Why publishers need to focus on personalized content

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While personalization is taking the rest of the world by storm, digital media publishers seem to be late to the party.

Although leading digital publishers like Buzzfeed and Huffington post are starting to transform their digital experience, the sector as a whole remains way behind the likes of retailers, and more importantly their tech counterparts like Facebook.

At the start of 2014, almost half of adults on the internet were consuming their political news from Facebook (State of the News Media, April 2015). In between games of Candy Crush and sifting through baby photos, people were taking the time to consume their news where it was most convenient for them.

Facebook expedites the normal search process because the content it serves them matches preferences the platform knows they are interested in. It places content at readers fingertips. The result? News publishers that are working hard to create this content are losing page views on their own sites, and as a result of losing those page views ultimately losing revenue. Over a quarter of display ad revenue and a third of mobile ad revenue is solely earned by Facebook (State of the News Media, April 2015).

That’s not to say that news sources aren’t beginning to make the transformation to optimize their digital experiences and gain back those page views. Top digital publishers are beginning to test different headlines and inline imagery to see what’s more appealing to their overall user base, and some are delivering more personalized experiences to signed in users in apps, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. Making way for deeper personalization in content consumption is the future of the media industry.

Publishers are already collecting a huge amount of data and using it to retarget users with advertisements—but if they focused on using this data to understand their users for the purpose of content delivery, that could make the data exponentially more valuable. It could even allow publishers to influence their editorial strategy and avoid the creation of irrelevant content altogether.

The most important thing for publishers to take away is that the data they are collecting is only as valuable as its use case. In an age where media consumers are opting out of advertising and installing ad blocking applications, it’s barely a worthwhile mission to intend that data be used to target different segments of users with various display ads. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to advertisers though, who are openly embracing the rise of native advertising. Native advertising is still advertising though, and unlikely to receive an overwhelmingly positive reception from advertising saturated consumers (Hubspot, February 2016).

Evolving advertising alone is not the answer. Content, including custom advertorial pieces, and the way that the content is distributed needs to evolve. This means truly understanding the consumer and shifting both the editorial and distribution strategies based on those learnings. Publishers need to depend less on self-segmentation and more on true behavioral insights on both their signed in and anonymous users. They need to understand exactly what users are consuming, how and where they are consuming it, and when and why they eventually leave the site. Taking those insights to make actionable changes and develop more relevant content is what will ultimately keep a digital publisher successful as the future of media evolves.

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