Does Quality Content Matter in Digital Advertising?

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Publisher differentiation is paramount

For the moment, many advertisers are looking for both reach and engagement. Reach, as measured by comScore, is a way for digital agencies to qualify sites for consideration. It's an archaic practice, but remains a consideration in audience strategy. As direct buyers own less, and less, of the digital media budgets, they are choosing fewer partners and allocating smaller budgets to work with publishers.

The work however, remains essentially the same. With Facebook, Google, and now Amazon, taking three of the core partner spots on an advertiser's short list, publisher differentiation is key. Offering cross-platform sponsorship opportunities is also meaningful to achieving the key brand partnerships. 

Why publishers matter to consumers

While usership volume drives incremental value within social platforms, reach is virtually irrelevant to publisher audiences. Serving a community of like-minded humans who inspire each other is plenty value to the individual user. They want to interact and receive inspiration and validation, which requires active users and conversation.

Some publishers, like Upworthy, have been effective in harnessing propagation through social media. Peer-to-peer sharing offers high-quality engagement, as well as low-cost scale. There is the caveat of relying on social and their ever-changing algorithms, but search optimization for long-tail content can combat this reliance. The greatest defense against relying on third parties for user engagement is brand equity and user loyalty.

Creating a sustainable business model for midsized publishers

So how do publishers remain relevant? Many will not. Those who produce meaningful environments and grow incremental loyalty have a good shot. The industry will also have to prove that positive editorial context creates positive affinity for brands. The Olympics and Super Bowl command premium rates not only because they amass a large audience, but because the advertisers are perceived by viewers to be underwriting a positive, meaningful, global event. 

To survive in a data-centric, digital world, we need to contemplate our true value as publishers. Are we moving the culture forward? Are we making the world a little bit better? And, how do we remain afloat while creating valuable content, amid a wave of ad margin compression? 

We must put our energy into producing content and experiences that matter. People and advertisers must be getting something from us that they can't get elsewhere. We make people feel good. We hook them on productivity, rather than distraction. And we create a few more instances of community-building competition that unify, rather than divide, our evolving world.

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