the story. We’ve made special art and created special assets. We’ve done Twitter threads. We’ve done interviews, we’ve done excerpts. There’s no end to things you can do. It’s one of the places you can play around the most. Are there holidays or special events you can peg these stories to?”

Why not start adding one or two evergreen stories to your mailer? You could add them in their own dedicated section, incorporate them into the bulk of the copy, or even start a brand new ‘archive’ newsletter. It could be worth trying all of these approaches to see which works best for you - your most loyal readers are likely to receive your mailer they may well be the audience most enthusiastic to revisit your best content.

It may be worth creating a document which lists all your evergreen stories and sharing it amongst your team, encouraging them to link to these stories when appropriate. You could also create a variation of a ‘Start Here’ page to list evergreen posts and signpost them to new readers, or create a ‘Top Posts’ section in a sidebar visible on every page of your site. 

Can my tech team help with an evergreen strategy?

They certainly can. As well as helping to configure Google Tag Manager or Analytics your website architecture can be reworked to surface your strongest evergreen content and increase pageviews from visitors. At Mathematics we've built "evergreen" functionality for some publishers. To use this editorial click a simple button in their CMS to define an article as evergreen. We give this type of story more weight in 'related' areas, deliver these stories into specific 'evergreen' areas on the site and send notifications to editors to include them in newsletters. By separating these stories out in the CMS the team have easy access to them too, making updates and reshares easy for the team.

What else should we think about?

Publications should strive to make content evergreen as part of a wider aim to increase traffic whilst reducing volatility - raising the depths of traffic troughs (or 'valleys'), rather than heightening its peaks. You want your readers to arrive, stick around, consume more content and return to your site periodically, not spend seconds with one viral story, only to never return. At Mathematics we call this kind of growth 'valley elevation'.

With an effective evergreen strategy in place you can monitor valley elevation by paying attention to the variants on your weekly and monthly traffic. Naturally, you should aim for a general upward trend over a long period of time. Essentially, to elevate valleys is to increase the ‘half-life’ of your content; that is, the time required for your content’s value to reduce. Working to elevate valleys whilst ensuring peaks remain tall steadily increases the value of a publisher’s entire site.

In summary, evergreen content can create strong, predictable long-term success. Master evergreen content whilst reporting regularly like you do best, and you should yield some serious returns.


laptop on table with google search

Google to Boost ‘Original Reporting’ - How to React to the Change

Recently, Google updated their search rater guidelines to help them better recognise and reward original reporting by surfacing it more prominently in search and ensuring it stays there longer. This means readers interested in a specific story can find the piece that started all the fuss, and publishers can reap the rewards of having their high-quality original reporting surfaced to a greater number of users. Here’s a guide to the changes and our tips on how to make the most of this new behaviour.

What does this change entail?

Let's say your publication has secured an exclusive interview with an A-list celebrity. This interview includes a number of revelations as yet unheard by the public. Months of work has gone into securing access, your team has researched, created, subbed and produced a great piece, and you publish it. In our current news cycle, many publications regularly borrow quotes and angles from others, creating pages of content about this topic in Google's SERP. Elsewhere, a single news event will be covered by many thousands of publications worldwide. Your publication may dig deeper than others by sharing data on specific angles of the story or accruing quotes from sources central to the story.

Google's changes aim to aid their users to find the original source on news topics. Moving forward, articles recognised by Google as 'original reporting' on a given search term may stay in a highly visible position on the search results page over a long period of time. We're yet to see exactly where these will be positioned, but it's likely these will sit above all other results.

How will Google do this?

Google's algorithms sort through content, arranging stories in a way that offers the best experience for their users. These algorithms are constantly updated and improved, and Google's latest change to the algorithm is to train it to take into account the 'originality' of content within a story, the timing of the post and the quality of the publication producing it.

To achieve this, Google will harness the use of a 10,000-strong team of raters worldwide. This team has been instructed to use the highest rating - “very high quality” - for original news reporting “that provides information that would not otherwise have been known had the article not revealed it." Noting that "...original, in-depth, and investigative reporting requires a high degree of skill, time, and effort.”

These raters will be tasked to consider a publication's reputation, too. From Google's guidelines: “...you might find that a newspaper (with an associated website) has won journalistic awards. Prestigious awards, such as the Pulitzer Prize award, or a history of high-quality original reporting are strong evidence of positive reputation.”

How will this change affect a publications' traffic?

Ranking in a top position for a popular search term will have a significant effect on traffic for a publication, so this change is likely to offer the greatest benefit to newspapers and large publications pinned on the page for popular terms.

We're yet to see whether this change will also affect niche stories, but if this happens it could aid specialist publications with long-tail traffic on stories broken by them and then picked up by larger publications.

This change is unlikely to affect the results below this highlighted story, however, so don't expect a huge drop in traffic from search.

How can we use this update to our advantage with SEO?

Now's the time to look at how you can increase the longevity of stories by producing them with an 'evergreen' approach in mind. Rather than reworking existing stories or publishing slightly tweaked press releases, publications that add to stories with further reporting, quotes, new angles or 'deep-dives' could find themselves pinned to Google's results, attracting a steady stream of long term traffic.

As Google raters will be analysing publisher reputation, it could be worth looking at an 'About' page (remember them?), using this to cement your publication as an authority, listing journalistic awards and accolades. It could make sense to update Wikipedia entries with this information, too.

Secure exclusives whenever it makes sense to, and when working with embargoed press releases, spend time ahead of publication to ensure the story probes deeper than others. The knock-on result for your audience is a further increase in the quality of content which will reap benefits for your publication overall, building loyalty and increasing dwell times - another positive!

 

This could prove a significant change to the behaviour of content in Google’s search results page. But, don't be intimidated. For publications which already devote time and resource to producing original takes on a topic, this update could bring with it serious rewards. Continue to focus on telling stories you care about in the way you'd expect of another top-tier publisher, and you're well on your way to capitalising upon this search update, and benefiting your publication hugely as a result.