Suite101 evolves pay-for-performance content model

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There’s plenty of talk, most of it negative, about the “content factory” model that’s gaining traction on the Web. Media companies including Demand Media, Associated Content and About.com have created high-volume, commodity editorial businesses, relying on a network of freelancers who are compensated solely on how many page views their articles generate.

Proponents of this model say creating large quantities of search-optimized content is the wave of the future. Naysayers believe it’s an affront to journalism, because the model pays writers for quantity over quality and lacks many of the editorial controls that traditional media companies use to ensure the information they publish is accurate, timely and informative.

Peter Berger, CEO of Suite101.com, believes his company has found the proper balance in the scale vs. quality debate. Founded in 1996, Suite101.com publishes consumer and enthusiast articles on topics including business and finance, travel, sports, and health and wellness. Its sites attract more than 27 million monthly visitors.

The Vancouver-based company employs more than 50 editors who manage the contributions of more than 8,000 freelancers, who are paid a percentage of pay-per-click revenues generated by their articles.

Berger says this type of business model – despite being built for scale – requires quality content to be sustainable.

“There’s a notion that if it’s written for search, it can’t be good,” he says. “But in the long run, you need quality content, because that’s what people want to find. The core of any search strategy is creating content that people ultimately want to read.”

Berger says Suite101’s editorials team accepts only about 20 percent of the applications it receives from potential contributors to the North American site (it also publishes sites in Europe), screening for writers who can produce well-researched, entertaining content. Editors will review a writer’s first article before it’s published; if it passes muster, writers can begin posting directly to the site.

The monthly royalty checks won’t start rolling in immediately, however; Berger says it often takes around 30 articles before writers will begin to see any real PPC traction.

Suite101 is taking steps to help writers better optimize their content for search – and shorten that payment lag. In the past, the company offered informal tips to educate contributors about search optimization.

Now, it is testing new analytics tools that it plans to offer writers to help them better understand where their traffic flows are coming from and how they can create content that more readers can find through search. The company also announced today the hiring of Aaron Bradley as its new SEO director.

One goal of the company’s search-related efforts is to bring more CPM revenue-sharing opportunities into the PPC mix for writers.

“We want to help writers who write in areas that don’t directly monetize through PPC,” says Berger.

One example is a subject area such as ancient Rome. “No one would advertise in Google for that,” he says. “But there are advertisers who would want to try to reach that audience.”

Despite his company's success, Berger doesn’t believe the model that Suite101 employs would work for traditional publishers.

“I don’t think it really adds value for destination sites with one editorial vision,” he says. “Those sites don’t need such a large amount of content – but they do need very strict editorial oversight and agenda setting.”

Related:

Lowered Expectations: Web Redefines 'Quality'

Needed: A New Science for Valuing Content

The New Structure of Media: How We Discover Content

 

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