Move over Content; UX is the New King in Publishing
It is going back some years since Bill Gates famously said, “Content is King” and we all took up the mantra. Now though, if we follow that analogy and look at the relevance of the monarchy to modern society, it has importance, but the king and queen certainly don’t rule and govern our lives as much as they used to (at least not in the UK anyway). So where does this leave “content”?
Maybe “content is still king”, but with publishers increasingly looking for ways to monetise their content, it feels as if all the good stuff is drowning in a sea of mediocrity. And even when it does succeed in reaching an audience, the well-written, well-constructed content now faces being hidden below adverts and behind paywalls.
Maybe it is time to rethink how editors and publishers approach the content/readership/advertiser ecosystem. For me, one of the key answers lies in looking after the true readers. Not the link-bait or ‘share-before-I-read’ type user, but the interested and truly engaged reader.
After all, thousands of social shares is good, but when did quantity suddenly start trumping quality?
Perhaps we can rewrite the phrase. How about:
“Customer care is critical” ?
“Focus on the user and all else will follow” ?
“Users should be made to feel like royalty” ?
Okay, admittedly one of those was stolen from Google!
Google has openly stated that they focus on the end-user believing revenue, profit and all other measurable benefits will follow as a result. How many publishers can honestly claim that the thing they do first is sit down and work out if the piece they are about to write is aimed at their core demographic to inspire thought or change opinion? Or is it more a case of just another article? Many online publishers write content seemingly with an attempt to spread it like a virus, often with little substance or meaning… “that’ll get the ad revenues in”.
But surely, this is a short-sighted view?
Lest we forget that we are all customers. In fact, we are now all customers with more choice than ever before. Gone are the days when you could just count on brand loyalty because you were the only publisher in town with a given viewpoint.
So, if you irritate your users with endless advertising ‘innovations’ such as the annoying off-topic advertising video placed after the first paragraph of an article (how ridiculous are they?), or a pop-over window pushing a newsletter subscription (grrrr!), you will be gaining a page impression, but at what cost? You could be losing a (potential) loyal, engaged customer?
Must it be that way? I for one, hope not.
There are some good publishers working hard to ensure UX is as important as the content and ensuring users are treated as valued customers, not just numbers to sell more advertising impressions at.
Some good examples we have seen, include:
Sponsored sections or articles. The page/section should be created in keeping with the style and feel of the overall site and make it clear to users that they have simply paid for the privilege of getting their brand in front of the publisher’s audience. See the below examples from BC living and Canadian Family sites.
Innovative tech. There are interesting products like 1pass that allow publishers to put a paywall on specific pages or content that they deem valuable. The price can be set by the publisher on a per article basis (rather than the user having to become a subscriber) which then gives users a choice.
Tiered paywalls. Allowing users to buy the right subscription to have access to the level of content and access they wish to purchase rather than a one-size-fits-all subscription model.
Also watching Dan Ariely’s video on choice is a must!
On-brand signup. Newsletter signup should be a positive choice a user decides to make. They should not be slapped round the face with a sudden pop-over disrupting their reading experience. Anything that draws attention away from the experience the user is enjoying is likely to upset and annoy. But done well - introducing the opportunity of a newsletter signup - a user will happily provide some basic details if you are clear what kind of content you will send them, how frequently and provide decent opt-outs.
Relative and contextual placement. Sounds obvious, but if a user is reading about football, they will understand adverts selling football equipment, publications and the like. Put a washing machine advert up, and it just feels like mass marketing and disruptive. Even worse, apparently users end up with ‘banner blindness’ - they just ignore it.
We do understand filter-bubbles and predicting user preferences is prone to error (e.g. football fans do buy washing machines, so they are not mutually exclusive) - but surely keeping adverts close to the context of the content is better than random ads?
In our disruptive video example highlighted earlier, the video after the first paragraph advertising a third party product, why not work that bit harder and ensure the product placed is in keeping with the article ethos? Make it less disruptive and actually in keeping with the readers’ thought processes. Okay, you might get less click through rates, but the upside is that you are less likely to annoy the user and increase the chance of a repeat visit.
Selling other services. How about an article without adverts but instead offering other paid for activities like loyalty clubs, competitions, giveaways, VIP access? Diversification of revenue streams is often a good thing.
This is not to be dismissive of the ad-funded model - quite the contrary. We know this is a critical revenue stream for publishers, done well it makes for a pleasurable experience - hell even one a user might enjoy! Done badly, and our prediction is that publishers will lose traction, audience respect and market share rapidly.
We'd love to chat more about some nifty features and products we have built that we think can help achieve all objectives; looking after customers, increasing brand loyalty, and driving revenue.