See Success with Online Verticals: Be Engaging, Credible and Persistent

17 Jan See Success with Online Verticals: Be Engaging, Credible and Persistent

185155120On Wednesday I mused about why content verticals online are so unpopular with local media companies and the people who have to sell these verticals. The biggest problem: most online verticals just aren’t any good.

Before I explore why this is true, let’s establish that online verticals can be successful and profitable. I know a good deal about TheKnot.com, the wedding vertical, because we offer a solution to help local media battle The Knot. In 2012 The Knot generated about $130 million in revenue, a large portion of it from local vendors.

Zillow is an online vertical that generates a large amount of its revenue from local sources. TMZ is a profitable online vertical, as are Forbes.com, AutoTrader and a host of others. What we know for sure is that online verticals can be sold.

So why is it so hard for local verticals to take hold? By and large, they are dreadful.

The Three Cardinal Sins of Online Verticals

  1. They never (or rarely) change. Can we just say that putting a PDF of your special section online is not an online vertical? They simply do not take the place of a real 24/7 online presentation. Websites are supposed to be a dynamic medium, changing frequently, constantly. Posting content once or twice a year doesn’t cut it. You need new and engaging content at least daily.
  2. Free content has a high cost – your credibility. I have visited literally hundreds of online verticals, some owned by prestigious, major media companies, and I’ve found content from such sources as Brandpoint, Family Features and other paid content. The content may cost zero dollars, but it is not cost-free. If you do not label this content as advertorial/sponsored/paid, it is deceptive and undermines your editorial credibility. Plus, your advertisers may be enraged that they must pay to appear next to content where some other company is getting exposure for nothing.
  3. We build it and they don’t come.  So you put together a great vertical. It has high-quality content that changes throughout the day. You engage site visitors by encouraging them to post, comment and share via social media. The site looks like Pinterest on steroids. And still, people don’t come. Often, the problem here is  lack of promotional campaigning – more than just a house ad or commercial, and more sustained than just a few months.

Since the beginning of time we have sold reach and frequency to our advertisers.

Ask yourself: Does your outlet by itself reach everyone who might be interested in your vertical? The hard answer is likely no.

Ask: If you try to sell advertisers on a frequency program for a year, does it make sense that your promotion of an online vertical lasts only weeks or month?

Online verticals can be successfully sold, generate new revenue and be profitable. But dreadful verticals that don’t change, are built around content that lulls readers into a stupor or worse, misleads them, won’t cut it.