Can Your Brand Monetize Web Content Without Serving Ads?

December 13, 2016 Krystal Overmyer

web content

A great content marketing strategy requires time, energy, and sometimes significant resources. When you do it right, the payoff is more web traffic, more leads, and ultimately, more loyal customers.

If you’re the director of marketing for your brand, you know all too well that it takes an impressive investment to get a web content strategy off the ground: according to the Content Marketing Institute, “B2B marketers allocate 28 percent of their total marketing budget, on average, to content marketing…The most effective allocate 42 percent, and the most sophisticated/mature allocate 46 percent.” That’s a huge investment in a project on which you currently may not be reporting ROI in a detailed fashion.

Content Marketing Institute

Say you’re preparing to head into your final monthly meeting of the year, and you’re looking for ways to prove to your senior staff that you can offset some of that investment while your content generates leads. You know that content is something that generates long-term ROI, but your team has tasked you with coming up with some immediate ideas—and you’re stumped. You’ve been toying with the idea of monetizing digital content through ads, but you have no idea if it would be successful. Unfortunately for you, your meeting is tomorrow—so you don’t have too much time to devote to finding alternatives.

What do you do?

The idea of monetizing content certainly is tempting. If a content marketing program can pay for itself through content monetization, that’s more money the company can redirect to other marketing efforts. Besides, publishers do it all the time; the content they create is only possible through money-generating ads or subscriptions.

As you likely know, when it comes to brands, content monetization isn’t foolproof. That said, if a company decides to increase marketing ROI through content monetization, it has a lot of options beyond serving annoying display ads alongside web content. Consider these guidelines when exploring whether content monetization is the right fit for you.

Create for Short-term and Long-term Content ROI

Timing is everything with content monetization. If your content program is just getting its footing, it’s early, but not too early to start seeing tangible results if you have a solid strategy and technology stack in place. Especially for B2B brands, content marketing automation can provide the link between your published content and the opportunities it’s generating. Through Marketo reports like the Opportunity Influence Analyzer, you can track leads from first touchpoint to closed business, attributing that revenue directly to the content that brought in your lead.

But long-term content monetization is also possible. The Content Marketing Institute, for example, waited for three years before successfully monetizing its content marketing blog, founder Joe Pulizzi explained.

The key takeaway here is that in addition to proving short-term ROI, patience matters, and it pays off in the long run. Companies need to let their content programs breathe in the beginning, giving content marketers the space to focus intently on their audience and develop content that speaks to their needs. “That focus leads to success,” said Pulizzi.

How do you know your content program is ready for monetization? Ceros blogger Ashley Taylor Anderson suggested that mature content programs share a few common characteristics. They include: a documented content strategy, various marketing personas, personalized content, robust search optimization, consistent and quality content, various content types (audio, visual, etc.), and sophisticated lead generation tactics, among other key attributes.

A great content marketing program doesn’t happen overnight—and that’s okay. If your business is still operating without a content marketing strategy, your content production is hit or miss, and your content library isn’t very robust, it’s too early to consider monetization.

Think Beyond Ads

New York Minute brand partnershipContent marketers have a few choices regarding monetization once their programs have matured fully. An obvious choice is serving up ads alongside web content via a program like Google AdSense. The ads appear on your site, and you get paid a small amount every time the ad is clicked.

But here’s the thing: ads can clutter up your web content and turn off your audience. There’s a reason why so many people are installing ad blockers, after all.

Going the native advertising route is a more powerful option. Like digital publishers who team up with brands to create content, brands can cozy up with other brands to create native content. For example, Quantas Airways teamed up with Tiffany & Co. to create the New York Minute series, which includes an NYC travel guide and Q&A. The pieces were featured on the airline’s content website, Travel Insider, as well as its print magazine. The result is relevant, interesting content that meets the goals of both partners.

As content marketers grow their audience, the audience itself can become valuable. Brands can swap access to their audiences when it makes sense. For example, you could use your email newsletter to plug another company’s upcoming event that might be of interest to your readers. The other company reciprocates by plugging one of your campaigns. You both get exposure to a friendly audience that would have otherwise been expensive to reach.

Carefully Consider Paywalls and Gates

Locking content behind some kind of paywall or gate is another way to generate revenue. There are various ways to approach this. For example, you might offer your blog content for free, but charge a fee to users that want to download a white paper. Alternatively, you could charge users a subscription fee for full access to your content library. Maybe users get a certain number of articles or content resources for free before you start asking them to pay.

Marketers need a deep understanding of their audience before they go this route. Is your content so spectacular that your audience is willing to pay for it? Or do you risk alienating the people you want to engage? Remember, paywalls haven’t been a magic potion for publishers. Ultimately, your revenue gains may be offset by the lower number of eyeballs engaging with the content.

Content monetization is possible, but marketers need to ask themselves a fundamental question: Will (pay per click ads, native ads, paywalls, etc.) help or detract? The point of content marketing is telling your brand story and building your brand identity. Let your content work its marketing ROI magic before implementing a potentially disruptive monetization project.

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