Here’s an endless cycle that plays out every day on the internet for millions of users.
You log into Facebook and find a link shared by a friend — they really want you to check out an article titled “20 crazy facts you didn’t know about Selena Gomez.” The article piques your interest so you visit the link and start reading.
As you make your way through the slideshow you notice grammatical errors and slang that isn’t used in the United States. By the time you finish the article you’ve looked at 20 horribly pixelated photos and read through 20 awfully constructed paragraphs. You’re pretty sure the content was written in 10 minutes by an outsourced writer in India or a low-cost college student who just wanted beer money for the weekend.
On top of everything that has gone wrong, the content wasn’t really engaging and the “facts” ended up being pretty bland. The portrayal of Selena Gomez’s interesting life was obviously thrown together from a few TMZ articles the author found during a lazy Google search.
Then it gets worse, at the bottom and sides of the content you spot article adverts titled, “10 horrifying things you didn’t know about Donald Trump.” Having not learned your lesson from 10 seconds prior, you click through and repeat the cycle — endlessly.
You can’t stop because let’s face it, you are inherently wired to absorb clickbait content that makes promises that, unfortunately, can’t be delivered on most of the time.
“Clickbait will always work because it’s a supernormal stimulus…but people are tired of being sent to poor quality slideshows laden with outrageous ad stacks and scammy advertorials with Dr. Oz,” explains NativeAdBuzz Founder and CEO Peter Trueman. “The only way forward is to be better.”
Here’s Why Content Quality Fell By The Wayside
As native ad networks such as Taboola, Outbrain, Content.Ad, Zergnet, and Revcontent burst onto the scene, advertisers realized the tremendous power associated with their ad formats. Specifically, the massive exposure they offered in sidebars, directly below content, and through mobile sliders. It also became quickly apparent that native ads were delivering higher click-through-rates and better overall performance for brand messaging.
Customers started clicking through ads like crazy to “find better auto insurance in your zip code,” “discover the amazing benefits of green tea extract,” and “perform secret background checks on your new boyfriend.”
“Having been part of the native advertising circle for over ten years I have seen a lot of shifts in how people use native ads to market their business. What started with primarily affiliate marketers running very aggressive blogs and advertorials promoting health products has now migrated to mainstream brands promoting their products and sites through actual branded and engaging content,” ROI Marketplace founder and CEO Joe Burton told Zenpost.
Most of the ads customers were clicking through were run by affiliate marketers who were willing to capitalize on clickbait titles that enticed readers with quick offers that were sometimes questionable but none-the-less highly purchased.
With an emphasis on enticing ads, content publishers only needed to get a customer onto their page and then wait for an expensive offer to be clicked on by the reader. If your clickbait-friendly content title was driving high click-through rates, you would pay less for each click. In exchange for your efforts as a publisher, you would earn more money for an ad click than you paid to acquire a customer.
In some ways, less than stellar content served a valid purpose. If the reader grew bored with the content they would jump off the page by clicking on a more enticing ad. You’ve lost a reader but gained precious cents by “upselling” them on high paying clickable ads while perhaps grabbing a few extra cents for the page views you generated before they jumped ship.
That’s a highly simplistic overview of content arbitrage, but it serves as a reminded that cheap clicks in and high-paying clicks out, can make for a very profitable business venture — when done right.
And Then Native Ad Networks Started To Mature
It didn’t take long for the industry’s biggest native ad networks to act responsibly and realize something needed to change. In order to gain reader trust and attract reputable high-paying brands, there needed to be a higher level of importance on highly engaging content focused squarely on quality.
“Content isn’t really king – quality content is the ultimate ruler. When brands are just churning out tons and tons of writing, but it might be terrible…all they are doing is sacrificing user engagement and trust,” says Revcontent Founder and CEO John Lemp.
Building user trust is paramount these days when delivering readers forward with ads they spot on a website. If the reader trusts the publication, they are far more likely to click on a native ad featured on that publisher’s platform.
The Content And Brand Trust Cycle
By restoring reader trust the native ad networks realized they could attract higher-end advertisers who understand how valuable an engaged and loyal visitor is to a website and an advertiser. Higher-end brands are willing to spend more on ad clicks and ultimately they complete the quality cycle for readers by providing them with highly viable products and services.
This isn’t an uncommon cycle — visit any high-quality publication with a massive audience and you’ll find featured ads from major brands. The trust created by a solid editorial calendar with high-quality published articles has lured in brands despite higher CPMs and direct ad sales.
BI Intelligence and the Interactive Advertising Bureau released a native advertising chart which showcases the rise of Native Ads. Historically, new ad formats that prove themselves effective are adopted by larger brands after an extended length of time and that’s when we see a spike in revenue driven to a new ad format. If Business Insider’s analysts are correct, native ads are about to become a new standard among major brands.
If your content is solid, brands who are finally adopting the native ad format will compete for keywords, demographics, and other variables, which in turn leads to higher bid prices for potential buyer traffic.
Technology Is Driving Quick And Massive Quality Changes
We recently wrote about the importance of contextually relevant content and the Google RankBrain algorithm. As technology standards have continued to improve, so has the technology that measures what quality content looks like and how it performs.
“Machine-learning is a new, innovative tool that is allowing content creators to tap into what content their audience is engaging with at a precise moment in time. We’re already seeing the investment in quality content paying off big for some brands, and the brands who are stuck in the past are failing,” Lemp explains.
As technology improves, poor quality content providers are being punished for churning out unedited, lazy, and contextually incorrect product.
“This trend is reflected by the likes of Google, Facebook, Revcontent, and the other large networks where scammy poor quality content is being heavily penalized,” Trueman says.
Transparency And Quality Shifts Are Driving The Native Ad Industry
“Take the time to get it right, produce quality content, and watch your metrics skyrocket with increased time on site, pageviews, and loyalty. The only way to win consistently online these days is through quality content,” Trueman explains.
It’s also about transparency as Revcontent has learned through its own industry research.
“Any audience can see right through clickbait or spammy content these days, and it no longer flies. As an industry, we should focus on being as transparent as possible with users, and we believe this transparency will heal a lot of consumer issues — fake news, ad-blocking, etc,” Lemp explains.
The results can be clearly seen with Revcontent’s recent announcement that the company is now serving more than 250 billion ad impressions every single month. NativeAdBuzz on the other hand now analyzes more than 5.1 million native ads in real-time. That’s a lot of content being published and products and services being advertised for a relatively new industry and among just one native ad network and a single content analyzation platform.
The Dramatic Shift In Quality Hasn’t Gone Unnoticed
The moment Revcontent began to place a heavy emphasis on quality content major brands took notice. The company’s efforts over the last year have landed such massive publishing brands at CBS, IDG Enterprise (MacWorld, PCWorld, COMPUTERWORLD), International Business Times, and Reuters, among many other top-notch publishers.
Massive brand reach has flooded the network with quality brand advertisements that are quickly replacing green tea, bed bug, and diet pill ads.
The shift to quality content has spurn investments in companies like Zergnet — a platform that focuses on publisher-only content.
“This will open the door for brands and other product-driven advertisers to use native to deliver a message to their consumers,” Burton explains.
“Picture Ford writing an engaging piece about how their new design is predicted to be 10x safer than a model from just a few years ago, or a rehab facility writing an engaging piece about several lives they have saved with their service. This will not only help publishing sites see a great mix of content that their readers will enjoy but also help advertisers create new streams of advertising options,” Burton adds.
NativeAdBuzz, a platform where millions of native ads can be analyzed in real-time for performance and competitive analysis, has also jumped heavily onboard of the quality content push.
Trueman said during a phone call with Zenpost that his team has been working closely with their partner networks to emphasize quality over quantity.
Because NativeAdBuzz promises to help top-notch publishers discover and create winning campaigns, the company has only maintained partnerships with networks that are placing a focus on quality content. The company examines user engagement which is strengthened by quality content, accurate messaging, and other general best practices.
NativeAdBuzz closely examines user engagement which is strengthened by quality content, accurate messaging, and other general best practices, giving the company a deep understanding of why quality matters for both readers and brands.
After signing an exclusive deal with RevContent, Steve Suthiana, Global Head, Digital Media and Operations of Mansueto Ventures (Fast Company & Inc.), said it was a focus on driving a high-quality product to their reader base that led to the company’s decision. “We are excited to enter this partnership with Revcontent in the international market, and we believe the company will be able to provide exceptional value to our users.”
Why The Shift To Quality Content Matters For The Native Ad Ecosystem
In 2016, content strategy and distribution firm Giant Media found that brands were flocking to native ads at an increasing rate. The survey revealed that 86% of brands were planning on spending more money on native.
That study followed a Business Insider projection which stated that native ad spend would reach $21 billion in 2018, up from just $4.7 billion in 2013.
With bigger brands demanding higher quality content, the native ad networks that cater to reader loyalty through best practices are likely to win a larger chunk of the industries ad spend.
High-end publishers want to be associated with trusted brands and that means more exclusive deals for native ad providers who deliver the best user experience through their publishing partnerships.
So What Does This All Mean For Publishers?
If you’re a content producer and you’re hiring low-quality writers who churn out content en masse, you’re in trouble. No longer is it a viable business model to shove content down a reader’s throat with the hope that they will click off your poorly constructed clickbait articles in order to earn you more money.
A publisher can no longer push quantity to readers with the hope that they will click away from those poorly constructed click bait articles in order to earn more money.
Instead, publishers need to layer their editorial process with quality controls that ensure every piece of content is well-written, contextually relevant to the subject at hand, and ultimately, trustworthy.
Google’s RankBrain algorithm will penalize your content for poorly constructed sentence structure, competitive analysis providers will eliminate your content if it won’t serve customers well, and native ad networks will shy away from signing lucrative exclusive deals if your publication doesn’t meet high-quality content standards.
The Rising Costs Of Quality Content At Scale
When Dave Polykoff started Zenpost he realized a need for high-quality viral content and hyper-focused brand messaging. Having worked in the tech space with a focus on growth hacking for more than 18 years, I’ve noticed a lot of drastic shifts in SEO and general content practices in recent years.
Gone are the days when a keyword stuffed article with “padded” content will entice Google to rate an article higher in search. Paid link placements, thanks to new FCC guidelines are also going the way of the Dodo bird and providing less algorithmic value to publishers looking for an increase in SERP.
Instead, context matters, quality is paramount, and great storytelling is highly recommended.
Of course, quality content comes at a cost. Writers need to be vetted and trained, editors need to be hired, and systems need to be put into place to avoid plagiarism and other issues. Look around the content space these days and it’s dominated by tech companies who are attempting to streamline the content creation process.
With the need to hire extra layers of editorial support, publishers are now faced with an HR dilemma. We’ve learned at Zenpost that for every 50 to 60 5-star writers we hire, about 5 will stick around and become actively engaged content creators. Freelance writers tend to jump to jobs that interest them, and many stellar writers ultimately land long-term gigs as copy editors, technical writers, etc. We celebrate these awesome writers but that doesn’t stop the fact that churn is incredibly high in the freelance writing space.
For publishers, the churn of writers and editors oftentimes leads to an HR mess as they deal with numerous 1099 forms for contracts, handle payments to multiple content creators, and then turn around and continue to scout out new talent.
On a regular basis we run into publishers who have slowed content production not out of want, but rather because they are finding it difficult to find, train, and keep good writers in-house.
Editor-related expenses can also become burdensome. A decent editor can easily demand $40,000 to $80,000 per year. If you publish 100 articles per month on your news portal or viral trending website, that equates to nearly $41 per article edit on the low-end. Even at mass scale, an in-house editor can easily add $10 to $40 per article edit.
At Zenpost we decided to focus on the ability to streamline the writing process, perfect the editorial workflow, and provide content delivery services and topic generation for our clients. Essentially, outsourcing the newsroom so our clients can focus on the business development side of their business.
Quality content is desperately needed but expensive. Quantity is desired but operationally is a mess for many companies looking to scale and general newsroom operations are a headache.
As for Selena Gomez, here’s a fact worth sharing. She’s a huge advocate for various public works. She’s an ambassador of DoSomething.org, promotes a safe driving through State Farm, and hosts an annual charity concert for UNICEF. She’s young but doing amazing things for the fans who have supported her for years.