Digital Publishing Strategies by Expert Panel

Digital Publishing Strategies by Expert Panel

At Ezoic’s digital publishing event, Pubtelligence, at Google’s office in San Francisco, digital publishers had the opportunity to hear from an expert panel on trends and strategies within digital publishing. In the panel, Tyler Benedict (, Tyler Bishop (Ezoic), Carolyn Shelby (ESPN), and Sara Jerde (AdWeek) took turns giving their take on topics ranging from cookies to Gen Z.

All of the speakers for the day can be found on Ezoic’s YouTube channel.

What’s your take on privacy and regulation, and what will happen to cookies?

Carolyn: We have way too many cookies, which slows your site down and the internet down. Whatever good was coming from it, we’re ruining it.

Sara: I think it will lead to better relationships between readers and publishers. When readers know exactly what information you’re giving to these news sites, they’re going to be more willing to give that information up. This will lead to better advertising because you know exactly what you’ve given them and what that ad might look like for you.

Tyler Bishop: It puts publishers in a better position. I think if we look into the future, we’ll see a future without any cookies. That doesn’t mean that advertisers will spend less money on digital. Advertisers want a quality audience and they will need to go to publishers to get that without cookies, so I think this is a good thing for publishers.

What’s your take on AMP, new mobile web standards, and emerging mobile technologies?

Carolyn: Mobile first is very important. Google went to the mobile-first index and are looking at your mobile site; the content that’s being viewed on your mobile site is what is being used for your relevancy. As a publisher, AMP has been great for us, but that is specifically with news. I think progressive web apps will probably be the way to go for other publishers. Until WordPress adopts PWAs, though, I don’t think it’ll take off.

Sara: In regards to PWA and native apps, I think it’s important to think about the reader experience, especially if you’re coming from a social platform, where you’re going to be routed. If you have an audience that is going to come to you in your native app, if you have a lot of direct traffic, then maybe consider that option. But both are great reader experiences.

Tyler Bishop: When you look at emerging mobile trends, I don’t think we’ll be worried about internet speed in 10 years, so I don’t know if it’s as necessary. Native ads are a little bit like subscriptions; there’s a finite amount of apps that people will have on their phones, so unless you think you can become one of those, then something like a PWA makes more sense.

What’s your take on the voice trend?

Tyler Bishop: I think it’s a really great opportunity to find your audience in a place no one else has yet.

Sara: I think it’s a great way to expand into new categories. As consumers get more comfortable interacting with devices in this way, think of all the opportunities publishers can interact with listeners.

Carolyn: I think any time you can diversify your digital assets, you’re going to come out ahead.

Tyler Benedict: My overriding philosophy with this is if you’re going into something other than written content without a strategy and without a way to differentiate yourself, then you’re just going to get lost in the crowd. You have to figure out what you can do better than anyone else.

What’s your take on Gen Z, which makes up 32% of the population and is the largest cohort?

Tyler Benedict: When I think about our video strategy, there are some things I can be in front of the camera for some of the tech stuff, but I know for different series we are going to need younger and more diverse hosts. I know I need for people to visually connect they need Gen Zer or close. We need fresh faces that speak that language in order for BikeRumor to continue.

Sara: The rate in which consumer habits are changing is so fast; I don’t understand TikTok but I’m not that far off from Gen Z; it’s difficult to keep up.

Tyler Bishop: I think it’s important to understand you don’t have to participate in everything out there. I do think there are ways to relate to different age segments that make sense specifically for you, but I’m a big believer in focusing on your strengths and then try to partner with someone who knows more.

What’s your take on owned commerce?

Tyler Bishop: I’ve interacted with publishers where they’re earning a large percentage of their affiliate revenue from one particular vertical, and I think it makes sense for them to look at owned commerce. I do think that the product model has a place for certain publishers in certain situations, but it really just depends.

Sara: I think it’s not going to work for everyone. I think when you talk to consumers about what they want and what a media brand looks like for them, does it mean you’re going to be in the dairy aisle or ULTA stores? I think it’s an interesting play there for those that do.

Carolyn: I think it’s just related to your brand. If you have a brand that can translate to it and you’ve got a following, you could do it, but otherwise I don’t think it’s one of those things you can force.

Tyler Benedict: You have to know your audience and whether or not your brand has the personality to make sales.

Do you think SEO is getting more complicated?

Tyler Bishop: I don’t think it’s getting more complicated or less. Google is pretty consistent in what they communicate.

Carolyn: The fundamentals haven’t changed. If you’re gaming the system and trying to exploit the system, then yes. If you’re being clear with communications, you’re adhering to the fundamentals and your site is technically sound, nothing about that has changed since the beginning. You just have to remember when you’re presented with something else, you have to evaluate it by asking is this crawlable? Is this good for my user? Is this violating any terms of service?

Do you think it’s going to get harder to make money off of content?

Tyler Benedict: I think you’re going to have to get more creative. It’s got to drive value but it’s got to be original.

Carolyn: It’s not the content that makes money. You’re making money off the users that are coming. I think the opportunities for in-your-face, traditional banner-type ads might be changing.

Tyler Bishop: I see content as the product for a publisher and you’re basically just trying to get people to pay for my product, which is the content. I think we’re in this unique scenario now where we’ve had some very dominant parties that dictate to digital publishers what they can and can’t do to monetize their content, and I see cookies and security as a break free from that. I think it’s better the fewer parties that actually get to wield that power.

Sara: High-quality content is going to attract those eyeballs, those advertisers that want to advertise next to it, and the brands that want to sign on to your events. As long as you have high-quality content, you’re going to have the readership that you want.

Do you think that in five years, Google will lose market share in search and advertising?

Tyler Bishop: I think Google is going to be just fine. I don’t think there is going to be a major shift in antitrust that will cause a shift in any of the major platforms in the next five years.

Carolyn: But something could pop up. We weren’t expecting Google.

Do you think that branded content shows the most potential for growth?

Tyler Benedict: I would want to see how people would define branded content. When I think of branded content, I immediately think of a reader’s survey contest; it’s clearly branded, but it’s not like ‘Pivot Bicycles tells you why their suspension design is the best.’ For us, I do see the number of co-branded opportunities growing.

Carolyn: People are getting savvy and know when things aren ‘t real or are sponsored. It’s one thing if you expect to reasonably fool the consumers, but I think the consumers know, and I think there is this backlash brewing against it because of fake news.

The average publisher with a mobile app now sends over 121 push notifications per month – is this a good or bad thing?

Carolyn: I think it depends if you’re legitimately breaking that many stories. 

Tyler Bishop: I think it’s really important for publishers to have a direct relationship with their audience; it’s up to you to know at what frequency they want to receive notifications.

Tyler Benedict: You can always have options too.

How do I use H1, H2, and H3 headlines?

Carolyn: You don’t want a bunch of H1’s on an article. It’s literally set up like an outline, so your H2 is supposed to support your H1 and the H2 is nested under the H1. The H3s are supposed to support H2s. Do you have to do it? No.

If I update evergreen content and want to bring it to the front?

Carolyn: Don’t change URLs or slugs. As long as the slug is the same, it’s still technically the same article. If you 301 it, you would 301 it to a new URL which would work, but it’s not a true one-to-one transfer of value. If you’re not that concerned about losing value, you could write a new article and just 301 the old article to the new one. I set up a Featured tag, and only assigned it to one article so that article would be the one to show up. Then, when I didn’t want it there anymore, I would remove the tag.

Should sponsored content be a no-follow, no index page?

Carolyn: Technically, the link that article from another page is supposed to be no follow. As long as there is no danger of it showing up in your news site XML, and as long as it hasn’t accidentally been ingested into Google News, you’re probably okay allowing it to stay indexed. Where they get irritated is if you have sponsored content polluting your news feed.

Should I no-index, no follow press releases I publish for brands that they link back to?

Carolyn: If they didn’t pay you for it and there was no consideration, you’re probably fine. Where you might run into a problem is they might consider the site the original source and you won’t get included in the index at all. So you can index it.

Tyler Benedict: I would say you’re missing out on a great opportunity to put it in your own words and create some original content with it that is more search-friendly. The other thing is by rewriting it, you can link to other articles you’ve written on that brand or topic and keep people on your site.

With Google taking more real estate on desktop and mobile, how does a publication like ESPN compete with that for the World Series, and is there a way you’re trying to optimize for featured snippets?

Carolyn: For most sports-related queries, there’s usually a news carousel, which is where we try to stay prominent. We’re really diversifying with video and Instagram at the same time to try to help stay in front of it.

Tyler Bishop: One of the things to think about as a digital publisher is that the time to post simple things like scores, that’s a commodity; there’s nothing overly unique about it. I think regardless of the platform, what you see is that publishers that are really growing and coming out of nowhere is that they’re doing something different. I think the right attitude to have is that you don’t worry about being disrupted from this savvy business idea I had, but that you think about ‘how do I relate and connect to my audience?’

Google has sorted out smaller sites for health and financial topics; do you see this expanding into other topics as well, and if so, what should publishers do to establish EAT to increase our chances of ranking in the future?

Tyler Bishop: In a study we did, we looked at our large domain, high-domain authority, branded enterprise publishers, and asked if they are taking up more real estate inside of search than smaller publishers? And we actually found the opposite. If you look at year-over-year growth, brands grow at slower rates and actually see decreases in organic traffic in a lot of cases. On average, you’re seeing more and more small and medium-sized publishers dominating results and I think it’s by design.

Carolyn: Especially in the health vertical, they want to know that the people publishing information are qualified to make the statement they’re making. So anything you can do to prove that the company or people responsible for putting out the information is qualified is good.

Is it necessary to optimize your top-performing content regularly?

Carolyn: In theory, your high-ranking content would also naturally be acquiring powerful backlinks, even from your own site. Internal, self-referential citations are big. Should you update it periodically? Absolutely, especially if there is new information out there. Should you refresh it when you can, with new images or a study? Absolutely. It’s like a garden, you have to tend to it, because your competitors are trying to grow too. Don’t panic just because your competitor has overtaken you for a week. Wait to see if that’s sticking, because it could just be a blip.

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