Smart Monetization for Publishers in a Facebook Instant Articles Era

If care is not taken, just like the newspaper industry is dying due to digital media, most online publishers will struggle to stay afloat.

Facebook opened Instant Articles to all publishers in April, and Google introduced Accelerated Mobile Pages last October.

These are just a few of the most notable options right now, and they signal the beginning of an era: Major brands are becoming increasingly innovative about getting users to spend more time on their sites.

While Facebook claims that Instant Articles are aimed at delivering a better experience to users, this doesn’t change the fact that it is taking away control from publishers, and experience shows that it has always been difficult to monetize content you can’t control.

At F8 in April, Facebook boasted about some interesting results from publishers using Instant Articles. Specifically, Facebook users are:

  • 20 percent more likely to click on Instant Articles than web pages.
  • 70 percent less likely to abandon Instant Articles due to poor user experience; in essence, readers will spend more time reading.
  • 30 percent more likely to share Instant Articles than web pages.

With the above statistics, Facebook’s Instant Articles are a win for publishers, right? Not necessarily. According to data from HubSpot’s recent Digital Publishing Benchmarks Report, publishers are finding it increasingly challenging to compete with free content on the web; the report shows that a whopping 78.4 percent of respondents are compelled to offer free content of some sort, yet publishers are barely able to monetize this content.

Interestingly, available statistics show that since January 2015, Facebook referral traffic to publishers has dropped by 32 percent, while user interaction on Facebook has increased nearly threefold. Facebook is winning at the game of getting people to spend more time on its site while increasingly reducing the number of people that visit publishers’ sites. Instant Articles will only worsen things, and, depending on how you approach it, this could be a win or loss for you.

In an era where publishers are struggling to monetize free content on their platform, having your content hosted on platforms you can’t control (such as Instant Articles) doesn’t seem like a win. However, with the data showing that articles hosted on such platforms are getting more views and better reads, what should smart publishers do?

Here are some tips for effectively monetizing content on platforms like Facebook Instant Articles:

Native ads: Thankfully, with Instant Articles, Facebook allows some flexibility with advertising. Facebook recently announced the possibility of using native ads in Instant Articles, and this has been a very welcome development. In fact, a recent study shows that average click-through rates for premium native ads on mobile increased by 137 percent in the first quarter of 2016 versus the year-ago period, compared with desktop, and that this is expected to further go up as Facebook Instant Articles and Google AMP expand.

While publishers don’t exactly own Facebook, they will have a level of control over native ads that appear in their Instant Articles, and the fact that Facebook also allows publishers to integrate Instant Articles with major tracking and analytics tools makes it easy to convince advertisers with viable statistics. In light of this, Instant Articles is basically an extension of your platform, and it’s much easy to convince sponsors.

That said, Instant Articles can help you command even more from native content. Based on the fact that Facebook’s data shows that Instant Articles get more views and engagement, the increased readership gives publishers an opportunity to earn more from native ads.

In-article video ads: Facebook introduced video ads to Instant Articles in May, thus making it easy for brands to add pre-roll, mid-roll and post-roll video ads. It’s time to create a strategy that allows you to monetize your Instant Articles with video ads.

In-image ads: There’s a popular saying that a picture is worth 1,000 words. While images have been generally noted to result in more views and engagement, monetizing images hasn’t been part of publishers’ monetization strategy until recently. This has changed over the past few years, however, thanks to intelligent technology and programmatic platforms like Imonomy. Using contextual analysis and behavioral data analysis, ads can be embedded inside images with a relevancy and interest to the users in a place where their engagement level is very high.

This presents a great opportunity to monetize your content in an innovative way that focuses the user’s’ ad experience in an era of visual centric and user experience.

Build your other ad channels: Publishers can key into the flexibility that comes with Facebook Instant Articles and Google AMP to build their other advertising channels, as well. For example, there were reports that Facebook recently let some publishers test having newsletter sign up options in Instant Articles.

The option to collect leads through content featured in Instant Articles seems like something that will eventually go mainstream, and this presents an opportunity to build your other advertising real estate and play Facebook’s game with it.

Just as Facebook is trying to retain control of its platform and have people perpetually there, build your own ad channels that can be independent of Facebook, as well. One such channel is an email list. Most smart publishers already offer sponsors an opportunity to advertise to their email list, so this presents an opportunity to further improve the value of other ad real estates.

Facebook ads: Let’s not ignore Facebook’s own advertising system, either. Facebook gives publishers an option to sell ad positions in their content in exchange for a 30 percent cut of revenue generated from the ads.

Facebook Instant Articles, Google Accelerated Mobile Pages, Apple’s News app, etc.–we can only expect to see more of these, and if care is not taken, just like the newspaper industry is dying due to digital media, most online publishers will struggle to stay afloat. Hopefully the above tips help you effectively monetize your content in this era.

Harald Merckel is a freelance writer whose primary focuses are business, e-gaming and marketing.