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Manufacturing Indaba 2018

Time to lay these digital publishing myths to rest

Digital publishing and advertising is a sophisticated, high-tech industry where we have an array of statistics and metrics at our fingertips, thanks to the wealth of data we collect in ad-serving systems, web analytics tools and other digital systems.
Yet, even though we have access to hard numbers that disprove them, a range of common sense myths prevail and lead many marketers and publishers to make bad decisions when selling and purchasing inventory. Here are four widely held beliefs about digital publishing that are at once completely intuitive and utterly wrong.

The click is the commodity

Even now, with a variety of other metrics at their disposal, publishers still attach an inordinate amount of value on the number of clicks their stories attract and use these clicks from unique readers as their major selling point for advertising. But the assumption that a click means the user is engaging with the content is fatally flawed.

Data from real-time analytics firm Chartbeat shows that less than 50% of people who click on a link hang around long enough to engage with it in any meaningful manner. As a publisher, you should be focusing on dwell time instead - on getting users to read, share and comment on your content.

As an advertiser, you should remember that deeper engagement with editorial means a greater chance for engagement with your ads. Look for deeply engaged, qualified audiences that are a match to your target market rather than chasing impressions and unique users. After all, someone that bounces as soon as they click on a link won't have time to interact with your ad.

Above the fold is the best spot for your ad

Advertisers fight for the banner at the top of the page, believing it to be the prime spot. Guess what? As soon as a user lands on the Web page, he or she will usually scroll down past the top banner to the headline right away.

Stats from Chartbeat show that content that is below the fold gets two thirds of the user's attention. The best placements, therefore, are those in the midst of the content below the fold.

The homepage is the most important page

As publishers, we often look to our homepage as the most iconic and important design on our site. We agonise over this one specific design, all too often giving it priority over our actual content pages. After all, impressive front pages are how newspapers get sold, right? Unfortunately, this reasoning doesn't carry over to online news.

The percentage of overall traffic landing on homepages of online publications is getting smaller and smaller as SEO and social referral are becoming larger sources of traffic for online publishers. This means that, with a few exceptions, the majority of traffic lands not on publishers' homepages but directly on content pages. Many publishers have started updating their sites to improve link density and related content to reduce bounce rates and make every content page to start feeling like a homepage.

Content with the most shares is the most popular

Many publishers and journalists are proud when their stories generate buzz on social media channels. But before you get to excited about a story that generated hundreds of Facebook likes or Twitter tweets, it's worth looking more closely at the impressions and engagement the article got from your readers.

You'll often find that your most popular pieces actually were not that popular on social media, while those that spread around Facebook or Twitter didn't bring that much quality traffic to your website. The harsh truth here is that many people share stuff on social media without bothering to read it. The research from Chartbeat and our own experience shows no correlation between how many readers a piece attracted and the time they spent on it, and how much it was shared in social media.

Closing words

Digital marketers and publishers are as susceptible to following common-sense prejudices as professionals from other industries. As these four myths above highlight, we can improve performance of digital publishing and advertising when we pay close attention to what real-world data tells us, even when it seems counterintuitive.

About Pierre Cassuto

Business development manager at Kagiso Media Pierre Cassuto looks after growing the Kagiso New Media business via innovation, strategic initiatives and partnerships. Relatively new to the world of publishing, he gained extensive experience in both marketing and advertising while working for Ogilvy in Paris and then Johannesburg. He helped TV, digital and film production company, Both Worlds, launch ZANews, now SA's most awarded online comedy show. Cassuto holds a Bachelor of Business Science from the University of Cape Town.
Justin McCarthy
Very well said! Delighted to see some common sense coming through in this space.
Posted on 21 Jul 2014 17:42
Tommy Land
Great article.
Posted on 21 Jul 2014 21:04
Adie Ceruti
This is exactly how we are playing in this space with Africa Geographic's Digital platforms and l fully agree with what is being said. Advertising agencies need to wake up and realise that there is a lot more to digital than meets the eye. Fantastic article!
Posted on 22 Jul 2014 14:37
Digital advertising by its very nature is a real problem for me. The fact that ads are sold by page impression or click-through leads to all sorts of issues. News web sites are designed to generate as many page (and ad) views as possible. This is their currency. This makes for crappy reader experience. The ads are transient and disappear far too quickly. The news pages are also transient. See something today that you like, unless you have the url, its hard to share your experience with someone else. (Did you see that article on Bizcommunity yesterday? Chances are you won't find it again.) I propose that 1. News site are published in EDITIONS similar to a printed copy (not pdf). You should be able to read a complete edition (current or historical) at any time.2. Ads should be permanently linked (not dished out by some algorithmic server) to articles and sections which can then be referenced again later. 3. There should be a lot less linking. Digital news readers are very happy to keep on scrolling (ala Facebook). I know this sounds retro but between editions, permanent ad and a happy reading experience, you will attract readers and advertiser.
Posted on 22 Jul 2014 17:15
Stuart Magooze
Superb Article. On a similar note. I am so tired of agencies telling you " we gave you 10000 visits to your site." Yet they are unable to tell you how many of those 10 000 visits turn into potential customers. I would rather have 100 quality visits, that generate 50 good sales leads than 10 000 visits that give 10 leads. Its just vanity business. Through simple tools such as Google Analytics you can track all of these thing. Conversion optimization is something that is becoming more and more important. For those of you that are not sure what Conversion optimization is all about, have a look at this brief explanation :
Posted on 23 Jul 2014 09:22