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From defining content partnerships to why you need them — especially now 

Why content partnerships solve modern publishers’ biggest challenges

Oh the times, they are a’changing. That old adage has never proven more true for publishers than it has over the past several years.

  • Privacy regulations have been in a constant state of flux, particularly since 2018’s GDPR, with new policies and legislation popping up seemingly overnight. 
  • The “cookie apocalypse” is finally here, which means that modern targeted advertising as it has been known is changing in ways that are detrimental to many publishers. While many have heralded this industry shift over the past ten years, it seemed as though it would never actually arrive. Now, however, it appears the time has come.

Want to download this comprehensive guide? Get the ebook version, Content Partnerships 101: Why you need commerce content — especially now

Two ways publishers feel the changes

Publishers are feeling the burn of this change in two major ways. First, with ad revenue on the decline, many have been forced to remove ad space to maintain a steady value of cost-per-mille (CPMs). While this is a workable short-term solution, it can hurt in the long run. 

The second point of difficulty is limited audience data insights. Publishers are frequently left in the dark when it comes to the passing of audience data and information to and from other members of the adtech supply chain. This lack of communication makes it challenging to prove the value of a given programmatic media buy. When combined with more limited insights in general due to privacy and cookie changes, advertising in the traditional sense can seem like a nonstarter.

What’s a publisher to do?  

So, how are publishers going to not just survive, but thrive, amidst all of the change and the difficulties it presents? This ebook takes a closer look at that question and reveals the reasons why content partnerships are easily emerging as the top choice in the new world order. Publishers are standing at the threshold of a tremendous opportunity — but only if they understand how to make the most of it.

  1. Why content partnerships solve modern publishers’ biggest challenges
  1. Four reasons why advertising is dead
  1. What are publishers’ biggest challenges and how do content partnerships solve them?
  1. Common types of content partnerships 
  1. What does the content partnerships ecosystem look like?
  1. A publisher’s big question: How do I develop a content partnerships strategy?

What are content partnerships?

Content may be key to commerce these days, but unlocking its power isn’t always an easy task. Content partnerships, sometimes referred to as commerce content partnerships, offer a smart, efficient way for publishers to escape the traps of traditional advertising and forge a better, stronger path for the future.

What exactly is a content partnership? In short, it’s a mutually beneficial relationship between an enterprise and a publisher — the enterprise leverages a publication’s audience’s trust to deliver relevant brands and services through editorialized content. This form of audience engagement is more authentic, targeted, and a stronger driver of conversions for brands, which translates into a highly desirable offering that publishers have at their disposal. The ability to tap into that offering is more important than ever.

2. Four reasons why advertising is dead

The tide has long been turning away from traditional advertising models, and it’s important to have a full understanding of the whys behind this trend. In short, it comes down to four key pieces of the puzzle:

Publisher revenue is declining

Publisher revenue has been in a slow decline for the last few years. According to a few key studies and research done by Digiday,1 publisher revenue is in for a tough year. While site traffic has gone up for most publishers over the course of the past year, revenue has gone down, and the impact has been varied. Programmatic and direct-sold ads have been the worst hit, along with events.

CPMs are falling

Contracts and terms involving CPMs have come to be viewed as unreliable, with many advertisers trying to move away from these deals. This creates a challenge for publishers, and many have been forced to remove inventory as advertisers are cutting and/or pausing spending.

Distance between advertisers and publishers is increasing

Programmatic advertising, while theoretically efficient, is increasing the gap between publishers and the brands with whom they work, while simultaneously taking up a larger percentage of advertising revenue. For publishers operating with advertising revenue as a main channel, much of the margin is sucked up by middlemen, which leads to a smaller bottom line.

The Google/Facebook duopoly isn’t going anywhere

Google and Facebook are capturing an immense amount of revenue when it comes to advertising, and even the biggest of publishers are relatively small fish compared to the two giants. Direct competition against this duopoly makes it highly unlikely that publishers can capture a disproportionate amount of growth in the space.

3. What are publishers’ biggest challenges and how do content partnerships solve them? 

So, why are content partnerships a viable solution for publishers? The idea itself is not new, but there are a few critical trends that point to the need for publishers to double down efforts in content partnerships.

  1. Traffic numbers are increasing with better audience insight

With more people working from home and paying close attention to current events, they are reading, viewing, and consuming immense amounts of content. This matches a similar trend seen back in 2008 and 2009 when consumers were trying to pinch pennies where they could, and publishers were producing content around how to shop online and save money.

Both are examples of instances in which consumers were looking for content online but for two different reasons. These trends exemplify how publishers can capitalize on situations where there is increased traffic by producing smart, relevant content with the right partners. The increased readership gives publishers an added opportunity to produce more popular content for expanded audiences.

The publisher’s partnership with an advertising brand or enterprise also allows publishers to obtain additional audience purchase insight because they are able to fire an action tracker on the advertiser’s website. This solves the age-old problem of a lack of visibility caused by traditional advertising, in which advertisers generally do not allow publishers to place a conversion pixel for CPM-based campaigns.

2. Consumer spending habits are changing

As just explored, with all of the increasing views on websites and pages come clicks and conversions. Consumers are ordering more items, shopping online more frequently, and perhaps even picking up new hobbies. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau cited an increase in online purchases from 11 percent to 16 percent, which is a sizable jump. 

Many people search Google product reviews before making a purchase, and often land on a listicle or piece of content giving in-depth and thorough reviews. Given that many consumers follow this line of product review, publishers can feel confident that they can drive a lot of traffic and conversions by creating content around goods and services they know their audience will enjoy.

3. Commerce content as a revenue channel for publishers gets results

Commerce content appears to be a major source of revenue for more than a third of all U.S. publishers — and nearly two thirds of them rank it as a top three revenue source. 

3. Direct deals with brands cut out middlemen

Content partnerships allow publishers to work directly with brands. This enables publishers to bypass a long train of adtech middlemen. They avoid the need to rely on programmatic technologies, each slicing off their share of revenue before the publisher gets paid – which is often a fraction of what the advertiser originally spent. 

Additionally, direct deals enable the brand and publisher to choose and agree on different performance deals like cost-per-click (CPC) or cost-per-acquisition (CPA). This makes it possible to more closely align the incentives of the brand and publisher versus CPM, which can create misaligned expectations for all parties. Direct deals allow publishers and brands to have honest conversations about exactly what they are paying for and for what price, all backed up by data that is able to be shared between the two.

4. Once-and-done content is a thing of the past

Compared to a CPM or a fixed price/sponsorship deal, CPA-based deals provide tremendous upsides for publishers. In short, a well-written and well-liked piece of content in a content partnership is the gift that keeps on giving, which means the publisher can keep earning when it continues to drive purchases. Conversely, traditional advertising places a clear cap on potential earnings and discourages any form of longevity — and that’s by design.

Get all this great info in the ebook version — download Content Partnerships 101: Why you need commerce content — especially now

4. Common types of content partnerships

Content partnership opportunities come in a variety of different forms for publishers, but the most common is commerce content, which includes several use cases.

What are commerce experiences?

What is commerce content exactly? It’s when a publisher can use audience and trend data to inform their commerce editorial team on what pieces of content to write based on changing social events, trends, media, and beyond. From there, the publisher can surface the most competitive deals they can find to include in their articles. 

In some cases, a brand or enterprise will notice the number of conversions a publisher has for a specific product and will want to engage in a direct content partnership with the publisher. Within the commerce content use case, there are additional use cases.

Shopping experience within the media property

Some publishers have designated sections within their website or publication that allow consumers to shop for products, just as they would on a brand website. These products are often editors’ suggestions and are not paid advertising. These products have been hand selected often because they match up with the content from the publication and resonate with the audience.

This example is taken from Better Homes & Gardens. On their homepage, within the left navigation dropdown menu, there is a “shop” button that will take a reader to this page. Below each product, Better Homes & Gardens tells the consumer which brand is selling the product. When the consumer clicks out, they are taken to that brand’s website to convert via the affiliate link.

Publisher exclusive promo codes

Some publishers have separate pages built out with house coupon codes that are branded as the publisher “exclusive” promo codes. See this example from CNN.com below:

These pages operate in a similar fashion to your coupon and deal sites when clicking on the coupon and going to the advertiser’s page.

What is commerce content?

Commerce content follows a more traditional format, the type of content that consumers would see on a website like PCmag.com or Buzzfeed. These are reviews, lists of products, buyer’s guides, and other types of content that are written with the audience in mind. However, in the case of actual content, the editorial team and writers are not producing the pieces with commerce content monetization as a first objective. Rather, they are producing content they want to write and they know their readers will appreciate.

The example below comes from Buzzfeed — it outlines 27 beauty products Buzzfeed editors have suggested their readers try. It’s important to note that these are not paid placements by brands. As the paragraph at the top of the image states, “all of these products are independently selected by our editors.”

Buzzfeed receives a commission for any sale of these products through the affiliate links in the articles. These links came from Buzzfeed’s commerce content team reaching out to advertisers to see if they have an affiliate or partnership program so they can then convert relevant product mentions into affiliate links.

Commerce content examples, like the ones above, can be applied in virtually any stage of the consumer purchase funnel as well:

  • New product launch (awareness)
  • Listicles (awareness)
  • How-tos (education)
  • Gift guides (education)
  • Buyers guides (consideration)
  • Internal search — “best chrome books” (consideration/validation)
  • Reviews (validation)

5. What does the content partnerships ecosystem look like?

The content partnerships ecosystem consists of several key players, each with their own goals and objectives. Let’s take a look. 

Advertisers (enterprises/brands)

A brand or enterprise advertiser’s goal is to drive awareness and purchase intent higher up in the funnel through the affiliate/partnership channel — content partnerships is a great way to do that. Content partnerships enable enterprises and brands to prioritize and align their incentives with publishers, engage in different forms of performance contracting models (versus a high-risk, low-return CPM advertising model), and achieve a larger digital footprint from “outsourced” content marketing. 

For brands, the goal is to generate awareness and purchase intent from the consumers who are going to a publisher’s website. With content partnerships, they want their product or service to appear as a natural fit with the content rather than a traditional ad placement. They work with publishers because they know the publisher is providing solid content that will organically push consumers toward their brand.

Publishers

Publishers consist of websites or apps that have amassed a following of readers/viewers from the content that they produce. Publishers may be feeling squeezed from a revenue standpoint given a combination of things, such as falling CPM prices and advertisers cutting back on ad spend. 

Agencies

Agencies oftentimes work with brands and act as the middleman between publishers/media houses and the brands themselves. An agency might work with a brand to help that brand establish content partnerships with different types of publishers.

Commerce Editors

The editorial teams at publications and media houses are directly responsible for the content that the company produces and the foundational aspect of any content partnership. The editorial team (in most cases) has full control on what they choose to write and produce. Most of the time, when producing articles and content on products, like reviews or listicles, they are independently selecting these products and not writing specifically to appease brands or companies. It’s important they retain this unbiased approach as readers place their trust in editorial agnosticism.

6. A publisher’s big question: How do I develop a content partnerships strategy?

Content partnerships can be far more effective than traditional advertising for publishers given the sophistication of the modern consumer. While traditional advertising can be easily affected by an advertiser’s buying decisions and the fluctuation of CPM prices, content partnerships are a steadfast and reliable channel capable of providing revenue through thick and thin. 

The ultimate goal is to generate revenue by monetizing the audience you have already worked so hard to build. By working with brands and merchants, you can provide your consumers with premium content and the ability to buy products that you choose to stand behind directly from that content.

What tools do you need to build your content partnership strategy?

Building partnerships step-by-step can seem like a tedious task, but the right technology can turn it into a scaleable, efficient, revenue-generating machine. Whether you are looking to grow an existing program or considering starting one from scratch, a partnerships platform can help you make the most of your plans. 

  1. Connect with advertisers: One person or even a single department filtering through infinite potential partners? A complete time-suck. Using technology to help you gain access to thousands of brands and enterprises and the ability to work with them all from one place? That’s the power of the right centralized tool.
  1. Earn additional revenue: Yes, it really can be that simple. Working with a platform tool can empower you to facilitate additional streams of revenue and earn bigger chunks of revenue from advertisers compared to the advertising supply chain, where revenue is siphoned off by adtech middlemen. 
  1. Understand your total value: Using advance tracking and consumer journey insights, you’re able to determine the value of your partnerships and the ability to provide context and data to bolster contract negotiations. For example, conversion data that was being passed to Ziff Davis allowed them to see exactly where in the funnel each type of content they produced would be the most effective. 
  1. Get paid faster: In the traditional adtech world, you as the publisher are often the last to get paid, with some cycles stretching as long as six months or more. With a platform in place that cuts out the additional, unnecessary parts of the supply chain, you can get paid as fast as the brand can work. No blockage from other players. 

The future of traditional advertising may be up in the air, but one thing holds true: good content produces good results. And publishers who know how to leverage partnerships technology with a centralized platform can stay ahead of the competition and deliver exactly what their audiences want. 

Keep this guide handy — download Content Partnerships 101: Why you need commerce content — especially now

Want to get started on your content partnerships now? Contact a growth technologist at grow@impact.com

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