Removing silos has become essential for both publisher revenue and reader experience

Removing silos has become essential for both publisher revenue and reader experience

As publishers pursue the critical goal of revenue diversification, competing KPIs have become a significant blocker — not only slowing the pursuit of revenue streams but also compromising the user experience.

According to Digiday+ research, emerging revenue streams for publishers include programmatic advertising, events, affiliate commerce and selling products. The challenge is publishers are managing these diverse business initiatives in siloed departments, with limited optimization across organizations.

“We’ve seen how many publishers are navigating through so many new challenges, leading to numerous different revenue initiatives to tackle — and the side effect is creating more silos,” said Amit Elisha, general manager of Keystone and vice president of products at Outbrain. “Right now, many publishers do not have a unified view of how to optimize all of their various business initiatives and deliver the best offers to the most appropriate readers.”

Understanding the business costs of publisher silos

Many publishers rely on manual systems to manage business objectives, including subscriptions, e-commerce and ad sales. Siloed departments also lead to internal competition for resources, perhaps most notably site real estate.

“They try to convince other teams why they’re more important than others,” Elisha said, noting that silos often create room for this kind of debate. “Eventually, someone needs to be the arbitrator who makes the decision about who gets the real estate.”

How publishers prioritize KPIs that both compete and interact with each other is more of an art than a science, although data and analytics can offer some clarity. For subscriptions, this could be conversion rates and the lifetime value of retention. For e-commerce, this could be affiliate fees, conversion rates and average order size. On the other end of the spectrum, events bring in revenue through ticket sales and shape reader loyalty.

“I think that the challenge is really finding a common denominator between all of these initiatives because all of them have different business models and publishers need to be able to take them into account,” Elisha said. 

Further complicating the picture for publishers, different departments take ownership of different initiatives and business objectives across the organization — leaving no one-size-fits-all solution for improving management systems.

Competing KPIs coupled with existing manual systems also have discernible impacts on readers. For instance, many systems lack needed tools for personalization and are hard-coded to push every offer to every user, even if those offers risk being irrelevant. This creates an overwhelming and even off-putting experience for readers — a hit to the bottom line and a wasted opportunity for publishers.

In an example that ties all this to the physical world, Elisha compares the mismanagement of a home page to a disorganized department store. A shopper may need to buy a shirt, but when they enter the store, they first see a cosmetics department and no signage indicating where the shirts are located. Similarly, publishers are best served by predicting what interests each reader and serving relevant offers as they “come through the door.” In the case of the department store, this may mean positioning pants near the shirts. For publishers, this may mean promoting an online event to a paid subscriber who cannot attend an in-person event due to their location.

“Users are used to having a 100% tailored experience for them when browsing platforms and apps — from Facebook through Spotify — and they are expecting publishers to create not only great content but also create an experience that aligns with their needs,” Elisha added.

Opportunities for breaking publisher silos

When it comes to publishers’ current practices, many are overwhelmed by the number of systems — which can span CMS, analytics dashboards, customer data platforms and more. Another challenge is evaluating the success of systems, which can be particularly difficult in the case of more technical examples.

“All of these systems have great reporting and analytics on what the system itself does, but they don’t speak to each other,” said Elisha. “Oftentimes, each system will be owned by a different department, and it’s up to the publisher to figure out how to connect the dots.”

The time spent evaluating the information and insights from these static systems is another wasted opportunity for publishers. By enlisting partners to create improved management systems, publishers can reprioritize. 

“Publishers should look for technology partners that give them the tools to manage a business model — the whole of the business — rather than one small piece,” Elisha said. “They should be aware of the track record of that partner when it comes to personalization AI. 

“Then, look at how the partner is actually making money,” Elisha suggested. “Are the incentives really aligned?”

Shared goals and expertise, as is often the case when ad tech companies and publishers are looking to maximize ad revenue as a collaborative effort, stand as an indication of a mutually beneficial partnership. For partners, experience in personalization technology and optimization for business outcomes is essential for more productive publisher systems. An effective user journey and experience platform breaks publisher silos, maximizes site real estate use across KPIs, creates strong alignment with readers, and enhances lifetime value. 

As technology evolves to sustain partnerships that centralize shared goals and expertise, publishers will gravitate toward platforms that put those outcomes in their hands. That doesn’t mean the solution has to be everything all at once; instead, the next generation of silo-breaking tools will enable publishers to build solutions in the near term and then scale their de-siloed approaches as they improve on each KPI.

“The key for successful publishers is really to start small,” Elisha said. “Start small with one team, make them way more efficient, then break this silo with another team too. It’s hard to make this shift in how teams think. They don’t need to compete with each other, but rather they can partner for an aligned goal.”

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