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Online Publishing: Lindsay Lohan vs. Immigration Reform – Which Is More Valuable?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Online MarketingSEM & SEO

The Good News

There has been a lot of interest in Perfect Market, Inc.’s “Vault Index Summer 2010,” which argued that “hard” news stories are more profitable than “light” stories when the value of advertising clicks between the two types of stories is compared. In other words, advertisers pay publishers significantly more for clicks from ads on hard news stories pages than ads on soft news pages.

For example, stories on immigration reform generated $26 per 1,000 impressions, while stories about Lindsay Lohan’s sentencing generated $2.50 per 1,000 impressions. The deep news story’s clicks were more than 10 times as valuable.

Here’s the release:

Also, a study by the University of Pennsylvania showed that deep, interesting (or “awesome,” as they put it) stories generated more “sharing” – i.e., the stories were emailed, blogged, tweeted, shared on Facebook, etc.

Here’s the NY Times story:

This seems like encouraging news to folks who despair of the web’s vapidness. However, if you dig into the stats, it isn’t clear that “hard news” or “awesome stories” can be profitable or stand on their own.

The Hard Questions – Long Term Value and the Bottom Line

First, SEOmoz, a search engine optimization expert site, found that Perfect Market’s data was a bit flawed.

Specifically, SEOmoz wanted to see:

  • The value of the links brought in from those stories

In other words, what sites are linking to the story and how much traffic or how valuable (from an advertiser’s point of view) is their audience? Do these visitors click to other stories, too? This data is critical for search engine optimization, and can be measured with the right tools.

  • The branding impact of the visits generated

Will visitors think of the website for hard news in the future? Does the story increase the site’s stature and value to visitors who read the story? Learning the answers to these questions is a little more difficult, but would provide valuable data to a publisher.

  • The value of sharing activities from those visits

This is what the NY Times article is about. Did visitors email the article to friends? Did people subscribe to RSS feeds or email updates when they visited the article? Did visitors post the article to Facebook or tweet the article? This is data that all online publishers should be gathering as a matter of course.

SEOmoz is questioning whether, in the big picture and for long term revenue, the hard news stories are as valuable as the click revenue suggests.

Here’s SEOmoz’s article:

Second, neither SEOmoz nor Perfect Market discussed the cost of the content itself – a critical piece of data when analyzing profitability.

“Soft news” is cheap. Let’s face it – any idiot with a digital camera and blog can create a controversial post about a celebrity. Good, solid journalism requires expertise, resources and hard work. In other words, quality content requires time and money.

For a publisher it might seem that the real question is: if a silly story about Lindsay Lohan costs 10.01 times less than a story about immigration reform, why not turn your site into Gawker or TMZ?

Fortunately for democracy (and our brains), analytics is confirming what smart publishers and editors have always known: you need a balance of news, entertainment and opinion. Fluff brings in eyeballs, serious stuff keeps viewers engaged and sharing, and they all make money in their own way. The trick is figuring out how to allocate resources and content so the publication is profitable.

Solid analytics will help.