Your Site Is A Theme Park, And You Are The Tour Guide

by , Dec 30, 2011, 1:24 PM
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For a content publisher, which of the following user visits is most valuable to you? First, there is the person landing from an auto keyword search onto a car section with a high CPM. He is showing high intent in a lucrative ad category and is generating an impression in your highest-priced ad segment.

On the other hand, there is the person who comes in perhaps from an article link into an area that sells at a modest CPM. But unlike the first “high value” user who came in on his way across multiple car reviews at many publishers, this user is intrigued by your content and starts on a longer path across multiple lower CPM pages.

In the end, it is that second user, who may not be coming in with high value, lower funnel intent, who proves most valuable to you. Their flight path results in greater monetization.

In some sense, recommendation engines help do part of that work by keeping a visitor in a content garden. But an interesting company that is getting traction with publishers like MSNBC.com and Hearst Newspapers argues that content needs to be valued differently in order for this approach to monetization to work.

“How do you get audiences to the places that matter most?” is the main challenge, according to JumpTime CEO and co-founder Michele DiLorenzo. Most publishers continue to associate high CPMs with content value, but the premise of JumpTime’s alternative model comes from economic theory, which understands the true worth of an asset as a combination of its current and future value. “If content is an asset in a network, that means every piece of content has two jobs: it delivers information but also exposes the user to other content and gets them to consume more content," DiLorenzo says.

For most sites, recommendation engines perform some of the work of maximizing visitor value by driving the user into more content. But JumpTime explains that the “flow power” of content itself needs to be examined. “Some content doesn’t induce people to go further,” says DiLorenzo. “The true value of content is beyond the first click.” In some scenarios a user may come in to a news article with relatively modest CPM value, but that content drives them to other content of much higher value. With one lifestyle site, the ad sales team was having trouble selling into a user-generated content area, so the site was intending to kill off the area as worthless. But when user flight paths through the site were examined, it turns out that the UGC content succeeded in engaging visitors with the site and passing them on to content that was being monetized. The area with the lowest CPM ultimately had the highest longer term value. 

In order to calculate the true value of given content, JumpTime uses a number of inputs, from ad servers, conversion, subscriptions, etc. These values are calculated into a traffic valuation that can be overlaid on the Web page for editors and marketers to see. In the demo JumpTime showed me, a front page shows numeric valuations on every article link so the managers can make decisions on how best to use its screen real estate.

“The movement of any person through the site affects the value of everything else on the network, so it has to be updated at all times,” she says. The editors and marketers can see from the dashboard view that an article garnering tons of clickthroughs may not actually be generating substantial total value. Landing page adjustments can be made on the fly to optimize the value of a popular piece, but over time the metrics can inform revisions for site structure and sectional content.

These are the kinds of metrics that can also inform a site’s marketing and social media strategies. They can identify and distinguish value among different traffic sources, such as search and social networks. As pages become cluttered with all of those share buttons from multiple vendors, which really is worthwhile?

JumpTime’s is an interesting model for understanding monetization at a content site and seeing a publisher’s domain as a complex ecosystem. It takes a longer view of “audience” than some of the demand-side, real-time models that are looking to “put the right ad in front of the right person on any given page.”

While JumpTime’s solution is really aimed at optimizing monetization, one has to wonder if this approach also imposes a certain perspective about the nature of a publisher's audience and the behavior of people with content. It's curious that we've adopted  the “site” metaphor for online publishing. Unlike broadcast or printed products, interactivity makes content navigable in ways similar to a physical location. While the received notions of traditional media tend toward thinking of an online destination as an enhanced newspaper or magazine, the experience is really closer to that of a theme park. Apart from the raw numbers of monetization, one might ask, what holistic experience is this “site” creating for me?

1 comment on "Your Site Is A Theme Park, And You Are The Tour Guide ".

  1. John Jainschigg from World2Worlds, Inc.
    commented on: December 30, 2011 at 2:38 p.m.
    This makes enormous sense. But in order to extend away from the "site as enhanced 'published object'" metaphor to other, more intense tropes (e.g., theme park, tradeshow, hangout, office, storefront, village green, neighborhood, etc., or in the opposite - and also valid - direction towards websites being 'applications') you need new functional, editorial, managerial and budget models. You can edit a blogsite or an online magazine. But you can't edit a theme park - the notion of remote and asynchronous curation, while essential to 'experience creation,' is not the whole deal. Visitors also need to be aware of one another, and of the presence and personality of curators for this to work - even if the curator is just the teenage intern wearing the Mickey Mouse costume, shaking kids' hands and posing for pictures.

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