Wednesday, 1 September 2010


Optimizing Content to Improve Engagement and Conversions
If you allow users to participate in the making of a product or service, you demonstrate unequivocally that they are an important part of the process rather than just a recipient of whatever you think is best.  We’re moving from the limits of the age of mass production to a new age of mass individualization.  Not only will people get used to it, they will demand a level of uniqueness in every product and service they consume. 

Most media publishers however are only interested in increasing returns on marketing investments through improved conversion and engagement - - and are still missing out on opportunities to increase conversion. For example:
• 80% do not promote content based on performance metrics,
• 46% are spending less than five hours per week optimizing onsite conversion,
• 80% of respondents do not serve personalized content to visitors,
• 70% of the promotional content decisions are made by one person, unsupported by data.

There are many opportunities to immediately begin improving conversion. Automated tools exist that encompass testing and targeting, as well as onsite search and content recommendations to help improve engagement on existing site traffic.  A tremendous amount of time and money go into building an audience for your online media properties. Therefore, it’s imperative that you maximize the value of that audience by ensuring the experience these visitors have with your content is both relevant and rewarding.

Whether the main goal may be to boost subscriptions for premium content, increase page views to promote growth in advertising inventory, or extend the amount of time visitors spend on your site - - often a company’s goals will include a combination of any or even all of these. Regardless of the desired outcome, online publishers today are looking to leverage their content and its presentation in ways that propel site visitors toward a desired action.

Traditionally, publishers have engaged with their audiences by operating under the adage “content is king”—the publisher with the scoops and exclusive stories had the competitive edge. But in today’s modern publishing world, this old adage, although still relevant, carries far less weight. While having exceptional content remains a prerequisite, the Internet has transformed content into a ubiquitous resource that is difficult to own or differentiate.   Online content is highly perishable, and—by and large—free. Audiences are more fickle than ever, and almost nothing prevents them from quickly jumping to another site to find the information and the experience they are seeking. Today, media sites have to be more than just relevant— they have to resonate with viewers.

While the challenges in today’s media landscape are vast, so are the opportunities. Audiences can consume content virtually anywhere, on multiple devices, and this translates into the chance for publishers to reach media consumers across many touch points. Public places such as coffee shops and airports are equipped with Wi-Fi access to make content and news constant companions. Social media sites have made media consumer’s active participants in the publishing process. New mobile devices make it possible to consume content on the go, and in ways that were not possible just a few years ago. All of these trends have transformed and expanded the media ecosystem dramatically and have significantly increased media companies’ opportunity to inform, educate, and entertain consumers.

Along with these diverse new opportunities for distributing content, most media outlets are also sitting on enormous opportunities to improve the performance and revenue generated by their existing sites. In fact, many media outlets today focus immense budgets and energy on driving traffic to their websites—while investing far less on making proactive changes to their site that facilitate visitors’ ability to accomplish what they came to the site to do in the first place.

According to 2009 Forrester Research, targeting online content drives productive visitor activity—yet marketers currently deliver targeted content to only 24% of website visitors on average. Forrester further states 58% of marketers reported an incremental lift in conversions over the control group by 5% or more as a result of using relevance tactics. Content and messaging delivered with contextual meaning for website visitors—derived from current session activity or historic profiles—consistently outperforms generic one-size-fits-all content.

Today, to distinguish oneself from the competition and improve your sites performance, optimization is key. Publishers must tailor their homepages and article pages based on visitor behavior and preferences, rather than executive opinion or reaction to competitors.  All too often, designers, marketers, and executives come together as a committee and negotiate website concepts and copy based on assumptions. Or, site redesigns are completed in a rush when a major competitor launches a new design or experience that makes your site look outdated. Some companies turn to focus groups and research that provide valuable data points but can only tell you so much about who your visitors are and what they want from your website collectively.

Drive to relevance
The online media experience, first of all, must be highly relevant to each individual visitor. Repeat or new visitors must easily find tailored content on your home and article pages that is pertinent to what they are searching for, and sometimes, where they live, what season it is, and other variables. Pay special attention to your article pages—most media companies concentrate on their landing and home pages, but the article pages are the place where visitors are likely to spend most of their time and form opinions as to the relevance of your site to them personally.

The second major theme is efficiency. From the very first click, visitors need to have a relevant, fulfilling content experience on your site. Visitors need to be guided with speed and ease to article pages that meet their intent and fit their interests. They have little time, so they need to be consistently rewarded for coming to your site by finding relevant content through easy navigation.  In the media space, it is vital for visitors to feel connected to your site—almost as if they have some ownership in the experience. Visitors need to be comfortable with your navigation and layout and they need to trust that you will provide exceptional recommendations for additional relevant content. Empower visitors to become active contributors in the experience if they wish. Give them opportunities to interact with the content itself.

In order to build a sustainable loyalty with your site visitors, they need to feel immersed—and a key part of that involves transforming them from passive observers into active participants. Don’t be afraid to solicit comments, ask them to fill out forms, or sign up for newsletters. With the options for site visitors to comment on articles or quickly and easily share stories with their social networks, visitors are more interested than ever in taking an “active editor” role in their online media experiences.

If you are asking site visitors to share personal information about themselves in exchange for greater-value content or services, tell them up-front and clearly what they will receive in return if they sign up for a subscription, newsletter, or other premium content.  Make any forms short and intuitive and give customers reinforcement at appropriate points during the process that highlight how and why they should trust you with their personal information. Prove to them that you will provide them with increased value and a greatly enriched experience.

New formats and PLATFORMS
Keep in mind that you have many opportunities to optimize and differentiate your media site—even for visitors who are not sitting in front of a computer. Today, you have the opportunity to extend the visitor experience to a variety of mobile and wireless devices to provide a more engaging, immersive experience to media consumers. New digital media technologies not only deliver increased engagement by immersing readers in the ads and content and allowing them to interact with them, but also offer better ways to measure and optimize content and ad effectiveness than traditional print magazines.

Companies can use in-depth editorial analytics, customer demographics, and advertising analytics to improve the effectiveness of content and ads.  The same tools that you use to optimize the content on your website can be used off-site as well. Whether you have an app designed for Android, a monthly newsletter, or an upcoming display ad campaign, each represents customer touch points that you can and should optimize.

The media landscape is changing faster than ever, especially in a world where content must share its throne with experience optimization. Now, rather than relying solely on scoops and exclusives, publishers have an unprecedented opportunity and requirement to tailor content and speak to media consumers in personalized, meaningful ways. Online media companies now have the chance to communicate to audiences across a wide array of devices and allow people to explore and interact with content like they never could before.

The key to success in today’s fast-changing media world is to let consumers vote with their clicks and then respond to those clicks by improving your online experiences based upon what you have learned. In a changing landscape, you can mitigate risks and successfully challenge the status quo by presenting multiple media experiences and navigational schemes to your visitors and then continually testing and optimizing—with huge potential upside.  Companies that continually optimize are deriving significant competitive advantages and achieving dramatic returns.

The proliferation of online social media represents a fundamental shift in the way people obtain information. Instead of companies or institutions, people can now get the information they need from each other. Naturally, brands want to remain relevant to their customers, and this means being more transparent and accessible. What your brand should really have is an overarching strategy that may or may not include social media tactics - - depending on whether they make sense for your customers or not. Start from the customer and work out. Understand your audiences, including demographics, attitudes and beliefs, cultural realities affecting their lives, and technology adoption. 

And if you need help, we’re happy to assist.
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Goodbuzz Inc. is a Toronto-based Digital Ad Agency that creates social media campaigns that entice consumers to play, create, and share brand experiences. Visit Goodbuzz or join the conversation on Facebook.  Note: Any / all product names mentioned in this document may be trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies and are hereby acknowledged.