Can Old Media Dogs Learn New Intent-Driven Publishing Tricks?

With Yahoo!'s recent acquisition of Associated Content, the controversial new category dubbed "content farming" moves into the mainstream. At our last OMMA Behavioral conference, we devoted a "Grill the Vendors" panel to these companies, including Associated Content, Demand Media and AOL's Seed project. Understandably, all three companies took exception the term.

Generally, these companies are leveraging the search-driven content engine economy to create and push media that people want into the Internet bloodstream. In some cases, their libraries are filled with user-generated nano-niche content that fills specific needs for how-to material other publishers don't carry.

In other cases, the companies are deftly reading the search trends to anticipate and then commission useful content. There is nothing outlandish about crafting content that anticipates user needs. Several traditional media providers scout under-served search terms in order to craft packages that will perform well in searches.

But many publishers complain "content farms" deliver mediocre content that is so well optimized for search, it crowds out the quality. Actually, you have to wonder why publishers with their own long tails of archived online content aren't doing more to feed the search economy material from their own "farms."

That is what a Idealab spinoff Perfect Market, Inc. is trying to achieve. The company evolved from a frustration among some traditional media companies that weren't getting enough from the search economy. "We always gave the search ad opportunity short shrift," admits Robertson Barrett, Perfect Markets Chief Strategy Officer and a veteran of Tribune Interactive, Time Inc. and Primedia. "You will generally see search ads at the bottom of pages, and they may not be very relevant, especially at news sites."

The search-driven news economy has created duel audiences at many news sites. First, there are the brand loyalists coming to a specific news provider and generating value via long hang times and many page views. On the other hand, masses of drive-by users are coming off of search, usually to a specific page for a single hit before they are gone.

Publishers know how to monetize their well-defined loyal users (via targeted, high CPM placements, email, etc.), but they have not figured out how to monetize all of that search traffic. "Our idea is that people coming through the search engines to your site should have a different experience based on what they want," says Barrett.

The search-driven customer is entering a site from a different mind-set, usually in research mode and in need of more evergreen content. Demand Media and others have built their businesses serving that user with the right content at the right time. But Barrett contends that traditional publishers are leaving money on the table by not realizing some of their own travel, business, auto or other content could fill this need.

Barrett uses current partner LA Times as an example of traditional media being able to play the content farm game. On a search for travel to Buenos Aires, Demand Media had already created an article that was prominent in search results and involved tips for packing and planning travel to Latin America. But the newspaper also had in its archives a multipart series on South American travel and a Buenos Aires itinerary.

The Perfect Market system uses algorithms to see what topics are not only in high demand but also have the highest revenue potential from contextually relevant search ads. They will host and create pages for publishers that optimize that material and that are also optimized for the search user rather than the brand loyalist.

"Intent-driven traffic has specific things they are looking for -- the subject not the brand," says Barrett. To maximize the revenue from that user, you want a page that will emphasize CPC advertising that best targets the intent that brought the user in the side door. And so the new landing page expressly for search-driven customers will have contextual text ads placed much more visibly than they would be on a standard page of the Web site.

Part of the model is that Perfect Market helps give search engines more granular information about the page to render better advertising. And they can help surface the keywords on pages that are falling under the radar. "We can expose more content to the ad networks so they crawl the pages better."

But the page for intent-driven traffic also makes better use of the host publisher's own content. "We know there are semantic clusters around relevant ideas that have high revenue potential," he says. "We can look in the publisher's library to see what content they already have and optimize links to that content.

Barrett says that the early results have been encouraging, with 20x and 30x the conversions on CPC ads placed on the landing pages. Barrett claims revenue-per-user lifts of $1 to $10. The company takes a share of the lift.

In the great transition from analog to digital media, intent-driven content models were a tech-fueled opportunity that seemed to elude or just offend traditional media publishers. It will be interesting to see if these publishers can start taking control of the very technologies that threaten their old models, then use them to leverage the one advantage they have left: quality.

Tags: internet, search
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1 comment about "Can Old Media Dogs Learn New Intent-Driven Publishing Tricks?".
  1. David Carlick from Carlick , May 29, 2010 at 12:24 p.m.

    Farming. Crowdsourcing. Freelancing. Blogging. Even tweeting. A wonderful digital end-around the struggling economy for many many people. Who ordained the print publishers as the evergreen keepers of the content?