08:51 AM

ESPN Bans Ad Networks - Will Search And News Aggregators Be Next?

Well done ESPN! It says it won't use advertising networks: From Media Week.

"We're heading down a path where it no longer suits our business needs to work with ad networks," said Eric Johnson, executive vp, multimedia sales, ESPN Customer Marketing and Sales.

Advertising networks are used by large publishers for excess inventory and that's how they pitch themselves to the publishers.

I know for a fact that the ad networks tell advertisers: We can undercut the ad rates of the large publishers!

The ad networks are not the friends of publishers. In the past, I've seen New York Times running Google ads on its front page, and at the bottom of the ads it says "If you'd like to advertise on this site click here." Click and you go to Google. NYT has handed over its advertiser relationship to Google. Madness.

The problem is that ad sales staff at the large publishers don't know how to sell online ads. They have to sell more, for less, and that means a lot more work to make the same commission.

Solution: Hire new sales people that don't have a legacy commission infrastructure to protect.

Ad networks commoditize content. And so do news aggregators.

How long before large publishers cut off news aggregators such as Google News, etc?

Sure, distribution is nice, for now. But if you rely on traffic coming from search engines and aggregators you are getting low quality traffic. It is fly-by-night traffic. It is web surfers killing time.

The best traffic is the traffic that comes to your site directly through bookmarks or RSS. People that know where you are, they don't need to find you.

That's quality traffic and that is traffic that advertisers want. I predict that advertisers will pay a lot more for sites that get their traffic direct and not through search engines and news aggregators. It's the same as advertising on free magazines compared with subscribed magazines.

However, most news sites rely on search engine traffic for as much as 60 per cent of their traffic, often more. They invest heavily in making their content discoverable through keywords, tagging, metadata, url structure, and a dozen more parameters.

This is a big burden and it does nothing to improve the quality of content, only the quality of discoverability.

When I look at my server logs I see that about 94 per cent of my traffic comes directly to me from bookmarks and RSS. The rest from search engines.

My advice: Optimize for your readers and not for the search engines.

But if 60 per cent or more of your web site traffic comes via search and news aggregators you can't change. It's an addiction.

At some point, large publishers will severely curtail the news aggregators and search bots because:

-The quality of the traffic they send is poor, it doesn't lead to ad conversions.

-The constant barrage of spiders and robots slows down the web site and harms the user experience.

It becomes very expensive to attract search engine traffic.

For example, about one third of my server resources and my bandwidth is used by a multitude of spiders and bots hitting my site every day. Yet they bring only 6 per cent of my traffic.

That 6 per cent of traffic cost one-third of my publishing resources. It's not much money for me, but for a large publisher?

At some point, a large media company such as ESPN, will notice that its traffic is stable, that search engines and aggregators are bringing lower quality traffic, and that that traffic is not worth the large hit it takes on its servers, bandwidth, and people required to SEO its content.

This scenario won't happen soon but I guarantee it will happen, and that's when GOOG, et al will pay ESPN and other content producers to carry their content.

GOOG constantly needs "new" content but it doesn't know how to create it, it just knows how to scrape it. And that's a common technology these days and it is getting to be a commodity.

Halting the commoditisation of news and journalism...

ESPN gets it and so will others. The content that media companies create is hard to do and it is expensive - it is not a commodity.

The technology of ad networks and search engines is increasingly a commodity and its value is falling at the speed of Moore's Law. Content is immune from the commoditizing power of Moore's Law.

I know where I'd rather be.