My father was never going to be 80. When he was 67 — soon after hearing the term “stage 4”— he went to see the movie “Bad Santa” with me and one of his closest friends, Rob. When the movie ended, I went to the parking lot and pulled the car closer to the entrance. While my car idled, I saw through the theater’s glass doors that my dad had fallen and Rob was helping him up.
I saw Rob a few weeks later at my father’s funeral. He shared with me that as he helped my father regain his feet at the theater, Dad said to him, “When it happens, it happens faster than you think.”
Premium content publishing on the Web is really dying — and this point, the decline will happen much faster than you think. Sorry for the cliché, but it is a perfect storm bringing our industry to the ground.
First, click-bait journalism is causing content quality to drop precipitously.
Second, Web site real estate value is plummeting further, thanks to native in-stream ads and content marketing “suggestions” that are so awful they make bad display ads look good.
Third, ads sales driven by big data — combined with heavy-loading ad creative that auto-plays, pops and expands — have made the Web site user experience feel like the security line at the airport.
The net result: Consumers are being asked to wait too long for content they continue to find less valuable. How long do you think that’s going to last?
These conditions show no sign of reversing themselves, so Web site experiences will continue to get worse. As a result, site visitors will show even less patience — which is reflected in bounce rates, the unspoken metric of an industry that loves its metrics.
To be fair, the bounce rate of users leaving a site after viewing just one page view has traditionally been driven higher by search visits, because users who find a site through search naturally look at fewer pages.
The recent shift in the majority of site traffic coming from social media, however, should have significantly decreased this bounce rate — because statistically, users who visit a Web site from a social media link turn more pages and spend more time on the host site than users who come from search.
Has any report, headline or press release in the past year touted a significant decline in bounce rates?
In a less analytical approach, can you name three premium-content Web sites you can’t live without? OK, how about just one? It’s 20-plus years into online publishing — should answering this question be this difficult?
I don’t buy the inflated unique visitor numbers for premium sites, because those figures are bloated with bots and click-bait marketing tactics, and include all those people who bounce. I don’t buy the shift to mobile as a savior, because all the mobile dollars that are following this shift are going to Facebook. I do buy the idea that consumers talk with their feet — and they are walking away from us faster than we think.
I wish my father took better care of himself — and I wish the same for premium publishers. Premium publishers need to go back to their journalistic roots. They need to stop caring about how big they are, and focus instead on how good they are to the users who visit their sites.
Finally, premium publishers must start saying no to advertiser demands that contribute to their own demise.
Time is literally running out.