How to Monetize Your Website in Today’s Publishing Environment

In order to define distributive publishing, we have to ask the following question: If you have quality content, but nobody sees it, does it even exist? The answer is no, because your content needs to be supported in a way that lets it move seamlessly across all channels, especially site, search, and social. But let's take this question a step further: If you can't monetize your content to generate the support it needs, how do you create quality content in the first place?

It's a tricky catch-22 that haunts marketers and publishers across the digital space. Clear ROI driven by content marketing and digital advertising has a history of being far from tangible, but it's becoming clearer as technology advances and users mature.

Now that a few years have passed since Facebook's fake news fallout and misuse of data scandal, platform dependency has subsided. This has resulted in more opportunities to create sustainable revenue for publishers. Still, if one lesson can be learned from the maturing age of social, it's that relying on one outlet for survival is not a great idea. Just like content diversification is key to growth, using a multipronged approach is just as important for any monetization strategy.

Here's a look at some of the best ways to generate ROI in today's digital climate.

To Create Any ROI, Performance Is Everything

In late 2018, Google revamped how they measure page speed. PageSpeed Insights now includes new data from Google's Lighthouse platform. Lighthouse is a tool built into the latest version of Google Chrome that helps you determine how well your site is performing, and tells you which pages on your site need improvement.

These new updates ushered in harsh scoring for desktop and mobile page speed performance, and many top publishers saw their pages report failing scores. Google has set a high bar for the open web, and with users ready to consume content off the platforms, the change comes at a vulnerable time.

To put it simply, you can't monetize your site if it takes too long to load and instantly turns users away. In Google's eyes, the faster your pages load, the faster the search engine is able to crawl and index them. If it takes too long for Google to crawl the content of a website, it's possible not all pages will get indexed, making them less discoverable in search results. With Google edging out Facebook for top referral traffic, this means every publisher's SEO strategy has to be flawless, and it starts with a high-performing site.

A faster page speed also means a better user experience, and a boost for your bottom line. That bottom line can be significant, considering sites that load in five seconds experience 70% longer average sessions compared to sites that load in 19 seconds.

The PageSpeed Insights scores for a RebelMouse-powered property.

At RebelMouse, we've made performance our top priority this year. Click here to learn all about how we do it.

Users Are Ready to Pay for Content

Think of the internet as being in clean-up mode. As the platforms work to make their offerings safer and profitable for publishers, the ad space is getting easier to navigate as well. Users are maturing along with technology, which means the stigma around paying for content, usually via a paywall, is subsiding.

Recently, The New York Times reported a new high for paid digital subscriptions — 3.3 million, which is a 27% jump from 2017. The news outlet has a goal of reaching $800 million in digital sales by 2020. While it seems publishers like The New York Times already have a massive enough audience to grow digital subscriptions, the paywall model is gaining steam across the industry. In the UK, subscriptions are serving as a driving force of growth for digital revenue, accounting for a 15% increase over the previous year according to the Association for Online Publishing.

The rise of subscription success can be attributed to an ongoing prioritization of user experience. Users are ready to consume content that isn't held hostage by ads and obtrusive slowdowns, and it all makes perfect sense. The subscription model eliminates the middleman — such as the platforms — so readers get the experience and content they want, and publishers get the cash they need.

Stats from a client powered by RebelMouse using a subscription model.

We've seen incredible success with paywalls for a variety of different media companies. Click here to learn more.

A Modern Approach to E-Commerce and Direct Sales

The steady prioritization of user experience becomes even more relevant in the world of direct sales, including e-commerce. It's estimated that the number of online shoppers will rise to 230.5 million by 2021. The rise of online shoppers also means that competition will increase. For the first time ever, big-box brands have to compete with small buyers on Etsy and similar sites for the same audience. What sets each experience apart is ease of use and personalization.

RebelMouse client PAPER Magazine's collaboration with Neiman Marcus.

For example, publishing conglomerate Condé Nast is not only committed to a subscription model for all of its publications in 2019 as evidenced by its launch of Vogue's VogueWorld — a digital brand that combines style with e-commerce. Pairing the effective content strategy of Vogue with an e-commerce twist is the kind of differentiation that will set digital retail efforts apart. To succeed in direct sales, the experience has to be built for the buyer, not the seller. Buyers in this climate are more compelled to find a shopping experience they can relate to rather than scroll through.

More of PAPER Magazine's collaboration with Neiman Marcus.

Click here to learn more about our modern e-commerce solutions.

Leverage the Rise of Influencers

The start of 2019 saw a number of writer layoffs at major publishers, including Mic and Vice. Feeling crushed by the unpredictable swings of the platforms and the failure to monetize their own tech stack, many in the industry find themselves at a crossroads on how to generate revenue.

However, the answer is not to fire writers. In fact, your writers are more important than ever. Even small creative teams equipped with the right tools to create quality content can reach massive audiences and drive fruitful engagement. In order to do so, they need to tap into the existing universe of creators. The industry has seen a tremendous swing toward influencer marketing, and even micro influencers are overtaking celebrities and accounts with huge followings, accounting for up to 40% of brands' ad spend.

Every brand and new media company already has an audience of influencers that can be leveraged with the right support. That's why we've upgraded our community engagement features at RebelMouse. Our sites can leverage multiple communities at scale through a robust user journey that makes it easy for influencers and writers to contribute to your digital presence. Whether these contributors are monetized or used organically, they help validate your brand's message in a way that's transparent and relatable.

A look at RebelMouse's Community Dashboard.

Click here to learn more about leveraging the creators who are already passionate about your content.

The Power of Brand Storytelling

Media companies are increasingly finding additional and impactful revenue by providing creative services to advertisers instead of only selling their audiences through banner ads. Thanks to the aforementioned universe of creators, it's now easier for brands that were once shackled by their legacy reputations to create dynamic content hubs. These content hubs can produce beautiful stories that expand your brand's personality via a humanized approach to digital strategy. In fact, branded content is quickly becoming an industry standard. 84% of people expect brands to create some kind of content.

An example of a sponsored content placement on RebelMouse-powered Motherly's site.

There are a number of key ways to make brand storytelling work effectively while drumming up revenue at the same time:

  • Sponsored Articles
  • Sponsored Landing Pages
  • Content-First Ads
  • A Full Brand Content Hub

RebelMouse client United Airlines' #HerArtHere campaign.

For more information about each of these key offerings, including how we implement them for impactful revenue, click here.

Advertise With a Priority on UX

When it comes to the more traditional display style of advertising, publishers are faced with risking the now-coveted user experience more than ever. This means publishers are forced to work harder than ever to keep traditional ads on their sites for a couple of different reasons: 1) Users have become increasingly blind to ads and/or use ad-blocking software to completely remove them from their content experience, and 2) advertisers, in turn, demand that their dollars only apply to viewed ad impressions.

Here's the secret: Audiences are fully aware that advertising exists, and that it's a necessary trade-off to freely consume your awesome content. But it has to be done in an elegant way that doesn't impact page speed (we've come full circle now!) nor obstruct the way users consume content because they will click away.

Since user experience is so important, our platform has a multidimensional ad manager that lets our sites optimize their ad experience, including automatic lazy loading to ensure faster page speeds. Our ad manager can support a mix of media too, including video ads.

Above is an example of how easy it is to customize ad behavior on RebelMouse.

For a full overview of our intuitive and user-focused ad integrations, click here.

Understand Social's Advantages and Limitations

The idea of social ROI has always been a bit ambiguous to say the least. This is why it's important to leverage the strengths of the platforms without ever relying on them completely.

For example, a best practice is to take advantage of offerings that increase readability, such as Facebook Instant Articles and Google Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP). These options combine coveted load times and user experience with options to monetize. On the flip side, these options are only an extension of a broader, varied ad strategy that uses multiple channels to create revenue.

Social platforms also serve as a great way to learn more about your audience. Through the use of targeting, social platforms make it easy to learn about the kinds of demographics that engage with each particular piece of content, allowing you to adjust your monetization strategy accordingly. While at times it may seem like the age of social is truly over, it's important to remember that social channels still remain a gateway to massive new audiences. 68% of Americans were using Facebook as of early 2018, and 73% were using YouTube. With that, it's up to your own content and site experience to take them past the feed.

Foster relationships with social audiences using RebelMouse's organic growth tool Discovery.

RebelMouse has integrations with Facebook Instant Articles and Google AMP to make cross posting a breeze. Click here to learn more about our social Discovery tool to unlock your audiences on social.

Find Your Monetization Strategy

The beauty of each one of these ROI opportunities is that they can be mixed, matched, and blended to create a strategy that makes the most sense for your website. Because if this industry has taught us anything, it's that it takes more than one strategy to create a broader digital architecture that's not only profitable, but personable.

If you're having trouble monetizing your own site, request a proposal today. Let's start working and making money together.

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Our Core Web Vitals drastically outpace every competitor, and we have the receipts

In an effort to build user retention and increase conversions, publishers are making a common mistake. They're adding more features to their websites, including ad placements, but losing sight of the main revenue driver: user experience.

The key to unlocking user retention lies completely in site performance. Currently, publishers are trying to build optimized websites that translate easily across devices and platforms, but fail to deliver an experience that checks all their boxes and prioritizes their readers. It takes less than a second of delayed load time to turn away a user. This is why Google has made page speed a top ranking factor on search, and shepherded the entire open web's newfound prioritization on site performance.

Game Changer: Google's Core Web Vitals Announcement

Google cemented its seriousness about page experience with the announcement of its Core Web Vitals measurements in Google Search Console. Core Web Vitals are three specific metrics that Google uses to determine a site's overall usability. While these data points will evolve over time, the 2020 version of vitals consists of three specific metrics:

Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): A website's LCP is the time it takes to load the main content on a page. Google wants LCP to happen within 2.5 seconds of when a page first starts loading.

First Input Delay (FID): This metric quantifies a user's experience when trying to interact with unresponsive pages. This usually occurs between First Meaningful Paint (FMP) and Time to Interactive (TTI) (more on what these two mean below). You want your FID score to be low to prove the usability of your site. According to Google, pages should haven an FID of less than 100 milliseconds.

Cumulative Layout Shift Score (CLS): CLS determines how often your users experience unexpected layout shifts or changes on a page. To ensure visual stability, you want your CLS score to be low. Google wants pages to maintain a CLS score of less than 0.1.

From Google.

Google says Core Web Vitals scores will be considered across every page, and will be a ranking factor in its Top Stories feature. While relevant quality content will always be the most important, the page experience ranking is now a make-or-break metric for your site's survival.

"A good page experience doesn't override having great, relevant content. However, in cases where there are multiple pages that have similar content, page experience becomes much more important for visibility in Search." —From Google's page experience announcement, May 2020

Core Web Vitals will determine every site's performance score. You can see your site's Core Web Vitals specifically via Google Search Console, but your website's overall page performance is measured using Google's PageSpeed Insights and Lighthouse tools.

At RebelMouse, we guarantee a performance score of 90 or higher via PageSpeed Insights. To do this, we've built out a platform infrastructure that exceeds industry standards on Google's key metrics, particularly its Core Web Vitals, outperforming most industry leaders.

You can read more about how we've mastered Google's KPIs here. But the truth is in the data. Below is table that provides a snapshot into how RebelMouse-powered sites score:

And here's what the scores look like for some of the biggest sites on the open web:

As you can see, there's a lot of data Google takes into account even outside of Core Web Vitals. Here's a quick summary of the other important metrics that Google trusts to measure page performance:

First Contentful Paint (FCP): This metric measures the time from click to the time when a user's browser renders the first bit of content from the Document Object Model (DOM), which is your site's HTML structure. According to Google, this is an important milestone for your readers because it provides signals that your page is loading.

First Meaningful Paint (FMP): This is the amount of time it takes the most important content, what Google calls "hero elements," to load on site. Hero elements are different for every site, but should be intuitive based on your content. This metric helps determine your site's usability.

Time to Interactive (TTI): This is the most important metric to keep an eye on. This is when the site is fully rendered and ready for user action. This is a critical point when slow load time can occur, usually because JavaScript or other complex content hasn't fully rendered. So, in short, think of TTI as how long it takes for your site to load in its entirety.

Total Blocking Time (TBT): TBT measures a page's load responsiveness to quantify how long a page is non-interactive prior to becoming interactive. You want your site to have a low TBT to maintain its usability.

Speed Index (SI): SI is the measurement of how quickly the contents of a page are populated. You want your speed index score to be as low as possible.

Creating quality content is only half the battle in 2020, and publishers are already burdened with the around-the-clock task of creating content that resonates. This is why quality content must be supported by modern technology that can keep up with the speed of the web. RebelMouse provides publishers with a CMS that supports the new content lifecycle with an editorial suite designed for reach on site, search, and social.

Click here to read more about our modern approach to web performance. If you want to make performance a priority, request a proposal today. We can easily transform your site into one of the fastest on the web, giving you increased user retention and better conversion rates than ever before.

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