Case study: the cost of placing content in online publications

Posted on 11/01/2017 by Team Hallam

The digital PR landscape is changing as some publishers are monetising what was previously editorially driven decision making. What does this mean in the evolving PR industry and what tactics can your PR strategy adopt to stay ahead in this changing market? I've researched and visualised some practical examples of the price being charged to accept your content. Often the cost can be unpredictable and seem irrational.

The changing advertising and Digital PR landscape

I recently read an article which said that Google and Facebook are expecting to take 71% of UK online ad revenue by 2020. This interests me greatly and from my perspective, working in digital PR, the main point I took from this is that the dominance of Google and Facebook, especially in advertising, has put pressure on traditional newspapers and other media outlets. They are finding it difficult to make money from online audiences.

It’s also worth emphasising that as we see print sales and advertising falling, online audiences are more important. The usual revenue streams, display advertising and reader subscriptions, may not be enough in this digital age.

What’s happening?

Sponsored content, also known as advertorials, or paid posts on bloggers sites, has existed for quite a long time now. While it’s widely known that bloggers charge brands for guest posts, as discussed in a previous blog on the future of blogger outreach and link building, I’m finding that the media are now also starting to charge for guest posts.

Over the past year, I’ve noticed the lines between editorial and advertorial are beginning to blur.  There seems to be a rise in sponsored content and it is quite prominent in a few sectors.

Publishers are now working with sponsors (PR professionals and marketers) to create content that can look very similar to editorial content. This has the potential to damage the editorial integrity of a publication, as well as a brand’s image.

What am I doing?

When I outreach with natural, unique content, I often get replies that request payment. (For those who work in PR – I even got a colour separation request recently!)

Now, I don’t just pump content into a vacuum, I specifically target relevant publications with planned content to hopefully secure coverage in online publications. I outreach to media to gain coverage for my clients through numerous different mediums including:

  • Guest blogs on media websites.
  • Feature placements – mainly trade media.
  • News-led copy – press releases.
  • Thought leadership – opinion pieces to be included in an article.
  • Visuals – like sharable infographics.

I always focus on content which offers actionable information, has a long shelf life, and engages readers. Engaging and informing audiences are two hugely important criteria with content, which in the past has been enough for online media. The content that’s being outreached NEEDS to offer value to the media’s audience. I’ve always believed that content should sell itself. My content has had credibility because it’s verified and published by the media, rather than just purchased.

I’m finding that this isn’t enough at the moment, here are a few replies from online media I got in December. I must stress that these aren’t blogs, they are online media, magazines and news sites but mainly trade press.

PR professionals shouldn’t be processing payments to secure coverage.

This is a fast-paced industry and there seems to be a growth in sponsored posts, creating a sort of hybrid of both editorial and advertising.

Having said that, PR needs to adapt to this changing landscape. I now have a budget for one client and I’m progressing with some sponsored posts. Mainly because it seems to be the only way to target high priority target media for clients. 

What I’m finding

So, over the past few months, I’ve progressed five sponsored articles in reputable online media publications.

I’ve plotted the costs of a guest post against the domain authority of the publication and also against unique number of visitors per month.

While I recognise more data is needed to give a true picture, these findings are still interesting. Sponsored posts and articles have been around for a while, but I’ve found that the cost of sponsored content on online publications is still in its infancy, especially when viewed as a marketing channel.

As you can see from the charts, there does seem to be an upward trend but if you look closely the pricing doesn’t seem to have any correlation, rhyme or reason.

Prices vary across a range of publications; for example, a publication with a high domain authority, unique visitors per month and reputation doesn’t seem to be reflected in a higher price for a sponsored post.

As you can see, for £30 you can get a sponsored post on a website with a domain authority of 17, but you can also pay £83 for a sponsored post with a domain authority of 14. Moving up the scale, its £120 for a domain authority of 50, and £180 for a domain authority under 40.

Publishers control their own pricing and standards and maintain their own criteria for the costs associated with sponsored articles. This makes it difficult to see the true value of a post.

The other interesting dynamic is that we need to be careful with links, as we don’t want to be penalised. When paying for editorial coverage, it is best practice for a link to be no follow. You should never pay for links. However, I don’t think many publishing houses realise this.

What does this mean for Digital PR?

With the growth of online content showing no signs of slowing down, the use of advertorials and sponsored content as a PR and marketing channel is likely to grow.

I think that we need to slowly embrace that this is the way it’s going, but in the meantime, we need to make our content work as hard as possible.

How can we make our clients stand out? Standing out is difficult and it takes time. It looks likedata-drivenn or larger content pieces are well received by media.

Let’s continue to create trust and credibility in editorial, by engaging readers and audiences and offering content with actionable insights.

One tactic is to take a step back when it comes to branding and identity in a piece of content. Remove branding and elements of brand identity in the piece. Avoid being mistaken for a purely promotional piece of content.

However, I do ask myself that when does the actual quality and value of a piece of content come into play, and who judges this? Also, what if a PR professional has no budget?

But, with or without a budget, paid posts continue to dictate the coverage we get for clients. PR professionals should therefore ask themselves whether paying for coverage  is worthwhile. Ultimately, if the publication is worth it, then it may be worth considering.

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Case study: the cost of placing content in online publications

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