Sunday, April 23, 2006

Paid content model becoming less popular

This news will sound good for the advocates of free content model of online publishing-The Association of Online Publishers of the UK (http://www.ukaop.org.uk/cgi-bin/go.pl/research/article.html?uid=920) reports that its AOP Census 2006 shows a serious drop in the number of online publishers charging for online content (from 63 percent in 2005 to 37%).

Not entirely unexpectedly, B2B publishers are more inclined to charge for content than B2C publishers. Is it because B2B publishers position themselves as providers of “intelligence” while their B2C counterparts are perceived to be providers of “information”? (Or it could simply be that the payments for the content in one case is likely to come from company expense accounts while for the other it is supposed to come out from personal wallets :)).

Either way, with online advertising- in particular display advertising- enjoying a boom time (http://www.emarketer.com/Article.aspx?1003904 ), publishers probably realize the futility of trying to get more paying customers for their content, when they could generate lots more revenue with free readers that can be acquired at a much lower cost.

May be a model where publishers bundle their content offering with another product/service may be the way to go for publishers who want to charge for providing accessing their content. An example of this as I see it is the Affiliate Classroom magazine (I am sure there are plenty more), where the main product offering is the access to all the “training” material offered by the Classroom for a monthly subscription fee, with the monthly magazine thrown in as an important part of the package. The monthly magazine generates advertising revenue. Getting the best of both worlds…

Getting traffic patterns into the search ranking

This thread on WebMasterworld asks the very pertinent question whether Google's search ranking algorithm is now factoring in traffic patters into its search ranking.

I doubt if there is a definitive answer , but it is definitely a strong possibility that this might be the case.

Why would Google consider doing it:

a) The whole concept of Page Rank (without getting into the technicalities and the mathematics behind it) as we understand is based on assessing the popularity of a site gauged by the quality and quantity of 'citations' a particular website receives, which in the context of the web is backlinks. Traffic to a website is obviously another indication of a website's popularity-- citation from an end user, which is what really matters.

b) All the data that Google has about users' search behavior with the freely available Google toolbar and Google Analytics has to obviously find some application. The volume of data that is representative of actual usage patterns makes it extremely valuable, which justifies the inclusion of clickthroughs and traffic from other sources to websites into the ranking criteria of organic search results.
Already, Clickthroughs are a key component of Google's ad rankings formula in its AdWords program. Therefore it wouldn't be illogical by any stretch of the imagination to expect clickthroughs to be part of the ranking algo of organic search results.

However, just as there are questions on whether all that weightage on 'in-bound links' in determining rankings is the best way to determine relevance, similar questions will arise about the addition of traffic and click through measurements into the ranking algorithm, as and when that happens. Traffic can be bought -- and there are plenty of sites with high purchasing power-- which will skew results in favor of the big players with fat advertising budgets. Let's also not forget the problem of click fraud and how traffic (and that too free traffic) can be manipulated. We all know of how many websites boosted their Alexa traffic rankings, back when these were considered useful (and something to crow about).

Personally, I believe that at some stage (if it is not already), clickthrough and traffic patterns will undoubtedly factor into ranking algorithms for natural search results. As long as it contributes to enhancing the relevance of the results, I doubt if any one will have complaints.