Publishers have you ever wondered how your Facebook and Twitter followings impacted your sales? In the Age of E-Books and Apps, how exactly are your social media fan bases affecting your success? More importantly, if social media optimization (SMO) is the future how can publishers adapt?
Here to help me answer those questions is M. Scott Havens who serves as the Sr. VP of Finance & Digital Operations for The Atlantic.
E-Publisher Confesses: Scott thanks so much for making time for my interview. As the Sr. Vice President of Finance & Digital Operations how much of your day is devoted to learning how readers discover your content?
Scott Havens: Quite honestly, not as much as I’d like these days. I’m spending a lot more time in the financial numbers of our media properties in order to assess where we should be investing and allocating our resources going forward. I do get a series of daily, weekly and monthly reports (some automated, some created) that break down where our readers are coming from, what they’re reading, etc. I also spend at least an hour a day reading trade pubs (Digiday, PaidContent, etc.) so I can stay abreast of all the new developments and innovations going on in media.
EPC: So then you’re familiar with metadata advocates who claim that if a book or magazine isn’t listed in the top 10-20 results of a query there’s no chance of readers discovering it. Scott can the same be said of The Atlantic’s readers? Or do they discover content differently?
SH: I can’t validate that statement, but it seems likely. Fortunately for us (I think!), we get 2x as many referrals through social networks/sites/referrals as we do from search. That doesn’t mean we don’t care about SEO or we don’t try to implement best practices, but given the types and categories and volumes of content we produce, we’ve found SMO (social media optimization) to be a better use of our time. There are also many new technologies, apps, sites that can be very valuable partners for publishers – including Flipboard, Pulse, TrapIt, Trove – and it may prove valuable for publishers to put on their “business development” hat and think about becoming partners.
EPC: Can less established publishers create an optimized Web presence without partnering with these third-party affiliates? Could publishers familiar with HTML5 software launch a successful magazine or book site without this partnership?
SH: Sure, but I think publishers have to experiment with every available tactic and see what works for them. It could be search, it could be Twitter, or it could be Pinterest. Not one size fits all. HTML5 and all the hype around it is a bit overblown. It is simply not a fully formed markup language / coding language. It certainly shows promise to help optimize content for all the new devices and platforms (among other things), which is clearly challenging and expensive. Having said that, publishers do need to make sure that once they create the unique and interesting content, it can be consumed everywhere. HTML5 and responsive design could help do this. There are also several companies building and investing in CMS’s that will allow content to be pushed out in many forms so publishers can simply focus on the content. But again, focus on creating content that users want to read, develop a loyal audience and then think about ways to monetize the readership through paid products and/or advertising.
EPC: Earlier you stated that it seems likely readers won’t discover content past 10-20 results. So you suggested that publishers spend less time worrying over rankings and more time making their work shareable. Is that a correct summary?
SH: Yes I think so, but I’ll caveat that by saying that all publishers are not created equal. If you are a high velocity news site that feeds off news searches or a restaurant review site that needs to leverage the “long tail”, you may want to spend more time on SEO. At the end of the day, I firmly believe that if you write unique, quality, differentiated content and follow the “rules”, you should ultimately do well in search over time. I do think the key search engines are trying to surface the best content, not the content that has the best “SEO score.” My best advice for publishers is find a niche where you can produce differentiated content for a specific target audience and let them help you grow. If you focus on creating interesting, visual, shareable, viral, unique content – you’ll be amazed at how quickly new readers will emerge because of the power of the “social graph”.
EPC: Why is it important for publishers to connect to a social graph? Does social sharing affect how publishers’ content is discovered by readers?
SH: Quite simply because social sharing is incredibly important in content discovery today. For some publishers, like The Atlantic it’s more important than search discovery and it’s an entirely different way. In one, a computer algorithm decides what you are looking for and in the other; people in your “network” are helping you discover content. I’ll take the latter any day of the week.
EPC: Lastly, Scott can you offer any words of wisdom for aspiring publishers? Are there any other factors they should consider before entering publishing?
SH: My first words of wisdom are: stop calling it publishing! It feels SO OLD MEDIA! Other thoughts for aspiring digital media execs might be: be obsessive about using all the new devices that are launched, experiment with new sites and Apps as much as you can, read the latest news in the industry, network like crazy, and get a deep understanding of how technology works. Even if you are not a designer or developer, those who understand the ins/outs of digital media are usually one-step ahead of the pack.
EPC: Thank you again Scott for fitting me into your busy schedule, I can see there is definitely a dimension beyond SEO that publishers now have to consider. Publishers are not only contending with e-books, but apps too. I’m looking forward to seeing how new and established publishers continue adapting to these new developments. Thank you again for your insight!
Readers tell me what you think of tonight’s confession by answering the poll below. Join me September 23 for “An E-Publisher’s Road Ahead” I’ll be updating you on my career plans and aspirations.
An E-Publisher Confesses
- Social Media’s Importance for SEO (theprintblog.com)
- 5 Ways that Social Media Impacts SEO (adamsherk.com)
- Get off the Schneid with Social Outreach for Link Building (iacquire.com)