Should You Start Selling Sponsored Content?

If you’re not selling sponsored content yet, consider these success metrics and how you can incorporate the process into your editorial model.

In 2016, sponsored content, branded content, and native content (all the same, by the way) have been the hottest buzzwords of the year. In fact, part of the reason our Mequoda Hall of Fame inductees from Metro Parent were crowned this year is because of how well their sponsored content program has performed.

But how can you tell, once you start selling sponsored content, if the content you create is making an impact?

The Washington Post has a branded content studio called WP BrandStudio. Their metric is called an “impact score” and is a compilation of metrics, according to Digiday, that includes time spent, scroll depth, social referrals, unique visitors and page views.

CNN’s branded content studio called Courageous, adds additional metrics like completion rates, social actions, views that are over 30 seconds, and whether the content meets their editorial sense of merit.

Paul Josephsen, vice president of Thrillist’s branded content studio The CoLab says “We’re firm believers that 100,000 page views and four and a half minutes time spent and a 65% scroll rate are generally meaningless pieces of information if they can’t also tell you about how people now think and feel about the brand.” Oh, well dang. Those metrics come from focus groups, but they do of course also measure time spent, scroll rates, shares, and comments.

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After their interview with the Post and CNN, Digiday suggested publishers should add additional metrics like return rates, total purchases, total shares, time spent, retention rate, and total comments.

Should you start selling sponsored content?

If you have the resources, and the flexibility to arrange a small team to start, then yes, you should sell sponsored content. We’ve even seen two-person niche magazine teams offer in-house written native content.

Sponsored content, or what some call native or custom content, presents a unique opportunity for publishers. Advertisers crave an audience to showcase their thought leadership, and multiplatform publishers, especially those with a portal and HTML magazine in addition to print and tablet versions, have the capacity to deliver a large, high-value audience.

Unlike the other elements, this is a marketing service, rather than a media placement. Sponsors will pay to have you write content they can sponsor. Of course, it’s not traditional ad copy, and when done incorrectly, sponsored content can damage your brand and cost you the trust of your audience and your sponsors. But it is not difficult to do correctly.

What we love about Metro Parent’s value proposition to their advertisers is that they’re not saying “let me sell you ad space.”

What they’re saying is, “let’s talk about your content goals and message development – and let’s work in conjunction with your experts and our experts to write 12 great articles. And let’s make a media package that drives traffic to those articles.”

How to start incorporating sponsored content into your workflow

  • Show them successful sponsored content examples that have worked for past advertisers.
  • Give them editorial guidance so content satisfies their needs, and the needs of your readers.
  • Appeal to their need for content – allow them to re-publish the content on their own sites (use canonical tags to avoid duplicate content).
  • Integrate sponsored content into your workflow, including them in a larger ad package that includes social, email, and portal promotion.
  • Create a web magazine so you can more effectively promote sponsored content.

Sponsored content that offers fantastic editorial that doesn’t turn off the reader as being too promotional or non-contextual can be a natural part of your editorial program.

At Mequoda, we believe the best sponsored content takes the same form and qualities as your original premium content. The content should provide value for the reader at the same time as it creates a positive perception of the sponsor. We live with one simple watch phrase that can help keep you out of trouble:

Sponsored content should be something your publication would have published regardless of whether there was a sponsor.

If it doesn’t meet that simple test, you shouldn’t publish it.

Do you offer sponsored content? Why or why not?


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