Déjà vu all over again?

Maybe it’s us, but things are starting to feel a little March 2020 again. The dynamic news cycle of early pandemic days seems to have reared its head again as macroeconomic uncertainty—worsening supply chain snarls, labor shortages, the worst inflation in 40 years—coupled with a seemingly never-ending double-pandemic keeps us up at night. Google has even made another announcement (cough, delay) on third-party cookie deprecation much like it did in January 2020. And it's all once again sending major traffic to major news websites. An analysis from UK website Press Gazette shows that US news websites did well for growth in July, with half of the top 50 news sites seeing month-on-month growth in visits.

This is great news (pun intended) for major websites with robust subscription programs that have diversified their revenue to be less advertising-dependent. But for other smaller publishers without the traffic, shrinking advertising spend spurred by both budget concerns and a desire to avoid running ads alongside perceived “negative” news presents a major challenge to revenue. 

The good news is, we’ve truly seen this all before, and publishers can borrow the lessons from two-and-a-half years ago, in addition to other crises, to ensure they stay on their feet.

Keep gathering first- and zero-party data 

Google’s now thrice-delayed third-party cookie deprecation plans have many advertisers and publishers repeatedly pumping the brakes on trialing and adopting new solutions for targeting consumers and monetizing web traffic. We continue to maintain, as so many others in the industry are, that both demand and supply sides need to: Just. Keep. Swimming. Keep planning, keep trying the new solutions out there for identifying and targeting users, and keep figuring out how to rely more on rich, opted-in first- and zero-party data. 

Your own data is truly the wellspring from which you can drink for years to come. It teaches you more about your audience, and others like them, so you can design the best content and offers to attract, retain and upsell them. This data is also critical for selling audience segments to advertisers on your site. The more expansive your first- and zero-party customer data, the more advertisers will want it. Using a comments section is a great tactic for gathering this data, as it keeps users on your site, generates repeat visits, and exposes users to relevant advertising. 

Use social media cautiously, but optimistically 

Social media is an increasingly popular option for reading news amongst Americans. More than half of Twitter users regularly use the site for news. However, social media is also the least trusted news source in the US. The way to make it work for you as a publisher is to ensure you share only quality, accurate website content to Twitter, and direct the conversations produced over to your own comments section to avoid the often ugly, misinformed back-and-forth dialogue Twitter can spark. We outline some great ways to prioritize and keep control of the discourse on your own site in this post

Do brand safety with a twist

As we mentioned in this post on yet another crisis, the ongoing Russian-Ukraine war, it’s good for both advertisers to continue advertising and publishers to continue publishing during off-kilter world events. We completely understand the desire to avoid negative topics at all costs, but it’s a better approach to focus on suitability over safety. Suitability means that even topics that carry some negative connotations could still be helpful to advertise alongside. In this way, the context and the sentiment matter more than the actual keyword. When it comes to your comments section, you can be more nuanced in the conversions you allow with keyword moderation and recommended content. 

As Ronen Menipaz, a serial entrepreneur and CEO of the startup group M51, puts it in this article, “It's much harder to stand out in good times, which is why all the biggest opportunities arise during downturns.” By producing high-quality, engaging content, collecting opted-in data about your users, and executing nuanced social media and brand-safety strategies, you can help your website prevail in times of uncertainty.