How to build a publisher’s revenue strategy that actually works

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Media companies are under a lot of pressure to meet requirements of their readers and their clients. According to a research from eConsultancy, 40% of publishers describe their digital ad revenue as shrinking or static in 2015.

Publihsers revenue


Among the causes of this decreased revenue, we have Adblock on the rise. This cause is not, tough, a bad news for publishers, it can be taken as a motivation to improve their digital advertising and revenue streams. Like any other business type, you only make money when you make your stakeholders happy. In the case of publishers, stakeholders are readers, if you start to inundate them with unwanted and unrequested pop-ups, banners and things of this sort, automatically you can expect your business to suffer too in the long run. Even if you might be able to sell a few banners, you can’t think that in the long run people will like them.

To support my statement, research shows how ineffective and annoying banners are and this could be enough to convince you that it’s not the right decision to take, or at least it’s not the right commercial pathway to success. When it comes to a commercial decision on how to increase / create new revenue for publishers, there is another way. I am not saying that the following way is “the way”, that you must use it, but it’s a suggestion on how to improve your revenue as a publisher.

The most obvious option to make money for publishers is to increase and repeat the audience share. The biggest are your readers, the more you can charge clients when they want to buy advertising spaces for you. You might argue that increasing the audience is something that requires time, investment and skills. The other option is to make your audience so of high quality that your clients cannot live without. You know they say “Content is king”, we can say “Audience is king”.

1- Social Media audience

Now, the challenge on how to increase the audience can be done with $0 budget. How to do this? Simple, increase your social media followers. There are plenty of guides on how to increase your followers on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

The reason why I suggest to increase social media followers for publishers is that it has been demonstrated that social media, Facebook in particular (despite my dislike for the privacy issues of the platform), are the best audience generators, both in terms of volumes of new visitors and returning visitors.

Social Media are not your competitors; they are your allies. Even the Domnic Carter, Chief Commercial Officer of the Times, one of the UK biggest Media and News company, said in a recent speech at Technology for Marketing in London (which I have attended), that they use Social Media as their allies.

Sharing news on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter needs a mini strategy on its own, there are plenty of best practices to follow for link bait, building better headlines, how to engage people on social media, etc…it’s not in the scope of this article to explain what these strategies are, maybe I can produce a new article just on this topic.

Anyways, the main point is that growing your audience on your website by improving those visitors’ channels sources can increase your value to clients.

In the company I work for, one of the most frequently asked questions we have from clients is: “How big is your audience?”. We are in a B2B environment, we produce news for a specific niche of people that we can count to the thousands, not the millions. We talk about news in the workboat and offshore marine industry, we don’t provide global news and issues. How many readers can we possibly get in the entire world? Even with our best marketing efforts and with our biggest investment, we are not able to get more than 2,000 readers a day on www.maritimejournal.com.

But because the volumes are small, our clients are not impressed and this causes confidence issues with our sales and business development team, who are constantly challenged on how to justify the value of our advertising spaces, whatever they might be.

No matter how many times we tell our clients that our audience is composed of quality people, that our readers are CEOs, Chiefs of Marketing, Chief Engineers, Naval Engineers, Project Managers and all the people in the top management positions within the maritime industry; no matter how much emphasis we put on audience quality; no matter how many times we repeat that we are not in the numbers’ game, clients still are not impressed.

The solution to this issue like I mentioned before is building an audience. When I say this, I don’t want to contradict myself, I am not after the volumes, what I mean is that social media can be used to create a pipeline of readers that are loyal to your brand.

The next step is getting rid of banners and focus on delivering quality information to your new acquired audience. This is when native advertising comes into play. Because I mentioned the issues with Adblock before, native advertising has the big advantage of not being blocked by adblockers. Native articles, sponsored articles, editorial pieces that are sponsored by a client and fit into your brand guidelines are the next product that could generate enough revenue.

The other reason native ads are a good idea is that it provides information to readers that they wouldn’t have found otherwise. This about a product review (sponsored), a new event to attend description (sponsored) and new product release from a company (sponsored), these are all piece of advertising that provide useful information to readers, for this reason marketers avoid to pronounce the A word (Advertising) when it comes to native, it’s not really advertising, it’s an approach to revenue that has a higher value for both stakeholders: your readers and your clients.

2- 4 native advertising best practices

The first thing to keep in mind when writing a piece of native ad, is that you are not an editor (unless of course you are), you are primarily a marketer writing a piece of content that is paid for. So the first thing to do is the following:

  • Mentioning the sponsored side of the article. Transparency is critical, you have to say that the article is “sponsored” because people are not stupid, the most critical minds will leave your site and never come back if they notice you are trying to fool them.
  • Add another level of transparency by informing your readers who promoted the article so for example you can add a “Sponsored by Coca Cola” so you give an idea of who asked for this native article to be published on your website.
  • Next to the sponsored and promoted by… you need to add the company logo, this will deliver recall and it represents an added value for your client who is investing in your audience. Required brand logo 1:1 aspect ratio and 50 pixel minimum.
  • Mobile experience. Make sure the native ad is visible on all these components from a mobile perspective, you don’t want to miss the opportunity of your readers changing devices.

3- Keyword research audience

In addition to the audience you already have on your website and the audience you have created on Social Media, you can also – if you have the skills – find new audience by keywords using search engines. AdWords and Bing are two places that allow you to access new audience on the widest possible scale. By utilising keywords, search engines can bring new targeted audience to the native article, thus amplifying the effect of your audience reach.

4- Put everything together: you got a new product to sell!

Ops, you got a new product to sell! The native side, the social media element and the search engine component are three elements of a new product for your clients.

What am I talking about?

If you put these three elements together, you have created a bespoke package that delivers access to not only your audience, but also new targeted audience using a combination of paid posts on social media, AdWords and a sponsored article on your website.

The advantage of the three elements put together is that you can drive traffic from social media and search engines to a sponsored article. In this way, you can offer added value to your clients because you solve them a few problems:

  • Finding new audience online for their sponsored article
  • Getting targeted traffic based on keywords, social media demographics and your own website’ audience
  • Get the opportunity to talk extensively about their new product/ service in an article of 1,000 words or more;
  • Not being blocked by Adblocks, if alternatively, they would use banners to promote something
  • Produced new traffic to the client’s website;

On the other side, you have provided real value to your readers by:

  • Giving information and details about something new
  • Provided transparency on who and why wrote the article
  • If you wrote right, you also entertained and informed with videos, images and interesting content.

5- The skills to make this happen

As with every new strategy in business, you need the right people at the right place.

For the article production, you need editors that are willing to sacrifice a bit of their editorial integrity towards revenue by producing sponsored content. This is not easy to do, sometimes editors refuse to get themselves involved into something that doesn’t offer journalistic value. If they refuse, you need to hire a content marketer or train the editor, the choice is yours.

AdWords specialist, someone that can conduct keywords research for the specific client and the specific sponsored article, so to offer a bespoke AdWords campaign tailored only to the specific client.

Social Media Manager, someone who can run paid ads on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and possibly Instagram or any other social media that you believe your audience is involved in. You can learn yourself from unlimited tutorials on YouTube how to start paid ads on social media. This should be enough to start making a few campaigns.

Business Development Manager, the person who can make your leads enthusiastic about your audience and the whole proposal, has experience in sales and can easily explain complex digital marketing campaigns in simple terms.

6- The revenue potential

Once you got the package together, you have given it a name, produced some brochures and trained your business development team, the last step is to figure out how to make money out of this. The package obviously has some benefits as discussed above, but it’s up to your organization, your team, your resources to decide how much you want to charge your client.

But I am happy to give a few considerations and advices. Make a P&L scenario to understand what are the expenses for running this product and try to figure out, from the loss number, the breakeven number. For example, if you need to spend £5,000 as an organization every month to make this product attractive to your clients, then you need to divide £5,000 per the number of sales you can make. Is this 5 or 10? If it’s 5 sales a month, then you can charge each client £1,000 per native article, plus related components.  If you, instead, can sell 10 of these packages, you can charge £500 per client. Or you can follow this guide.

The decision is totally up to you and your organization, you can decide whether you want to increase revenue or number of clients. If it’s revenue you should charge more, if it’s client you can charge less to make client acquisition an easier target.


Making money for publishers doesn’t have to be a hard and long process, it can be simple and straightforward if you know how to add value for your clients and your readers.

The new product package is a pure product development process that needs some skills in digital marketing. But as you have seen, it can be done with $0 budget, if you have experience with social media and AdWords.

You can also take AdWords out of the game (or Social Media), if you don’t know how to use it and never ran a campaign before. In this case the value you provide is a bit smaller but still very attractive. Just remember to put the native sponsored article in the centre of your campaigns and drive traffic there to amplify the audience.

This way your sales team won’t miss the confidence necessary to sell the right stuff to your clients, the value is there, benefits as well.


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