Content-Driven Publishers Grow Media Companies
by Tony Stanhope on Jan 21, 2024 9:55:15 AM
An outline of how to grow media companies using a content-driven approach (while beating a skyscraper analogy into the ground).
In short: Publishers are like skyscrapers — to actualize success at scale, you need a solid foundation, strong support, and the ability to build up (and, occasionally, out).
Let's think first of a smaller publisher — they have a followed blog, and a starter website with articles and elementary design. This publisher is the single story building, a house, home, or standalone office. As the publisher creates more content and grows, it adds more and more stories to the building — eventually becoming large enough to warrant the title of "skyscraper."
Put that specific image in your mind.
Building up | the publisher skyscraper
As a publisher grows in size, there are some common things that make up the structure of larger buildings such as skyscrapers: namely, a foundation, framing, and facade. Aligning these elements with a publisher's growth model, you’d get:
- Foundation = Content: The publishers’ content is the foundation. Without this, there is no structure (or the structure is slowly but surely sinking into the ground). A small publisher might have a few key articles acting like cinder blocks or wooden supports, but growing up their content acts as a rock-solid, concrete slab, reinforced with rebar (EEAT) and extra cement (SEO).
- Facade = Website: I know… framing should come first, but the facade is more exciting for our purposes. Why? Because nobody wants an ugly house, even if it’s built on a disaster-proof foundation. The facade of your publishing company is your website. A basic, plain site can present your content to visitors, but doesn’t a nice-looking one make them feel a bit more welcome? Publisher-focused CMSs offer something that a generic CMS like Wordpress or Medium doesn’t: the ability to create a facade that matches your brand, personality, and voice with tools that help you decorate and innovate along the way.
- Framing = Website Monetization: Without framing, the building falls apart. Similarly, publishers that don’t have a solid monetization strategy will go under. It’s the way the world works. But like a building’s frame, trying to over-optimize in one area can lead to structural weaknesses elsewhere. A publisher can’t rely on a single revenue stream, just like a house can’t rely on a single pillar. Inversely, too many pillars creates too much to maintain. For most publishers, focusing on a few key monetization areas make sense; i.e. pick 3 walls (4 if you’re feeling adventurous and want to include the wall behind the facade) — the most common walls for publishers include Ads, Affiliate & Syndication/Licensing (though there are plenty of others).
Okay, so you start with a house (or standalone office), but a ways away from being skyscraper. To get there your one choice: build up.
The biggest and best publishers didn’t start out with a huge content portfolios from Day 1. They took their learnings from smaller publications and used them to grow their business incrementally, like a skyscraper reaching for the sky. Your building might not be the tallest right now, but the stronger your foundation is, the higher you’re going to be able to build.
The best part of publishing? Those walls grow with you. Applying your monetization strategy to new sites and new categories is like adding floors to your building. Each floor brings a new level of EEAT/SEO support, just like your foundation. Your monetization channels continue to grow with each new floor. This is how the smartest publishers win. They don’t reinvent the wheel each time, they apply a proven strategy to new or historically under monetized sites they acquire.
What about building “out”?
This is one of the more exciting parts of publisher architecture — you don’t just have to build up.
While your support comes from your foundation (content) and your framing (monetization channels), it’s okay to add extensions and additions as long as they’re properly reinforced.
In practice, this means ensuring stability within your core monetization channels before testing out new channels. If your business can’t run on the 3-4 channels you’ve chosen, you’re going to be stretched too thin to succeed in other areas. A decision to move into categories like consumer research or eCommerce should be planned carefully before starting if they’re not part of your core business. Otherwise, you risk building the framing without the funds to finish it, so to speak.
The importance of sustainable growth
One beauty of publishing is that building up is achievable no matter where a publisher currently stands. If you're just a “single-story structure” with solid content, a good looking website, and a few successful monetization channels, that’s what it takes to make a sustainable single-site business.
For those looking to grow, it’s possible as long as the same criteria are met each step/floor of the way. Always make sure your core business can support the weight of the new sites as you expand upward and before you know it, your skyscraper will be towering over the competition.
Some other musings:
- Strong structures support many more people than weak ones do. The stronger (stickier) a publisher’s content is, the more people you’re going to have on each “floor” of the building.
- Each floor has a ceiling — the audience you have vs. the audience you want
- Is there a garden/landscaping/rooftop analogy that can be made?
What about building maintenance and janitorial services? Shared services?
- Rooms on each floor - customer segments? Content categories?
- Climate control - could this be paid traffic in non-peak seasons?
- Changing needs - office buildings are being converted to living spaces. Could this be representative of a change in audience needs? Maybe a higher emphasis on UGC and engagement over distilled information?
Interested in discussing more the process of growing media companies? Send us an email.