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By Max Willens.

These days newspapers are scrupulously focusing on eliminating the ways that people can circumvent their paywalls. But some news publishers are finding that a Starbucks pilot program that launched late last year appears to be a worthwhile exception to that rule.

The test, which began as a response to a Starbucks decision to stop selling physical newspapers at its stores, lets anybody who logs into the Wi-Fi service at a Starbucks venue free access to several newspaper websites; many of them usually maintain a paywall.

The program launched in October with seven titles, including The Wall Street Journal and USA Today, as well as local titles such as the Seattle Times and the New York Daily News. In November, the program expanded to 23 titles, including five papers of the McClatchy chain, the newly independent Los Angeles Times and The San Diego Union-Tribune, plus additional titles belonging to the owners of some of the program’s inaugural participants such as Gannett, Dow Jones and Tribune Publishing.

While Starbucks isn’t paying the participants, the publishers involved said they see the program as a good source of new readers. For example, Megan Parzych, vp of marketing for the Philadelphia Inquirer, called the pilot program a way to put Inquirer content in front of new audiences. A McClatchy executive said he envisioned the Starbucks program as a small source of new readers that are arriving through a unique front door, giving the company the chance to observe a specific cohort of people that it hopes to eventually turn into subscribers.

News publishers have begun spending more money to hunt for subscribers among individuals who are not currently visiting their owned and operated properties. Yet many publishers might prefer to add subscribers by building on the direct connections they have with readers. Partnerships like the Starbucks program give news publishers a way to put their product in front of new readers in a setting where they can spend a lot of time reading it and hopefully form a habit.

“We’re really trying to give [these readers] an opportunity to kick the tires,” said Grant Belaire, McClatchy’s vp of digital audience growth. His team is using with the Starbucks program-associated readers less aggressive marketing tactics and waiting longer before attempting to gather customers’ email addresses, for example. “This has helped us build up some benchmarks,” Belaire added.

While the number of visitors the Starbucks program attracts is small — typically in the low thousands each week for a publisher — they have qualities that make them attractive to the participating publishers. In McClatchy’s case, most of the Starbucks visitors tend to be totally new ones, meaning they haven’t visited McClatchy sites in the past, Belaire said.

A source at one publisher said that the program’s lack of geotargeting options, combined with the low traffic, have made his company’s participation a low priority. That same source noted that his team had to expend significant technical effort to make sure the paywall was properly lowered for Starbucks readers.

But with so many publishers now operating tighter paywalls, some of them are happy for a chance to show off all the work their publications produce. “Our website and app have been vastly improved within the past six months, and we’ve made significant investments in our journalism,” said Josh Brandau, the chief revenue officer of the Los Angeles Times. “A big part of what we’re doing is reintroducing people to our product.”

By Max Willens

Sourced from DIGIDAY

By

Many media channels can expect a banner year in 2020. The Summer Olympics and the presidential election will help drive ad spending to new records. Unfortunately, newspapers and magazines won’t participate in that growth without developing their digital outlets.

Magazine ad revenue will slump 9.7% this year to $9.8 billion, a steeper decline than the 9.1% drop to $11.8 billion for newspapers, according to estimatesconsulting firm Winterberry Group published last week.

The forecast shouldn’t surprise anyone in the publishing industry, following a year of consolidation, widespread job cuts and dozens of stories about the threat of “news deserts.” The trends are disheartening, but there are some pockets of opportunity for publishers, as the Winterberry report also suggests.

U.S. digital ad spending will expand by about 15% to $166.4 billion this year. It is becoming more fragmented as newer categories such as influencer marketing and digital video carve out a bigger share.

While search and paid social will be the biggest categories, publishers can find room for growth in display ads and possibly in digital audio formats like podcasts.

Winterberry forecasts that digital audio advertising will expand by 15% to $3.4 billion, a market that publishers are well positioned to dominate by repurposing written content as spoken-word audio.

Even in the realm of offline advertising, publishers can find growth in experiential marketing and sponsorships of live events, where spending is forecast to grow by 3.1% to $48.5 billion, making it the second-biggest category after linear TV.

Aside from offline and online advertising, publishers can build their revenue from subscriptions, paywalls, licensing and affiliate fees from online marketplaces. Building those businesses requires specialized expertise, but it can be done.

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Sourced from MediaPost

By Kayleigh Barber

A constant for many publishers is email. But challenges including lapsed subscribers and the challenges of including traditional advertising in an email strategy, publishers can have a hard time justifying investment in the platform. Here’s some candid thoughts from publishing executives at the Digiday Hot Topic: Email for Publishing event held yesterday.

Limiting sign-up friction gets you more emails
“We stopped requiring first and last name at sign-up. It limits personalization, but there’s also less friction at sign-up. We missed having that information though.”

“You don’t want to ask for 15 things off the bat — just get their email. But on the second interaction, you can ask for more personalized information to get more data.”

“For now, my vision is to make the user journey a priority. User data will trickle in, and we can use that to make inferred relationships.”

Your most valuable subscriber is your brand evangelist
“A brand lover is worth 100 times more to you than a casual reader.”

“We get more than 1,000 views a day based off our referral program, and the referrals are incredibly high quality.”

“Thirty-seven percent of [paid] members were free newsletter subscribers first, and 10% of members subscribed directly from a free newsletter.”

“Four percent of our audience is a habitual reader who has seven or more sessions per month, but the average revenue per user in that group is five times that of a reader with one to four sessions [94% of their readership.]”

30 to 90 days is the best time to attempt reengagement
“Our retention program works best, we found, at 30 days, but we’re predominantly a daily newsletter company.”

“It’s always a struggle with reengagement. Is it worth the effort to reengage someone versus the value that you get from them after they are reengaged? Because we typically find that if they disengage, they don’t really want to come back.”

“Old subscribers for us, we find that since more often publishers are landing in the promotions folder, an email coming from a different email address than they normally receive the email from is really effective in reengaging people.”

“What we started doing is actually buying their, what we call singles, so we’re able to see and match up in real time against their database when a user is opening and clicking other emails from other brands and then being able to trigger reengagement emails then, and that gives us a much better open and click-through rate.”

“We tend to look at it more of how we on-board people better to prevent them from disengaging. I think a lot of people are scared to ask upfront why you’re starting to disengage, but it’s about flagging it early so you’re not waiting for 90 days.”

Finding a place for affiliate links can increase the value of your newsletters
“The beautiful thing about affiliate data is that it can be used in many ways, but you can take it out to new advertisers to prove that there is an engaged audience getting to the point of sale in that email list.”

“We have 42 newsletters that we’re tapping into that have a highly engaged audience; 10 are relevant for commerce on average, but depends on the time of year.”

Include the editorial staff in your newsletter strategy
“For editors, being in the weeds helps them learn more about the audience than they would normally on the site, and that’s where we’re getting the ideas to create new newsletters — in the weeds.”

“Voice emails that utilize editorial talent build personal relationships with readers.”

“It’s important on the product-side to make the tools as easy as possible for editorial use and learn.”

By Kayleigh Barber

Sourced from DIGIDAY

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Digital technology company PubMatic saw an uptick in mobile ad spend and a need for improvement in mobile in-app header bidding among other trends in its first “Quarterly Mobile Index” of 2019, released this week.

According to the index, several key trends were evident during the quarter.

Aside from the acceleration of mobile advertising — partly due to the promise of better video options with the launch of 5G technology and the issues around header bidding — advertisers are also moving to private marketplaces for Android inventory, due to app fraud.

The Index notes that Android app spend is down 17% year-over-year, while iOS saw an increase of 68%.

The also report at the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region, noting the need for the adoption of automated ad buying strategies in other parts of the world.

The trends add up to a forward-looking vision focused on mobile and safety.

PubMatic notes that 2019 will serve as a turning point for future mobile growth; mobile devices are poised to overtake televisions regarding user time spent for the first time ever.

According to data collected by the company, handheld devices accounted for almost half of all video impressions served by PubMatic in first-quarter 2019. In 2018, those impressions numbered four in 10. Given this, PubMatic anticipates mobile devices will become the preferred platform for video ad placement.

Video ad dollars monetized on those devices increased from 31% in first-quarter 2018 to 43% in first-quarter 2019.

PubMatic also reported its mobile header bidding volume doubled during 2018 and 2019, with mobile devices making up nearly a third of all header bidding impressions this year. That number was less than a quarter in 2018.

Despite this uptick, the Index notes publishers need time to adopt strategies to better optimize mobile headers versus desktop.

“Mobile advertising continues to see monumental increases in spending, while still making strides towards greater transparency and returns, which is hugely important for publishers and advertisers. That said, the industry is only now learning how to properly take advantage of in-app header bidding, which has led to more obstacles,” Paulina Klimenko, PubMatic senior vice president, corporate development and GM, mobile, stated.

The full report is available online.

By ,

Sourced from MediaPost

 

 

The Content Marketing Association (CMA) — the UK industry association for marketing, publishing, advertising and social agencies — has just released a comprehensive report on the Key Content Marketing Trends in 2018.

This report was developed in consultation with the top executives from 20 companies at the cutting edge of content marketing, and delves into the details of what they perceive to be the dominant trends in content marketing right now, and the way the discipline has evolved this year.

Here’s a snapshot of the key trends identified by CMA, relevant to the publishing industry:

1. The importance of authenticity and brand trust

In an era of fake news, readers are wary of the authenticity of online content, and brand trust has become ever more important.

Robbie Black, Managing Partner, The Moment thinks that the key is to move away from notions of factory lines of content and instead focus on producing quality content.

“The push-back has begun,” he says. “Consumers aren’t as gullible as we would like to think. And so in the future, only well-crafted, relevant, timely messages will gain any sort of cut-through.”

2. The continuing influence of automation and technology

Another major trend is the increase of automation and technology in content creation and distribution. By harnessing data capture tools, companies now have access to huge volumes of information on which they can base their content plans. How they use these data points to intelligently optimise content to suit the target readers is likely to be key for publishers now and in the future.

Sarah Lewthwaite, MD and SVP EMEA of Movio highlights the way that technology can be used to target consumers.

“One of the emerging trends for 2018 is using consumer data and insight to predict a customer’s specific content needs. What content is best suited to a person at any given moment? When are they most likely to engage? Which communication channel will be most effective to engage them? What factors will influence their decision to consume?

Achieving a successful marketing campaign is no longer about being the biggest, brightest or loudest brand on these channels, but instead, being the most relevant.”

3. The pivot to images and video

The CMA report talks about how a short while ago, publishers spoke enthusiastically of the pivot to video and how they were going to invest in developing channels on YouTube, Facebook and other platforms. While this may not have yielded the desired commercial benefits yet, executives still believe that video and still images are the most effective way to engage with consumers, especially on mobile devices.

Ben Wilkinson, Director, Bold Content believes that the traffic is only going one way.

“Young People are viewing YouTube more during peak hours than TV. By looking at 2016 and 2017’s stats, we can see that more young people are watching YouTube during prime-time TV hours than television. Due to this, content creators have used the live-streaming boom to tailor their sessions to prime-time to get the most viewers.”

4. Audio content strategies

Many companies are also working out how to respond to the growth of audio content, the report states. Smart speakers, like Amazon’s Echo range, have built upon the concept of voice control developed initially by Apple’s Siri and Google Now. Companies are still not entirely sure how to capitalise on the resurgence of the podcast.

Kim Willis of Cedar Communications is adamant that “If brands aren’t thinking about their audio content strategies, they should be. From podcasts to Alexa skills, audio now offers a range of brand engagement opportunities across the spectrum of practical utility to deeper storytelling. The only questions is, which approach is right for your customer.”

5. Reaction to GDPR

According to the CMA report, for many companies the first part of 2018 was dominated by preparing for GDPR. The rest of 2018 will see the dust start to settle and the impact of the legislation will gradually become evident.

Kim Willis of Cedar Communications thinks that one by-product of the legislation will be a coming together of content creators and paid content specialists ensuring that the quality content which brands create is seen by consumers.

“As shake ups in email GDPR, Google growth and social media algorithms reduce the organic power of owned and earned media, we’ll see content creators and paid media specialists working more closely together than ever to align content to audiences and media environments, and to ensure that engaging stories actually have the opportunity to be seen.”

6. Personalisation

The evolution from broadcasting to large audiences to that of narrowcasting to individuals will continue in 2018, says the report.

Christopher Baldwin of Selligent Marketing Cloud, thinks that the one-to-one experience of content is what companies need to be focusing on.

“The ONLY way to deliver true delight to today’s entitled consumer is to deliver awesome customer experiences. Consumers now expect personal engagement with brands in return for their data. It’s absolutely possible to do this over email, mobile or website. It’s the digital equivalent of the hotel manager at your favourite hotel greeting you by name as you walk in and showing you to your upgraded suite.”

7. Quality content

On the final point, the CMA report stresses on the need to move away from creating massive amounts of content to focusing on smaller amounts of higher quality content.

Brendan Judge, Planning Director, Bridge Studios, News UK, says quality content and advertising is what is going to come to the fore again in 2018.

“What we most certainly need more of is quite simply good content. Content that has to work. Work for the brand and work for the people who you are trying to reach. Because whatever cliché or buzzword or new tech is of the moment and “now”, one simple fact doesn’t change: there’s only so many hours in a day, and only so many eyes, ears and brains.”

You can download the full report from CMA here.

 

Sourced from What’s New In Publishing

By Lucia Moses

Audience development pros have become critical to how publishers reach new readers and make money. But now that Facebook is all but turning off publishers’ reach in the news feed, audience development groups feel both vindication and new pressures.

For many, there’s a sense of relief and triumph. The role of audience development is often misunderstood as posting links to social platforms. Now, suddenly, audience development is seen as far more strategic. But with great power comes great responsibility.

For Kurt Gessler, deputy digital editor at the Chicago Tribune, there was “panic initially,” followed by vindication and, he allowed, “a little smugness.” That’s because the Tribune only posts about 10 percent of its content on Facebook, and its audience development experts do other tasks in the newsroom so they’re not isolated or working at cross-purposes with editorial.

“It reinforces a lot of the things we and others have been saying,” Gessler said of the news feed change, which Facebook said will prioritize users’ posts over news. “We were always much more interested in quality over quantity. We were never firehosing into Facebook.”

Arguably, the role of audience development — some prefer the fancier “audience engagement” — is more important than ever. The old time-tested practice of using Facebook to drive massive traffic on the cheap to build audiences and fulfill ad campaigns is going away. Building audience in a sustainable way means mastering other distributed platforms and getting direct traffic, too.

One audience exec at a major publisher likened the algorithm change to “the end of an abusive relationship. Facebook abused us for so long and we just kept going back to them, and you finally are like, ‘OK, I’m going to walk away.’”

“I think this gives them more freedom to not worry about the click but think about the engagement,” Keith Hernandez, svp of strategy at Bleacher Report, said of audience development teams. Audience development’s importance at the sports publisher has already been growing; the branded content team has been bringing audience staffers into its pitch meetings for the past six months to advise on editorial trends.

If audience people are more important, they also face more insecurity and pressure than ever. Some will have to answer for their reliance on Facebook. (Cue the schadenfreude among publishers that say they saw the writing on the wall and already weaned themselves off Facebook dependence.) They’re aware that some people think their jobs could be done just as well by tweet-writing robots. They have to figure out new rules for success at a time when Facebook reach is declining.

By Lucia Moses

Sourced from DIGIDAY UK

By Emily Tan.

Facebook’s decision to re-prioritize its News Feed to favour “social interactions” over other forms of content may please its users, but will be challenging for brands.

In a post last night, Facebook announced that it would be introducing changes to its news feed algorithm in the coming year to ensure that posts by friends and family on Facebook appear higher in the news feed.

“Recently we’ve gotten feedback from our community that public content—posts from businesses, brands, and media—is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other,” wrote Facebook chairman and chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg.

The changes Facebook is rolling out to combat this will mean that users will start to see less public content such as posts from businesses, brands, and media. The platform claims that the content users see will be the material that “encourages meaningful interactions between people.”

This move may be detrimental to brands, businesses, and publishers and will even limit Facebook’s short-term growth, but is ultimately beneficial for the social network in the long-term, said Brian Wieser, senior research analyst at Pivotal Group.

“The company was understandably focused on driving user growth over the years, although former Facebook executives have recently described negative impacts on consumers from those efforts. To the extent that those criticisms are valid, action is warranted,” Wieser said, adding that time spent by users on Facebook had started to decline prior to this decision.

Impact on brands

As Facebook takes these steps and invests in premium content to improve its user-experience, so too must brands on Facebook look to create better content, advised Greg Allum, head of social at Jellyfish.

“We [marketers] need to be clever with our content and understand what resonates with the consumer and why. More importantly, we all need to become better media planners,” Allum said.

Facebook will be looking to offset the hit it will take to near-term revenue from advertisers by stoking Instagram’s growth, Wieser noted. The platform will also be able to use this new approach to focus on higher-paying advertisers, and using more refined targeting methods to satisfy advertiser goals with less inventory.

Publishers may be most affected

In the end though, media owners are likely to be the most affected by this update, commented Allum.

While Facebook’s announcement may, on the surface, appear to tackle the issue of the spread of fake news and click-bait, that will ultimately depend on a user’s friendship circles. This may, in fact, increase the filter bubble effect as users only see posts shared predominantly by the people they interact with the most.

Publishers, who are already challenged on the platform, may not agree to continue investing their media budgets in Facebook with this change.

However, Allum believes that while publishers will test and learn on other channels, they will ultimately return to Facebook.

“The lure of a captive audience will be too much for them, but they will shift their strategy and concentrate on creating less but bigger and better pieces of content, which in turn will improve the user experience for consumers. Although brands could see an increase in the cost to advertise as the channel becomes more competitive,” he said.

Financial Times chief executive, John Ridding, criticized Facebook’s update as not particularly helpful to quality publishers.

“As a long-standing publisher of quality journalism, the FT welcomes moves to recognize and support trusted and reliable news and analysis. But a sustainable solution to the challenges of the new information ecosystem requires further measure—in particular, a viable subscription model on platforms that enables publishers to build a direct relationship with readers and to manage the terms of access to their content,” he said. “Without that—as the large majority of all new online advertising spend continues to go to the search and social media platforms—quality content will no longer be a choice or an option. And that would be the worst outcome for all.”

This story first appeared on campaignlive.co.uk.

By Emily Tan.

Sourced from PR Week

By Lara O’Reilly

Adform says ‘Hyphbot’ scheme created fake websites, nonhuman traffic to scam advertisers of more than $500,000 a day

An ad-tech firm says it has discovered a large and sophisticated advertising-fraud operation in which fake websites and infected computers were used to scam advertisers and publishers out of upward of hundreds of thousands of dollars a day.

Denmark-based Adform, identifier of the scheme, named it “Hyphbot” and estimates that it has been going on since at least August.

According to Adform, the fraudsters behind the Hyphbot scheme created more than 34,000 different domain names and more than a million different URLs, many designed to attempt to fool advertisers into thinking they were buying ad inventory from big-name publishers such as the Economist, the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal and CNN. It is a tactic known in the industry as “domain spoofing.”

The perpetrators then generated a wave of nonhuman, or “bot,” traffic that loaded the fraudulent sites, which made money mostly through video ads. Video ads are lucrative because they carry higher rates than other online display ads.

Fake traffic is a serious issue for advertisers because it means they have wasted money buying ads that were served to computer programs, rather than real people who might go on to purchase their products. And real publishers get cheated out of potential advertising revenue.

Adform says much of the impact of the scheme could have been thwarted if publishers and ad-tech companies had implemented and kept up-to-date with a new industry initiative called Ads.txt, which is designed to stamp out domain spoofing.

Adform’s investigation suggested that the people behind Hyphbot used a network of data centers and unwitting consumers’ computers, infected by malware, to access more than half a million IP addresses, mostly from the U.S., to mimic real browsing behavior on the network of fake sites.

The suspicious URLs were presenting themselves in ad auctions via at least 14 different ad exchanges at a rate of up to 1.5 billion requests to ad buyers a day.

Adform began informing the majority of ad exchanges affected on Sept. 28, two days after it began its analysis. Since then, it has seen a reduction in the fraudulent traffic, although Hyphbot is still believed to be active. Adform also informed the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the U.S. and Metropolitan Police in the U.K. Adform’s full findings were independently reviewed by two industry experts before the publication of the white paper.

Jon Slade, the chief commercial officer of the Financial Times, said the publisher was “not surprised” to hear of another fraud scheme based around spoofing. Last month, the Financial Times ran its own investigation and found 25 ad exchanges had been offering fraudulent ad space, purporting to be from FT.com.

“We are urging all actors in the supply chain to urgently implement and adopt the Ads.txt standard,” Mr. Slade said. “It’s one of the best bets for a cleanup that we have.”

Dow Jones, the unit of News Corp that includes The Wall Street Journal, said it implemented Ads.txt about a month ago and echoed the FT’s sentiment that solving the larger problem “requires the participation of all parties involved.”

A spokesman for Turner, the Time Warner unit that operates CNN, said it also implemented Ads.txt earlier this year.

The Economist declined to comment.

It is difficult to extrapolate exactly how much money the scheme has made so far. Adform describes Hyphbot as “likely the biggest bot network” to hit the online ad industry. Jay Stevens, Adform’s chief revenue officer, gave a “conservative” estimate that, at its height, the scheme could have been generating at least $500,000 a day.

Last December, ad-fraud detection firm White Ops discovered a Russian ad-fraud operation called Methbot that it said was defrauding U.S.-based online advertisers of more than $3 million a day, a figure that some in the industry say was overstated.

Hyphbot has the potential to be “three to four times” bigger than Methbot because it spoofed more web domains and used a larger bot network to generate the fake traffic, according to Adform’s research findings, outlined in a white paper published Tuesday.

An estimated $6.5 billion in ad spending is expected to be wasted this year due to fraud, according to a report released in May by White Ops and the Association of National Advertisers. But, that amount is down 10% from 2016, suggesting some industry efforts to tackle the problem may be working.

Ads.txt is a mechanism that allows publishers to display to ad buyers all the legitimate sellers of their ad inventory via a text file on their websites. Buyers and their ad-tech vendors can crawl those files —such as thisone from WSJ.com—and know to only to buy a particular website’s ads from those listed sellers.

More than 36,000 web domains have adopted Ads.txt since it was introduced five months ago by the Interactive Advertising Bureau, the U.S. trade body said.

Publishers adopting Ads.txt isn’t a full solution. It requires everyone else in the chain—from ad buyers to demand-side platforms and ad exchanges—to sign up and ensure the files are updated and scraped regularly in order for the initiative to work effectively.

Aside from Ads.txt, Adform has also listed other suggested remedies in its Hyphbot white paper, which include encouraging ad-tech vendors to check their data warehouses for suspicious patterns of bid requests outlined in its report and shutting off associated networks.

Feature Image:

The fraudsters behind the Hyphbot scheme created more than 34,000 different domain names and more than a million different URLs in an attempt to fool advertisers. Photo: Monty Rakusen/Getty Images

By Lara O’Reilly

Write to Lara O’Reilly at lara.o’reilly@wsj.com

Sourced from The Wall Street Journal

 

 

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Is this the beginning of the end of autoplay?

You know those pesky, annoying videos that automatically start playing when you open up a new web page, causing you to mute your computer and search feverishly for the pause button, or just close the browser altogether?

Or, even worse, those intrusive pop-up ads that block the page and force you to wait for 10 or 15 interminable seconds before you actually get to see the web page at all?

Those may soon be a thing of the past.

Apple on Monday announced a new feature to block autoplay videos on its next iteration of the Safari web browser. The upcoming version will also disable trackers that allow advertisers to monitor user activity for targeted ads. Apple announced the changes four days after Google, the dominant player in Internet advertising, reportedly told publishers about plans to roll out an ad blocker for its Chrome web browser.

“It’s far too common that people encounter annoying, intrusive ads on the web,” Sridhar Ramaswamy, Google’s senior vice president for ads and commerce, wrote in a Google blog post on Thursday.

These moves are as likely to delight consumers as they are to terrify publishers.

From the consumer perspective, autoplay videos and pop-up ads are the bane of the Internet user experience. They interrupt the flow of news consumption and create a nuisance for the reader.

For publishers, including CNN, autoplay videos can be a huge revenue generator. By having videos start automatically, publishers boost their overall video audience numbers by including users who may not actually watch the videos. They then take these jacked-up numbers to advertisers and sell ad space for more money.

Similarly, some advertisers are willing to pay more for pop-up ads because they know they’re advertisements will get it front of the consumer.

With the introduction of autoplay blocking on Safari and ad-blocking on Chrome, publishers could find themselves in a bind. Google alone accounts for more than 40% of the digital advertising market in the United States, according to digital marketing research firm eMarketer.

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Sourced from CNN Media

 

By Lucia Moses

The Facebook anguish continues. A Medium post investigating declining Facebook reach has set off the most recent alarm bells among publishers. Kurt Gessler, deputy editor for digital news at the Chicago Tribune, posted that since January, the Tribune has seen a significant drop in the reach of its posts on Facebook, despite having grown its fan base.

The post sparked a sigh of validation across publishers as others chimed in on social media that they’re seeing similar declines.

 

Facebook’s news feed algorithm changes have been part of publishing reality for many years. But to Matt Karolian, director of audience engagement at The Boston Globe, “last month was probably the worst we’ve had in reach in about a year. The fact everyone else is seeing it is a little bit troubling.”

Aysha Khan said Facebook reach has also been sliding at the Religion News Service, where she’s social media editor.

“Reach spiked in the summer, and we started hitting 15, 25K reach on bigger posts that were polarizing,” Khan said. “It wasn’t just political posts, but any kind of interviews. Anything that had potential to get a big reaction got a big reaction. But then we noticed that kind of stopped, and by January, it was just gone. Now we’re worse off than we were to start with.”

The change has happened even as RNS has been doing more video, including live video, and photos, things that Facebook has encouraged. Khan said RNS is still trying, though, with plans for more regularly scheduled live video and videos generally.

There are so many factors that go into how much reach a post gets, from the frequency of said posts to the subject matter to the levers Facebook is pushing, so theories about the declines abounded. One was that the decline was local to Chicago. Other publishers in other markets reported the same trend, though.

Brandon Doyle, CEO and founder of Wallaroo Media, a social media consulting firm, said he’s seen declining organic reach in the first quarter across about 20 publishers he tracks. He speculated that Facebook is suppressing publishers’ organic reach so publishers will spend more with Facebook to promote their posts. Facebook also could be in the middle of another algorithm tweak that it’s yet to announce publicly, he said.

Other popular theories were that Facebook’s preference for video over text posts and for publishers that are using its Instant Articles format over regular links is disadvantaging some. Facebook hasn’t responded to a request for comment.

Others wondered if reach is declining for some because people are getting tired of reading about politics (“I know people who have literally unliked all the news sources they used to follow pretty religiously — maybe Facebook is responding to that,” Khan said) or Trump is raising the bar for news.

 

Lifestyle sites offered some evidence of these theories. LittleThings has been pushing hard into video, and March was its second-highest traffic month of all time, which reflects continued strong Facebook referral traffic, said Joe Speiser, co-founder of LittleThings. (LittleThings also attributes some of its success to A/B testing on Facebook, a step he says many don’t do.) “Facebook’s made very clear video is a priority,” he said. “You can go through the feed yourself. Video is everywhere.”

Thrillist chief creative officer Ben Robinson said he thinks that Thrillist’s recent emphasis on video has helped lead to an all-time high in Facebook referrals, along with the adoption of Instant Articles. While a lack of political coverage hurt the site during the run-up to the election, he said it may be seeing the flip side of that now.

In a follow-up email, Gessler said he’s working with Facebook to try to figure out what’s going on, but that he didn’t think the decline was related to politics news burnout or the Cubs’ World Series win and post-series lull. The shift seems too big to just chalk up to stories’ subject matter, he said.

“Maybe it’s a little of everything,” he concluded in his post.

Whatever the reasons, the post brought a fresh round of soul-searching and hand-wringing over the hold Facebook has over publishers’ audience. “There’s a large segment of the population that gets most of its news from Facebook,” Karolian said. “If there’s been an overall decline in high-quality news that’s circulating on the platform, that is generally concerning from a philosophical standpoint.”

If it’s true that Facebook’s preference for video is a factor, few publishers are equipped make the switch to video, nor is it clear that they should try to make a hard shift to a medium they’re inexperienced in and which most publishers can’t monetize on Facebook anyway. And just doing more video perpetuates publishers’ dependence on Facebook, which can change its algorithm again at any time, as it’s done many times in the past.

To some, the issue points to the need for publishers to diversify their audience sources through search, direct traffic and newsletters, while others registered resignation.

“In my mind, we’re kind of at the mercy of the algorithm,” Khan said. “But there’s a lot of stories that are getting underwhelming responses that readers can’t even see. It is this constant thing, trying to figure out how to incorporate it into your workflow. At one point they were pushing images, and then they were pushing video, and live video. I don’t think it’ll ever stop.”

By Lucia Moses

Sourced from DIGIDAY