Dorian Benkoil

Geo-Location Services Provide New Opportunities for News

Knowing where someone is as they consume media can be a powerful tool in the hands of a journalist, publisher or advertiser.

And as use of GPS-equipped mobile devices has grown, so has interest in and competition to provide location-based services such as tailored news and information, advertisements, coupons, travel guides and more.

Recently, it seems like every digital media and advertising conference has sessions about things like “geo-location” and how to provide local services on mobile devices.

The Ad:Tech conference earlier this month in New York, for example, had three geo-location seminars with executives from:

  • Geo-location services Foursquare, Loopt and Gowalla, all of which let users “check in” from where they are, give and receive recommendations, receive rewards and communicate with friends on the services. Foursquare is the leader with a reported 4 million users as of October.
  • Companies such as, which aggregates and assembles news by geography from multiple providers.
  • Mobile service providers such as AT&T and Virgin Wireless, which have a deep interest in people using more of their services on handheld devices.
  • Advertising agencies that have used geo-location services on behalf of clients.

Notably absent from the panels was Facebook. The 800-pound gorilla of social networking
nevertheless stole headlines during the conference by announcing that its location-based Places service, announced this summer, now had a “Deals” feature that let businesses reward customers with special offers for checking in.

The promise Deals and its competitors are providing has been a holy grail of marketing. If a restaurant or store, for example, can send you a 25 percent off coupon when you’re a half-block away and looking to eat or shop, that’s a strong incentive to go in.

If a coffee shop gets you to keep checking in, and in the process gets you to repeat the establishment’s name to friends and family on the app, and perhaps automatically send it through to Twitter and Facebook, the value is clear.

News and other content providers, too, are storming into the local mix, with the hope of capturing advertising dollars.

At the Paley Center for Media in New York mid-November, AOL CEO Tim Armstrong spoke of an initiative to “digitize towns” and put information relevant to them online, such as from schools, government and religious institutions. Every town should have about 8,000 websites he said, two to four times as many as he said they usually have now. That’s in addition to AOL’s Patch hyperlocal news service, which has announced plans to have 500 news sites up by the end of the year.

AOL was working to “micromonetize at a ZIP-code level in each town,” Armstrong said, by combining content and location. “Eighty percent of commerce is still done locally,” he noted, saying local was one area that still provided huge opportunities.

Opportunities for News Organizations

Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley said at Ad:Tech that he didn’t know how the company would create a real business, but that ideas included not only location-based advertising and loyalty cards, but also providing services such as articles about places people are visiting, and using the data Foursquare is collecting on users and their habits to “create a whole bunch of products the other guys will not be able to go after.”

For a local business, “Foursquare is Google Analytics [measurement software] for the people who walk in your door,” he said.

News organizations will want to play attention and be ready to provide the content the location services need and want — restaurant reviews, event information, real estate listings, even hard news — relevant to the spot a user happens to be. While services like Yelp and Craigslist have already grabbed some of the review and listings share, news organizations still have a strong brand presence and ties with local businesses they can exploit in the community.

Newsrooms, meanwhile, can monitor the services to see what trends, news or events might be getting attention in specific locales, and get a new layer of information and sources in addition to what they glean from social media like Twitter and Facebook. As one example, people may check in at a local performance or other event and become eyes and ears the news desk can reach out to for content.

On the business side, news organizations can structure deals in which local advertisers’ ads on a website are enhanced with information on loyal customers provided by a geo-location service, and rewards are offered online to encourage more of the same.

But it also will pay to be cautious and make sure to structure any deals carefully to allow the news organization to reach users on whatever location-based service they happen to use. It’s hard to see how all of the new location-based services will survive, and there’s bound to be a shakeout. Don’t restrict your organization to a single location-based service, when it may turn out to have less presence in your community than another.

While the battle over geo-local rages, new opportunities are being created for news providers and local businesses. Now’s the time to monitor the services and move toward using them. Read more


As Social Media Grows, What Will Become of the Plain Old Banner Ad?

“The death of display advertising has been greatly exaggerated,” Randall Rothenberg, CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, said last week at the trade organization’s MIXX conference.

True, rectangular “banner” ads, in-stream video commercials and other so-called online “display” advertising accounted for more than a third of the nearly $23 billion spent on Internet advertising last year, according to David Silverman in a PricewaterhouseCoopers report prepared with the IAB.

But there was another 800-lb gorilla in the room at MIXX. Social media such as Twitter and Facebook are rapidly becoming venues where marketers connect with customers and spend dollars that previously may have gone to more traditional Internet ads.

Dick Costolo, who was just named Twitter CEO, talked about the power of the platform and its new advertising efforts, such as Promoted Tweets and Promoted Trends. Investor Yossi Vardi, who helped launch the ICQ chat standard, likened the future of social media to “the future of civilization,” quoting founder Jeff Bezos as saying the likelihood you’ll buy a car is 500 percent higher if a friend recommends it.

Even as Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, touted the ways that display ads can be used on Facebook, many at the conference discussed how social interactions on fan pages and through its Open Graph (formerly Facebook Connect) get consumers to buy at a much higher rate than advertising alone ever has.

So is social media killing display ads?

Display ads growing, but…

A closer look at the Pricewaterhouse study shows that while display ads ticked up to a 35 percent share of ad spending in 2009 (from 33 percent in 2008), search grew by the same 2 percentage points but a higher dollar amount (from 45 percent to 47 percent). Search’s share has risen sharply over the past four years while banners have been essentially flat.

Plain old banners, too, are declining in relevance. The money spent on ads sold on an “impression” basis — that is, based purely on someone seeing them — is down sharply compared to “performance” ads that require an action, such as a click. That trend is likely to continue.

YouTube executives at the conference introduced their new “cost-per-view” advertising format, in which a viewer is given a choice of which ad to see in a video, or given a choice to skip an ad after five seconds. The marketer pays only for a video that’s been shown.

The effectiveness of these ads, said the executives, can be 10 times as high as for interruptive ads (the term for any type of ad that delays the user from accessing the content he seeks).

New startups from high-profile entrepreneurs are also offering to help advertisers get into the social stream, promising higher effectiveness than from display ads.

Two days after MIXX and a few blocks away at the Web 2.0 conference, Jonah Peretti, a cofounder of The Huffington Post, showed off new startup BuzzFeed, which in May closed an $8 million second round of venture capital financing. The company, now in beta, uses some of the same technological and editorial techniques of HuffPo to inject conversations prompted by marketers into the social stream while trying to score viral hits.

Social media as salvation, too

Whether or not BuzzFeed or YouTube’s initiatives succeed, they’re clearly part of a trend of marketing dollars moving away from typical banner ads and toward user interaction and social media.

Publishers earning revenue from display ads priced on impressions will find themselves competing over a shrinking pie. Hearst Corp. CEO Frank Bennack Jr. noted at MIXX that there is “no longer an inventory shortage” for advertising as there once was in magazines and newspapers, and that his companies’ online publications need more than just advertising revenue to survive.

There is some hope for display ads, though — and it’s based on social media and the ability to customize ads based on user interaction.

Showing off new display ad products still being tested, Barry Salzman, Google’s managing director for media and platforms for the Americas, said that by 2015, 75 percent of ads will be “socially enabled.”

His colleagues showed new “dynamic display advertising” formats that allow on-the-fly customization as a user interacts with a site, as well as the ability to change ads via the social stream. In one case, as someone types in a ZIP code on Google Maps, a rectangular display ad next to the typing is customized to that region. Other ads, some of which exist today, allow companies to put live Twitter streams and comments into a banner.

This means publishers will have the chance to make money from their visitors by enabling them to interact with ads in the same way they are now encouraged to interact with a site’s main content. (Publishers still will have to maximize revenue for each ad placement by serving the highest-value ad in each spot and by creating other revenue streams.)

As marketers become more savvy and demand more proof of user engagement, publishers will likely have to offer marketing formats that show clients that they have gotten users to engage not only with the site, but also the brands that are advertising on them. Read more

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Rafat Ali Seeks to Re-imagine Travel Guide Industry for Mobile

After traveling around the world for the last two years, paidContent founder Rafat Ali has a new venture. In a separate Q&A, he describes why he wants to avoid the business of covering news.

Here, he discusses how the travel guide industry piqued his interest and how he started to explore whether the industry can be re-imagined for mobile devices.

Dorian Benkoil: Could you tell me about what you’re working on?

Rafat Ali: One of the sectors that I’m deeply interested in, and very likely my next venture, is going to be in the travel guidebook sector.

And that’s born out of a few things. One is, as people who have been following me on Facebook and Twitter know, I have been traveling for the last 24 months. I have been to five different countries and all kinds of various places, and as a result I think it’s fair to say that I’ve caught more than the travel bug, and have also been using all kinds of guides, whether it’s books or research online, or a bunch of mobile apps.

I think there is an opening in the market that I can help address in the travel guidebook sector, particular as the sector gets re-imagined in the mobile arena. If anything says mobile, travel guide says mobile …

Exactly what it means for me and what the final thing I’m going to be working on will look like, to be honest, I don’t know yet. What I have done is launch a site, a blog, which is what I know best, about the travel guide sector called, which essentially is the daily links that I’m posting as I learn about the sector. …

Can you tell me more about your intentions with mobile and things you want to do?

Ali: It’s obvious that the scope for reinvention of the guidebook is on the mobile platform. Clearly, online there are too many sources of information. Most people start their research on Google.

So how do you as a startup or an established brand rise above the noise? I think on the mobile platform that becomes slightly more clear, because by the time you’ve reached the mobile platform, you’ve already done pre-research of where you want to go.

At a destination … you need a guide, whether that’s a printed guide or a mobile guide. Just making an e-book out of a guidebook is not enough. Some of the guide companies have done that. That’s not even taking advantage of the medium, which is a live medium. Mobile is a connected medium, so there a lot of things that you can do. And that’s what I’m trying to figure out.

This seems rather different than what you did before. This a vertical, but you’re not really talking about covering a vertical, and you’re not talking about doing a news media company.

Ali: Correct. Also, this is a consumer vertical, not a B2B vertical, which I’ve done previously. When I started thinking about leaving, and especially as I was traveling, I think one of reasons I was traveling so wide was to clear my head and also figure out what I want to do next.

One of the things I did not want was to do something in my comfort zone, which I’ve been doing previously for the last eight years of my life. The easiest thing for me would be to take that vertical building knowledge and apply it to another B2B vertical that I can apply the same treatment, which is fast-breaking news, bite-sized chunks, analysis, opinion, data, research. Add conferences, add classifieds, add video — all the elements that went into ContentNext and paidContent, and all the stuff that I’ve done. …

In business to business, everything is incremental, right? You get this many visitors or this much money, you hire another person. Or you do this much, and you expand. And the audience growth is also incremental — it never is exponential — which is good and steady. …

But having covered the consumer companies, I’ve always liked the high that comes with the exponential growth. If something clicks, that’s the high I want to experience at least once in my life, however naive that sounds. But of course there’s good and bad. Good is if you get that high. Bad is you can flame out so much faster. …

Isn’t everything you’ve said about news applicable to travel guides? Whatever brilliant content you get, brilliant applications you build, brilliant platforms you get them on, there is other content. Others with just as few barriers can do the same thing you’re talking about with travel.

Ali: Yes and no. I can’t explain for two reasons. One is I will disclose more than I’m willing to. And secondly, I’m still learning. The reason I say no is because for something where people have invested a bunch of money to go a certain place — especially destinations outside your own country — the planning and the guide part of it cannot be left to chance, which is left to brands that are untested and not well-known.

From a consumer point of view, if they’re investing so much money and time and effort to go, there has to be enough security, in terms of when they’re taking a guide, whether it’s a book or it’s mobile. It has to have reliable information. They can’t be stranded in the middle of nowhere without knowing where go.

I’ve learned this being a traveler, and learning about the travel industry. While it seems to be the easiest thing to get content, it’s one of the hardest, backbreaking kinds work that these guys have done over the last 20, 30, 40 years, which is how long these guys have been in existence. … It’s not just creating something one time; it’s updating that is also extremely difficult, especially outside the popular sectors. …

But there are four or six established brands I could name. Even in the backpack sector, the high-end sector, there are a couple or three brands in each.

Ali: If you look at the numbers in the travel guide sector, all of them, especially in the last couple of years, have declined.

Of course, those are secular trends. The print part of the guidebook sector is in decline. It’s also cyclical because travel in the last two to three years has been hit by the economy, and [that will continue] for the next couple of years, in all likelihood.

It’s also why I’m looking at it as an opportunity because now is the down cycle, and there are probably things to start and things to pick up that will be much cheaper now than they will be in a few years.

I do think brands matter in this industry. Imagine the content dropped into these books. I mean, a company like Lonely Planet, just as an example, has 800 different titles. Imagine the amount of content that is built into those books. How can a startup even begin to rival that, even if all they’re doing for the next five to 10 years is gathering content?

So what’s your opportunity?

Ali: Maybe not in the travel content industry but maybe an allied services thing that will become a hit. It could be a technology. It could be a way of presenting these books on these platforms. It could be search in the travel guide sector. So I don’t know yet, to be honest. That’s what I’m trying to figure out. Search certainly seems to be an interesting opportunity.

If you do create the brilliant application, brilliant technology, sure that gives you a head start. But somebody else could come along and create another brilliant technology that somehow undercuts or steals or improves upon what you’ve done.

Ali: Hopefully I will be that person.

Again, there are slight risks in going public for competitive reasons or even talking about it in the posts that I did. But if your competitive advantage is silence, I don’t think that’s a huge advantage.

I feel like I’ll learn more being in a public forum, as I say in my post [on the site], and also I’m getting e-mails from people in the sector, so clearly I’m already getting more opportunities than I would have just being silent. Read more

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paidContent’s Rafat Ali Describes Grim View of Online News’ Prospects

In 2002, after unsuccessfully trying to get a reporting job, Rafat Ali launched, a blog about the business of media. The site gained a following, then sponsorships, and became a leading voice in the industry.

With paidContent as the flagship, Ali built ContentNext, which included a network of four blogs, industry conferences and research and ContentNext Dex, a financial index of the largest companies paidContent followed. He sold the company to Guardian Media Group in 2008 for millions of dollars and spent the next two years traveling around the world.

This July, Ali went out on his own again, launching a Tumblr blog called, an exploration of the travel guide industry. (Details of that new venture are posted separately.)

In a Skype call, Ali told me why he doesn’t want to be in the news business and why he believes it to be such a tough industry right now. He also shared tips on what it takes to succeed as an entrepreneur in any Web-based business, but especially in news.

Below is an edited transcript of my conversation with Ali, a friend for whom I have also done some work.

Dorian Benkoil: Earlier you told me that you don’t want to be in the news business anymore. Why not?

Rafat Ali: I don’t want to do news covering news media. So, media covering media, I think that almost surely is over for me. While the story of transformation of media is a great story, I think there’s just too much talk about it, and to some extent it is just an echo chamber, people talking to each other. There’s more talk about the talk than actual action.

Plus, back when I started almost nine years ago now there weren’t any sources talking about the digital media content industry. Of course, we were the first ones to do it. And as the site grew and others came into being, there were a lot of other sources talking about it.

So, it’s not as if there’s any dearth. There’s plenty of news, analysis, and surely opinion about the industry. In fact, there’s an information overload about the industry.

Surely I will be speaking going ahead about the industry at business conferences. I may be writing columns here and there about the industry as I go on, but it’s not something I’ll be doing from a news perspective.

What about general interest news?

Ali: As for the larger news industry, I think the economic challenge is too high for both startups or even established companies. … I think the macro-economic conditions in the news sector, all of which are obvious to us, are too difficult, in general.

Not to say that people should not try. But I’ve burned the candle at both ends and the middle for the last nine years. For me the burn, being in the news industry, is too high to be there for the rest of my life. And that’s really my reasoning.

I’ve worked hard enough, given a lifetime’s work in the last 12 years to the news industry — which I think will not miss anything if I am not part of it.

Yes, there are technology innovations… I am obsessed by new things like Flipboard that are trying to present not just news but also things which [are] a large part of news such as Twitter and Facebook. It’s a layer on top of the news.

But I can say that while the innovation there is great, the monetary potential isn’t clear yet. It could be big or it could be nothing. While I enjoyed the risks, I certainly do not want to be beating my head against the wall when clearly the wall, is if not collapsing, is contracting.

You talked about the macro conditions, the wall “if not collapsing, is contracting.” Can you say more about what you mean?

Ali: For any vertical, B2B or consumer, we have learned [that] for most of the sites, whether it is in tech or any other sector, that beyond a certain point they don’t scale. But the Web is still all about scale. Ad models are based on scale. Audience models are based on scale, despite what everybody else says.

Yet, the growth in terms of revenues for any of these are incremental. If anybody is saying otherwise, they just are kidding themselves. As somebody who wants to do something on a larger scale, that for me is disappointing to say the least.

And on the part which is non-vertical, whether newspapers or online sites and stuff, [you could] go mass, as Huffington Post has done. But clearly Huffington Post is not the trend. It’s an exception. It’s a beast that is on its own. It’s very difficult for anybody else to break through.

Also, the consumer is clearly in control here. In the news sector, for the consumer, media is whatever he or she wants it to be. They can assemble all kinds of sources into any form or shape they want. Flipboard is a pure example.

Does that scale in any predictable sense as a news provider for you to make a business model out of it? I would say long-term, probably not.

What about hyperlocal news? AOL has reportedly kicked in $50 million for Patch. Main Street Connect, which I was involved in, has raised more than $4 million.

Ali: Yeah, but look at any of these. Patch, if anything, has been a patchy start to begin with and they will admit that themselves. They’re putting a lot of money into it.

Content is hard. All of these players, they’re trying to do local, but on a national scale. Companies like Patch will have hyperlocal stuff, but at the end of the day they will have a larger presence and economies of scale, and the back end will be similar for all of those. Sales teams will be optimized across all of those networks.

But it hasn’t worked, really. None of those have at this point shown any long-term sustainability, not even Yahoo Local, honestly. Particularly being part of Yahoo News, it should be a huge operation. Yahoo News should be the biggest site on the Web. Yahoo itself is making enough money — but compare that to the audience that they have.

An interesting one I’m watching these days is TBD, which is run by Jim Brady. It’s interesting and seems to be making a decent amount of noise, and to have decent enough resources behind it, but only because it is part of a big media company that has deep pockets, Allbritton [Communications], which owns Politico as well.

Another technique that companies are trying is to grab hold sector by sector, niche by niche. Business Insider and (where I was editorial director until 2007) are examples.

Ali: True. But speak to Henry [Blodget, the founder of Business Insider]. He will be the first to tell you — he will shout out loud — that scale matters. For him it’s all about page views, and whether you agree with him or not, that’s what he is all about, transparently. This is the reason he has not focused on just one vertical. He’s launching 10 verticals and within those verticals, his techniques are well-known by now. That’s not to say that what he’s doing is wrong, that’s just the reality of the business.

Mediabistro is also in a similar situation where its owner is trying to figure out, “OK we’ve done this in one vertical, but that’s only a mid-level success — or at least scale — how do we go from there?” So [Mediabistro owner] Alan Meckler will be the first one to tell you they’re buying stuff, moving into other fields as well. Most will not work. Not because of the company, but just because that’s the nature of the business we’re in.

In any kind of networked model, there are one or two stars and the rest of them are just subsidized because of the stars. I mean, look at what happened with Weblogs Inc., which is now part of AOL. There, there were a couple of big stars that essentially were carrying the rest of the sites.

If you look at the Gawker model, wait till you speak to [founder] Nick Denton. What he’s done, to his credit, is trim his unsuccessful sites very quickly, quicker than even some of his readers would want him to do.

And, again, he’s an exception, not the trend. Just because Gawker’s done it, Huffington Post has done it, doesn’t mean everybody else can do it. [They] have a special sauce that, in large part, is driven by the brilliance of the founders, and that doesn’t mean the model can be replicated by everybody and anybody.

It’s not that I’m bitter about the sector. It’s just that I’m bearish on the sector, on just the larger news sector going ahead, as a business proposition. That’s not to say there isn’t a societal need to cover all the stuff that the whole industry is covering. It’s just that I, looking at it as a business opportunity, am bearish on it and I’m not the only one thinking about it in that way.

It seems like you’re saying platforms and code and applications are the thing, and the content that runs through those platforms and applications is not where the true opportunity is.

Ali: Yes, as a purely business proposition. And even some of the applications at the end of the day that are based on the news industry. I mean, look at a prime, prime example like Digg. Perhaps you saw the chart [recently] about the decline of Digg. I can now sort of rub my hands in glee and say I saw this coming three, four years ago. I saw it coming the day BusinessWeek did the cover story saying that this is the $60 million kid. …

But if a brand like Digg, which at one time was one of biggest drivers to news sites, is in decline, whatever the biggest driver of traffic is now to news sites (outside of Google) — which today is Facebook — that’s not to say that that referrer of traffic will not go down.

You’re saying that Facebook will go down or won’t?

Ali: I don’t know. The only constant in the news industry is change. And how do you build a lasting brand, a business in that kind of sector? There’s too much undercutting. The fact of life in the news industry is everybody undercuts everybody. Everything undercuts everything. Every new technology undercuts every technology, which will then get undercut by a new technology that will come along.

As a rational human being that wants some stability in life, how do you create lasting in businesses in that sector? It’s pretty hard. …

Do you have advice for people in news business?

Ali: This is true for all startups: A startup is not a part-time business. But it’s clearly, even doubly, true for news.

Firstly, doing an Internet startup is a very time-consuming thing. On top of that, you’re trying to do a 24-hour news-based startup, which is a double whammy in terms of just the sheer amount of energy you need, and the sheer amount of resources, and the sheer amount of time that you need to put in there. So it clearly is going to be all-consuming in all ways you can possibly … think, for however long you’re doing it.

So be ready. It’s a difficult, difficult slog. As I said, the sentence that I use a lot is that “I’ve burned the candle at both ends and the middle for the last eight years.” It’s taken a physical toll, a personal toll, a mental toll on me. I’ve come out on the other end fine.

You have to be cognizant going in — it’s going to take a heavy toll on you whether you like it or not. If you’re in it, you will enjoy the process, but there’s a huge life outside of what you’re doing that you’re completely missing for however many years you’re in this. So you have to be ready for that.

Some would say it’s probably a young person’s game because of the sheer amount of physical and mental energy that’s required. It’s probably true to some extent, but not to say that people above a certain age can’t do it. Some of the bigger sites, companies, and some of the successful stuff happening out there is not just run by young people. Also the business part of it has to be run by adults, metaphorically speaking, not just age-wise.

I don’t know if that’s advice, but that’s just perspective on what the reality is in the business right now. Read more


What Web Analytics Can – And Can’t – Tell You about Your Site’s Traffic and Audience

It’s often said the Web is more measurable than any other medium. That’s probably true. But trying to actually understand what’s being measured and translate the different types of measurement into a coherent whole can make your head spin.

A lot of sites fixate on what their Web analytics, packages like Google Analytics and Ominiture, tell them. They look at stats on “page views,” “visits” and “unique visitors” and measure their progress in terms of how much traffic increases over time.

They might look at “engagement” stats like “time on site” and “page views per visit” to glean how much people are enjoying the site after they come in for their visit.

While those stats can be a fine way to get a handle on relative growth, they’re not true measures of the number of people coming to a site. And they’re also measures that many advertisers won’t accept.

Let’s explore what Web analytics can, and can’t, tell you.

Web analytics data is based upon “cookies,” small pieces of code placed on a computer when an Internet browser such as Internet Explorer or Safari renders a website. If you visit a website and it places a cookie on your computer, when you visit the website again, the site’s Web analytics package should be able to tell that you’ve visited before, how recent that visit was, how long you stay on the site, and other information about your browsing.

But because the cookie is placed on a computer via a browser, it doesn’t really measure a person. Let’s say you visit a website one day using Internet Explorer and on another day using Firefox. In most instances you’ll show up as two different visitors, two “unique visitors” in the Web analytics package. If your friend logs on and uses the same browser on your computer to visit the same website, he is a different person, but the Web analytics package will instead register a repeat visit.

In another scenario, you may use two or more computers (at home and work, for instance) and visit the same site on each of them. You’re one person, but you’ll show up as multiple visitors. And in other cases, the analytics can be skewed by people who delete or block cookies.

Experts disagree about how well cookies correlate to actual usage, but as many as a third and perhaps even more than half of users delete, block or otherwise manipulate cookies, intentionally or not, on any given website.

In other words, your Web analytics data may grossly inflate the number of users who come to your site. The rating service comScore in 2007 did a study that found cookie data might over-represent the number of users to a website by 2.5 times.

Know your community

When measuring traffic to your specific site, it’s important to consider the behavior of your particular community. Sophisticated tech audiences and wealthier ones with home and work computers likely account for more cookies than people.

On the other hand, sites serving schools or less advantaged populations may underestimate how many users they have. At a school or library, for example, many people may use the same computer to visit a given website.

The blog for the Reddit bookmarking service recently complained that experts were “misunderestimating” the site’s traffic compared to what Reddit staff saw in their Google Analytics stats. According to Reddit, advertisers were instead looking at services like or Quantcast to get a view of how many people visit the site, and, Reddit complained, those services showed much lower levels of traffic than Reddit’s internal stats on Google Analytics.

Panels vs. cookies, Quantcast, comScore and Nielsen all purport to do a better of job of measuring the number of people who visit a site than Web analytics, while also providing demographic data on gender, household income and the like.

These other services employ what’s called a “panel” methodology — observing the behaviors of large groups of Web users and using statistical formulae to make inferences about Internet usage, both in general and on specific sites.

Advertisers are often more comfortable with these third-party services, which operate at arm’s length, than internal Web analytics stats. These services also can comfort advertisers that they provide a better “apples-to-apples” comparison among different sites.

Still, the panels are also far from perfect and can themselves diverge widely depending on the composition of users in their samples and other factors.

For all of the services, the stats become less reliable as the sample sizes get smaller. The smaller the site, the more difficult the panel measurements can be to believe. measures only what it considers the top million sites in visitor traffic in any given month.

Though Quantcast recently became the first company with methodology certified by the Media Rating Council, an industry trade group, it was only certified for sites that enter the Quantcast code on their sites, use cookies to measure visitors, and correlate that data with its panels. For sites that haven’t entered themselves in Quantcast, the data is a more rough estimate.

Nielsen and comScore tend not to register sites until they’ve gotten many thousands of visitors in a month.

So which method do you use?

So what should you use, and when? It depends on whom you’re talking to, and what you’re trying to learn. Sometimes, you can use all the services and try to figure out the reasons for the differences. Even more measurement stats are available from your ad server data, which are often the only traffic numbers that are audited and verified for legal purposes.

Yes, it’s enough to make your head spin. But the more you know, the better prepared you’ll be to anticipate and answer questions and to assemble the stats that will make you look best to the audience you’re presenting to.

For example, if your site targets local schools, you may be able to make the case that your Web analytics are under-counting the number of users. Or you can explain why you believe — based on site surveys or social media interactions — that the demographic profiles of your users are different than what one of the panel measurement services show.

But it’s also important to understand that advertisers, partners and others can have valid reasons for being skittish about certain types of data. You need to be able to explain to them what your stats do and don’t represent based upon the individual characteristics of your Web property. Read more


How to Increase Site Traffic Without Buying Advertising

In the competition for page views, some news sites use paid advertising to attract traffic. There are a few reasons paying for traffic is often a losing game for news, and I’ll get to them in a moment. But first, where can you spend your money to get traffic to your site?

Your content is the big attraction

It’s been proven time and again that giving users what they want, consistently over time, and getting links to it will be effective in building traffic. You want to fire on all cylinders — great editorial, smart marketing that includes social media, and when it works, smartly optimized ad placements — but if you can do only one thing, the most cost-effective thing to do is create great content and let the world know about it through every cost-effective tactic, from social networks like Facebook and Twitter (see below) to e-mails and search engine optimization.

Partnerships and mentions pay, too
Getting deals with other sites to cross-link (I’m talking about legitimate partnerships here, not the spammy link farms that don’t deserve a thought and can hurt your search rankings), and getting mentions and links from other sites can be gold — for both immediate traffic and longer term. If you can get a link on a big, well-visited, authoritative site like Wikipedia, that becomes a traffic annuity. Every month, you’ll see referrals. Often those kinds of links will help your search engine rankings, as well.

Social media is powerful and cost-effective

If you gave me $10,000 to promote a local news or niche content website, I’d probably spend that money to construct and push a social media campaign rather than spend it on paid digital media.

For the amount it would take to have people refine and re-do our paid media, swap and change ad versions, test, reconfigure and refine, I can instead have someone who’s probably less expensive and is tweeting and conversing on Facebook, and getting hundreds or thousands of views to the site. Plus, those viewers may turn out to be more loyal followers, and in many cases the social media trail that’s left will help search engine rankings, lead to more traffic, and provide useful feedback and info from your social media community.

There are some reasons to advertise
A few atypical news sites attract higher-end advertising or have other ways of making money — e-commerce, events, etc. — and can get enough value from visitors that it’s worth it to pay for them. The editor of one major financial news website told me of paying to attract traffic to an area of his site that he’d sold to a luxury advertiser at a very high fee. He paid a lot for traffic in order to make even more.

A caution: “unpaid” media Is not “free”
Even placements you don’t pay for are not free of cost. The time spent on the above contains the opportunity cost of keeping you from doing something else to improve the site and its performance. There may be some hard costs associated, too, however minimal.

I do believe, though, that for digital media properties targeted to specific groups defined by geography, subject or other niches, being part of the “conversation” online is the best way to attract community cost-effectively, and to make sure that community stays engaged over time.

Doing all this should drive interested people to your compelling content. But if you need an extra push, why is paid advertising often a poor choice?
Display advertising and text ads are not cost-effective if you pay more to attract visitors than they are worth to you. Here’s an explanation.
News doesn’t bring big bucks per page (or per visitor)
Most news websites are primarily advertising-supported, and those ads don’t generally pay very high rates. You may have revenue per thousand pages of a few dollars, meaning each page view is worth a few pennies, or even fractions of pennies. Average users may come to the site once every few days or weeks and view a couple of pages while there. If you’ve paid more than a few pennies to attract them, you’re probably playing a losing game. Even the lifetime value of users who come more than once may not make up for the amount you pay to get that first visit from a wider swath who seldom or never come again.

You’re not selling something directly
Why do you see ads for Netflix or American Express all over the Web? Because every customer they get has a lifetime value that is at least in the tens, maybe even hundreds or thousands of dollars. Once a customer signs up, he or she is likely to keep paying, month after month, year after year. Even if the cost to acquire a new customer is pretty high, over time there’s a profit.

Visitors to a news site, on the other hand, don’t generally make purchases directly from the site and, as noted above, are worth only pennies per visit — and perhaps little more than that during the course of their entire “lifetime” of visits.

It’s hard to track accurately
For a content site, figuring out the lifetime value of your users can be a costly and time-consuming chore. A fraction of the people you pay to attract may come again, but it’s difficult to segment and track them without the kinds of personal registration and purchase data that an e-commerce site has.

You may have a loyal follower who doesn’t look like it in your Web analytics data (because, for example, she deletes her browser cookies or uses different computers to reach you at different times), or you may have someone you think is a loyal user but is really three different people using the same computer.

When someone buys something from Amazon, by contrast, Amazon has a pretty good idea who that person is and what he’s bought, and the company can figure out how much he’s worth over time.

You may not even be able to spend the money on paid media
If you have a site with a specified niche or geography, it may be hard to buy ads elsewhere that can effectively reach that specific group of users.

As an example, we recently budgeted a couple thousand dollars to see what kind of traffic we could attract from people searching in specified ZIP codes and towns to Web sites such as and, hyperlocal news sites of our client, Main Street Connect.

Working with Pali Media’s Charles Baker, an expert in the field, we tried dozens and dozens of keyword and location combinations on Google, MSN and another paid search service called eZanga for weeks, limiting our targeting by IP address to geographies within specific radii of our sites’ intended communities. We got barely a click.

Even after expanding to national footprints, while keeping the geographically specific terms, we literally couldn’t spend more than a small fraction of our test budget. There just weren’t enough people searching terms in our specific geographies and then clicking on our ads. One executive quipped that trying to market a niche website this way can be like “trying to market through a straw.”

To try to reach hyperlocal audiences through advertising, I also went to a couple of major national ad networks that pride themselves on their ability to target niche audiences. But a friend at one of them told me he wouldn’t take my money because they couldn’t target their ads to as limited a geographic area as I was asking. There just isn’t enough traffic when you try to place ads on a national network targeted to a tightly defined geographic area.

On Facebook, too, we got barely a trickle of users at the cost we were willing to pay per clickthrough, after trying multiple wordings, images and the like. I’ve had the same experience with other sites, too. Facebook does provide the ability to target very finely by geography and by such demographic traits as age, income and education. But, again, once you’ve gotten that specific, you may not be able to get a wide enough audience to deliver meaningful levels of traffic.

I’ve found that for sites with niche content, rather than a niche geography, it can be even harder because there may not be enough people in groups or who’ve specified an affinity for the kind of content you have.

If you’re trying to attract people to your niche news site, your resources are probably best spent on social media and partnerships rather than paid advertising. They will get you more than traffic; they’ll get you the loyal and lasting following you’ll want over time.

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Can Ad Networks & Exchanges Help Increase Ad Prices (Instead of Driving Them Down)?

It’s generally said that advertising networks and exchanges push down the price of advertising on the Web, making it harder for publishers to get top dollar and support quality editorial products.

But there are some innovations coming that could help change the equation in publishers’ favor — at least if a couple of top executives from advertising technology companies are to be believed.

We’ll get to those innovations in a minute, but to place them in context, let’s take a look at the havoc being wrought today by the networks and exchanges that drive down prices by bringing new efficiencies into the market. Why, if you’re an advertiser, would you pay a high price to reach an audience if through an ad network or exchange you can reach the same people at a fraction of the cost?

The top networks, for example, offer billions of ads on hundreds of millions of Web pages, using targeting mechanisms to offer ads next to just the right relevant content, and just the right user. Because they have such massive reach across such a wide swathe of sites, and because of efficiencies built into technology that takes little human intervention, they can offer ad placements at rates heavily discounted from the rates publishers charge for what they consider their premium spots.

Let’s say that I, as a marketer, have to spend $35 to get 1,000 ads shown in the pages of a top-end publication like The Wall Street Journal Online. I might just as well spend $8 or even $2 for 1,000 similar impressions on an ad network that promises a similar audience of wealthy, educated businesspeople through, say, a suite of finance blogs and portals. Even if my ads are less efficient at reaching my target audience, I’m still getting a good deal if the network is delivering at least a good portion of what it’s promising. I could have a good chance to get my ads on a high-quality publisher’s site anyway; many will take network ads in spots they haven’t been able to sell on their own.

Ad exchanges, meanwhile, promise to match buyers and sellers through an auction system. They let a publisher set a price for its advertisements, then let advertisers bid on them. Theoretically, that should allow publishers to keep the prices high and not take lower priced ads. It should work like eBay: a choice ad spot, like a choice item, should create a bidding war in which the price is driven up.

But there’s so much advertising space (also known as “inventory”) all over the Web, and so many other outlets — everything from games to social networks like Facebook, search ads, and more — that it can be very hard for the publisher to hold the line. If few marketers buy at the set floor price, the ad spots go unsold, or the price comes down.

Plus, the time-limited nature of advertising skews the auction in the buyer’s favor. It’s not like a painting or a piece of furniture that can be pulled and offered at a later date, but rather like an unsold airplane seat that has no value once the plane takes off. As soon as a Web page is delivered to a browser, its ad inventory is gone. If it didn’t have an ad on it, you’ve missed the chance to make money from it. That’s why airfares can go way down when the seats aren’t selling.

Tim Cadogan, CEO of ad exchange OpenX, told me that the solution is to “limit the number of airplanes flying” when I shared the airline analogy with him at the OnMedia conference in New York earlier this year. Cadogan predicted that within the next year to 18 months, we’ll start to see technologies that let publishers flexibly manage ad inventory in real time, automatically pulling ad spots from a page when there’s not an ad of high enough value to go in. That should, by implication, increase the perceived value of the spots that remain.

“We are looking at scarcity management,” Cadogan said. “It doesn’t always make sense for every page to have 2.5 ads on it. Sometimes it’s better to have only one.”

At the paidContent 2010 conference a few weeks later in New York, JT Batson, executive vice president of revenue and global development for ad solutions company the Rubicon Project, said they were developing such a solution, one he predicted would be available in some fashion by the end of the year. “Flexible inventories will increase rates,” he said.

Batson said publishers haven’t done particularly well at managing their inventory but will eventually have systems with predictive modeling as sophisticated as the ones airlines have.

Cadogan also told me that his company aims to bring more buyers into the market, thus creating a better environment for the sellers. “What the ad exchange space can do is maximize yield by managing inventory and creating competition,” he said. “Auctions can work very well to sell high-value goods.”

I hope so. Still, I have to admit that I’m not convinced. Google, among others, has proven that massive scale puts severe downward pressure on prices. As ad systems get better at targeting users and matching ads to them and to relevant content, it’s hard to see the trend going in the other direction. It’s also hard to see all but truly premium publishers — those with original material of high appeal and those whose audiences can’t easily be reached by ad networks — resisting the temptation to make at least some money from their spots, rather than letting the pages go fallow.

I hope Cadogan and Batson are right, though, because I want to see the technology used in ways that preserve the value of an editorial environment. And I also believe publishers are becoming more innovative about creating value with custom ad packages, micro-sites, quasi-editorial copy, mixes of social good and advertising (in which, for example, contributions are made to charities on behalf of a sponsor), games, and other methods that go well beyond simple display advertising.

It will take that kind of approach, combined with technology, to help publishers in digital media survive — something that I can’t help but notice a lot of airlines have had trouble doing for years, even with their sophisticated inventory management systems.
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‘Hybrid’ Models the Rage Among Execs at paidContent Conference

If there’s one thing media bigwigs agreed on in hours of discussion at the paidContent conference in New York on Friday, it’s that to make a profit from media you shouldn’t ask whether or not to charge for it. Instead you should ask when to charge and when not to, and you should consider e-commerce, events, apps and anything else that can add to your revenue stream.

Devin Wenig, CEO of Thomson Reuters’ Markets Division, summed up the sentiment when he told an interviewer on stage that, now ad-supported, will in the coming months include a mix of advertising and paid services, “just like, I suspect, just about everyone you’re going to talk to for the next day.”

He was just about right. Advertising execs, the publisher of The New York Times, entrepreneurs, journalists and many others talked about mixed, or “hybrid,” revenue streams. They seemed eager to point out all the different ways they’re earning money through unconventional means.

KC Estenson, senior vice president and general manager, noted that CNN’s iPhone app costs $1.99. (The app is ranked 66th in the iTunes store as of this writing.) The app itself has a second revenue stream: It carries ads, which has spurred some complaints among customers in the iTunes store.

New York Times Company publisher and CEO Arthur Sulzberger Jr., in a discussion about the company’s plan to limit free access to its online content beginning next year, noted how much money the Times has made selling wine through its wine club and by selling “distance learning” with a partner company. “We have permission from many New York Times loyalists to do many things,” Sulzberger said. Interviewer Staci Kramer of paidContent noted that she paid for an app that lets her do the Times’ crossword puzzles on her phone.

An audience member at the Times session said the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper made some 20 percent of its online revenue from e-commerce. Jeff Price, president and publisher of Sporting News, announced that in April, the company would start charging $2.99 per month for content “across all devices.”

And an executive from the Financial Times said money earned from advertising on increased after the site went to a metered model, charging for access after a user looks at a certain number of stories in a month. (I have seen cases in which limiting access to a page has allowed publishers to charge higher rate for ads because the audience was considered more “qualified” and less random.)

“It is all about hybrid models,” said Amanda Richman, executive vice president and digital managing director of media buying agency MediaVest USA. “Not one vs. the other, but multiple streams, and what works, based on audience insights and research.”

Finally coming around

I found it gratifying to see media execs talking this way, though surprising that it took them so long to get here.

The mixed model has been the rule in business-to-business media for decades. A publisher attracts a loyal customer base in a targeted niche and services them in several ways, continually gathering information on customers and constantly tweaking the mix of subscriptions, events, publications, databases, advertising, reference books and anything else.

This can work beautifully:

  • The publisher becomes less beholden to advertisers and to swings in the ad market and economy.
  • Subscription revenues tend to be more consistent through downturns.
  • Income from subscriptions and events is realized before one has to deliver the goods. The publisher can use the money to finance ventures and avoids having to raise capital or spend money getting advertisers to pay on time.
  • And the publisher can use the data willingly provided by customers to further cement, advertise to and “upsell” a loyal following. Through it all, customers give feedback that leads to new products and services and can create still more revenue streams.

Steven Brill, co-founder of Journalism Online (which I wrote about here), argued that all news and information companies these days need to behave like they’re in the B2B market — a field in which he has a lot of experience as the founder of American Lawyer magazine.

“Online, everybody is, in effect, a trade publisher,” Brill said in response to a question from Poynter’s Bill Mitchell. “They have to be tightly focused on what [their community] would see as valuable. I’m sure we have 1,000 people who in this room who would — God forbid we had to pay for Poynter Online — would pay for it. Those people would find value in that.”

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As to the right mix for your individual publication, TV show, movie, blog network, social media presence or whatever else you may produce, it depends on what you do and what your community is telling you. “It’s the traditional angst and creative process,” Brill said, “followed by research and everything else that determines what everyone does.”

Not, of course, that it’s easy or that success is guaranteed. The executives at the conference also seemed unified in agreeing that there are multiple avenues to revenue.

They also agreed that revenue does not necessarily equal profit, or that all these offshoot streams can sustain the business today. But they said it’s crucial to keep trying to get it right and expressed hope they would find ways to make it work.

“There is no magic formula,” Estenson said. “If there were, we’d all do the same things and be rich.” Read more


Thoora Shows How Publishers Can Use Real-Time Audience Data for Editorial Decisions

To the list of companies that say they measure audience sentiment to help publishers’ editorial judgment, add the name Thoora.

The Toronto-based startup promises to gauge how well individual news stories are doing by analyzing and calibrating real-time data from blogs, mainstream news sources and Twitter. Thoora’s software uses more than 100 attributes to determine not only the most popular content but also the highest quality, using measures such grammar and spelling and the authority of sites that link to the content.

The company said the data could be used to figure out, for example, where to position an article on a page (aiding internal data from Web logs and analytics), how to apportion resources to cover a developing story or even how to follow up on offshoots that you might not have considered. It could help a news organization determine where its individual story ranks against competitors covering the same thing.

CEO Mike Lee said this is the first time that a tool has approached audience sentiment for news at the story level rather than the topic level. For example, after Serena Williams lashed out at a line judge at the U.S. Open, Thoora spotted a tennis pro in upstate New York writing quality stories about tennis rules — stories that ranked in quality and authority with any of the larger news services and covered the topic in a way they hadn’t.

“We notice there are disparities between how specific stories are dealt with, interpreted and continue to drive reaction and conversation, where it may have dropped out of the news cycle itself,” Lee said. Thoora could see that after President Obama mentioned funding of high-speed rail in his State of the Union speech, conversation persisted awhile after traditional news coverage had trailed off.

Thoora, chosen last September as one of the TechCrunch 50, is part of a growing trend of attempts to measure audience sentiment, though Lee said his company is the only one that focuses strictly on news. Demand Media has gotten a lot of coverage for using algorithms to gauge popular search terms and matching them with evergreen stories such as “how to” articles. AOL is basing a large part of its editorial strategy on a demand algorithm for its dozens of sites. Aggregators like DayLife are pushing news stories to the fore based on measures of what’s most popular or important.

But, Lee said, many aggregators push to the top whichever stories are about the most popular and current topics, using recency and volume as a proxy for what is valuable and worthy of attention. “We hope to not just be a quantity aggregator but to actually drive quality to the surface,” Lee said.

At the recent OnMedia conference in New York, Thoora showed off Web-based charts and graphs representing its real-time data. Lee said Thoora uses subject-matter experts to vet and hone its computer selections, much as the site Pandora does with its Music Genome Project to group songs with similar characteristics.

Thoora does not yet have any clients, but Lee, a co-founder of the company, said it is in talks with a major Canadian news organization and a Canadian sports publisher. After the TechCrunch 50 presentation, Lee said, the firm got many publisher inquiries and decided to position itself as an enterprise solution, offering data to publishers rather than focusing primarily on the consumer news aggregation site at

The consumer site allows people to browse stories based on similar algorithms. Lee says the company may at some point release its APIs or a free version of its platform to enable people to input their stories and see how they match up against others.

While it’s impossible to say if Thoora, which is backed in part by the Canadian publisher Rogers, will succeed, I believe that editors and publishers need to be increasingly comfortable with using all the data at their disposal to make editorial and business decisions.

Journalists are finding sources and story ideas through Twitter and Facebook. Perhaps their editors can use data from those networks and others to help decide whether and how to position a story on a home page, even as Web analytics may indicate a different action based largely on page views.

To those in the industry who would complain that the ever-shifting sentiment of the crowd is replacing editorial judgment, I would say they should look at these as an adjunct to our judgment. The better we can learn to use the data, the more we enhance our input into decision-making.

News organizations that are in a fight for their lives are going to have to use every tool to attract and hold audiences that are enticed — via their own RSS readers, friends’ recommendations via social networks and guidance from aggregators like Google News — to rely on something other than editors’ picks.

No longer do geographic or distribution boundaries allow news organizations to offer the same story as everyone else and expect users to remain loyal. In another era, “people could not pick up a Denver Post so easily” if they weren’t in the Denver area, Lee said.

“Now you have to spend a lot of time thinking of how different you are,” he said, “and you have to communicate to your customers why they should come to you rather than XYZ news outlet or feed. But it’s impossible to do that unless you start to understand the underlying data of how you are measured and used relative to others.”

Or put it this way: Editors and publishers must figure out how to provide something for their products that major consumer brands have had to grapple with for years: differentiation. How are my automobiles, my sodas, my pairs of pants — or my individual news stories — any different, better and more satisfying than anyone else’s? Read more


Shut Off Google? C’mon, Mark Cuban

I can understand why Mark Cuban said newspapers should keep “blood-sucking vampires” like Google from indexing their content. But his argument falls short in a few key ways, I believe.

Cuban said newspapers have to understand that there is real value in what they do best, which is to “go out and find news and create good content.” “Aggregators and search engines think there is no value to that,” the Internet entrepreneur, HDNet co-founder and owner of the Dallas Maverick basketball team said at the OnMedia conference in New York last week. “They think there’s an unending supply of necks.”

If publications shut off their sites to the Google spiders, Cuban said, people who can’t find that content via Google search or Google News might simply type “” or “” in their Web browsers. He implied that if the great news brands refuse to be indexed without compensation, aggregators eventually would have to pay them to get their material.

One problem with Cuban’s argument, though: There is a nearly unending supply of “necks,” to use his analogy, for aggregators and search engines. Even if newspapers close off their sites to Google, their content will be found elsewhere, on other sites that pick it up under fair use.

True, there are great news brands that people may find even if they’re not in search results. But there are also many growing brands that are pure Web plays and have learned how to make a profit while using aggregators to their advantage. They have structured their businesses for the Web. If other news outlets remove themselves from search, those Web-native companies will use the opportunity to capture more of the traffic.

Cuban said that once a newspaper removes itself from search and aggregation, “The worst thing that can happen is you turn ‘em back on” and resume indexing. But in my experience, once you turn off a spigot of traffic in digital media, it takes time — often much more time than it took to lose the traffic — to restore the previous level.

He also said that people who come from search and from aggregators don’t “convert” to sales, likening the situation to a restaurant where a lot of people walk in and out but nobody sits down and buys a meal. But is the answer to move the restaurant to a back street with less foot traffic?

Or should those restaurants find a way to entice those passers by to sit down and buy a drink or dessert, maybe even a meal? Or if that doesn’t work, to give away a little food and entice them to pay for something else that will make their visit more enjoyable and make them want to come back and buy again?

In digital media, unlike in a restaurant, the incremental cost of serving one more customer is essentially zero. If you can convert even a fraction of those visitors, you can help support the business.

Rather than block Google’s access, newspapers need to use that traffic to create multiple revenue streams that incrementally add up to profit. They need not just exclusive content that people will pay for, not just ad spots that squeeze out as much value as possible, but also other revenue streams — whether apps or events or, yes, going from Web to print. They will have to constantly adjust price points and subscription mixes, as The Wall Street Journal has done and continues to do.

I asked Cuban after his speech what he thinks of such a model, which some call “freemium,” in which you give away your content to, say, 95 percent of visitors and have the loyal 5 percent cover costs through subscriptions and other revenue streams. In such a business, you would want to attract as many potential customers as possible; the more visitors, the larger the fraction who will pay.

Cuban told me that it doesn’t work — and seemed to peg his answer on advertising. “The only time it really works is if you just happen to hit a vein, and you just happen to be the hot content,” Cuban said. “But more often than not, particularly on the Web, you might be hot for awhile, and the advertising might be hot for awhile, but then someone else can come in and do it a little bit cheaper, and it’ll be a little bit harder.”

Well, that’s business, Mark, whether you’re selling media or cars. You have to differentiate your product and your brand, and create at least the perception that you offer something different and valuable. It may not be easy, and it’s certainly not an easy adjustment for news organizations that came to rely on wire services mixed in with ads. But it’s hard to see another way.

There may be one set of tools that will help Cuban’s cause. Social media like Twitter, Facebook and others are starting to challenge Google as recommendation engines. As more traffic comes to news sites via social media and less through search, it is possible that publications online can balance what they’d lose by not being in Google against what they would gain by being in social media.

But in my analyses, I have been surprised to find that traffic from social media is not necessarily more engaged or more valuable than what comes in from search. So while I would advocate aggressively building audience from social media, I wouldn’t stake everything on that approach without proof that it would make up for what I’d lose by not being linked by aggregators or search. Read more