A better way to monetize search traffic?

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Traditional publishers have been slow to adapt to the search-driven economy – getting steamrolled by content aggregators, bloggers and content farms that are much more effective at tuning their content for search engines.

Now, publishers are gaining access to more tools to help them fight back. The latest is from Perfect Market, which earlier this month released The Vault, a new “content performance” tool designed to help publishers monetize what often are their least valuable visitors: the ones coming from search engines.

Search users are looking for information on a single topic and often exit after reading just the one article. “They are probably only going to look at that one page, and if they don’t get what they want, they will hit the back button and look somewhere else,” said Julie Schoenfeld, Perfect Market’s president and CEO.

Publishers have spent untold resources trying to convert – often unsuccessfully – these “drive-bys” to regular, brand-loyal visitors by filling their article pages with related articles and links to other sections of the site. So Perfect Market offers a different approach. The Vault enables publishers to serve up alternate article pages to visitors coming from search engines, stripping out any unrelated content or navigation and offering links only related to the topic and keywords that drove the referral.

“You’re trying to answer their question as opposed to getting them to move around their site,” said Schoenfeld.

(SearchEngineLand’s Danny Sullivan provides a side-by-side comparison of a traditional LA Times article page and one served up by Perfect Market.)

In addition to relevant content, The Vault also analyzes contextually relevant advertising to measure the monetization performance of the pages coming from search and the keywords driving them. Pairing highly relevant content and advertising helps improve click-through rates for both, according to Schoenfeld.

“Many of the pages coming from search only have remnant inventory generating $1 CPMs,” she said. “Our customers are now getting $10 CPMs. We’ve also increased their visibility in the search engines, which in some cases has doubled traffic to those pages.” That’s a net 20-fold increase in advertising revenue.

This leads to the most controversial aspect of The Vault. The dashboard that editors use to track performance of these pages also includes monetization information. Editors see the top trending terms, how much traffic each story generated – and the revenue potential of each article:

Schoenfeld acknowledged that exposing revenue information to editors is a hot topic in newsrooms, and says publications have to make their own decisions about whether they want editorial teams to see that data. But she believes the insights are valuable for optimizing search traffic – especially for publishers who feel their quality content is getting buried under an avalanche of search results.

“The Internet is a noisy place,” Schoenfeld said. “One of the best ways to pick a signal out of that noise is with a great brand. If you see that brand on a search results page, you believe that story has been professionally produced, and you’re more likely to click on it.”

Schoenfeld said more than 16 newspapers are working with the technology, including several from the Tribune Company (which is also one of Perfect Market’s investors). The service is offered on a revenue-share basis or via annual subscription based on the size of the publisher’s digital archives.

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