How to Create Sponsored Content that Doesn’t Suck

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As a publisher, your advertisers come to you with the expectation that you’re creating valuable sponsored content that brings MQLs to the table and ultimately delivers on their digital dollars spent. It’s a two-way street of trust. They’re counting on you to be the experts at knowing what your readers want to consume, while keeping their own interests in mind.

The dilemma? You need to prioritize preserving the sanctity of your own publication’s reputation, sometimes over making money. So how do you create a win-win scenario? Create GREAT content that advertisers love and trust.

Creating Non-Sucky Content

Here are a few things you can keep in mind to be sure content performs well for your advertisers, while also maintaining high editorial quality:

Show the Right Offers to the Right People

Use segmentation based on analyzed email, site behavior, and user data to create more effective targeting tactics.

Example: If you sell video games, and you have one set of users who enjoy car racing games and another set that likes puzzle games, you’d want to serve each group content based on their respective preferred genres.

Value Transparency

Make sure you indicate what is sponsored content and what isn’t. When your readers trust you, and the actions they take on sponsored content are more informed, and their value as a lead is higher for your advertisers.

You’ve seen this before. On most media sites, take a quick look at the sidebar and you’ll likely see a video that’s very clearly titled “Sponsored Video”.

Make Content Accessible

It shouldn’t take readers multiple steps to get to the content you’re offering them. Yes, it makes sense to have a lead capture mechanism. But if, for instance, you’re having readers fill out a formmake the form easy, short and non-invasive. If readers never get to your content, they never get to your advertisers.

Example: Instead of having your ebook on, “How to Create Content That Doesn’t Suck” behind a form that asks for highly personal and granular pieces of information, consider that form your first point of contact with the reader, and set up system whereby you can gather further user data without being pushy.

Keep Your Readers Central

Make sure you’re always creating content that’s highly relevant to your readers. It’s no longer about selling yourself, it’s about empowering your audience.

Example: Instead of content about your product or service, think about creating how-tos around related subjects. For instance, if you sell lawn mowers, your users probably care a lot about the external appearance of their property. You could create an eBook about maintaining the perfect yard.

Remember Length Matters

With readers being bombarded by content all day long, you should expect a shortened attention span. Try to be as concise and organized as possible with your content, while still providing value (that’s the key!).

Think about organizing your content so that a variety of readers can access the information – “skimmers” and “deeper readers”. For skimmers, things like bold work, or use bullet points or numbers. For deeper readers, you can expand on those bold points or bullets if they want more information.

Use Anecdotes

Segmenting allows you to create specific audience personas with specific value-sets. Instead of offering them depersonalized content, use those value-sets to your advantage by highlighting real-life scenarios that your readers can directly relate to.

Example: We just used a few above!

Think Several Steps Ahead

Remember that content doesn’t always have to result in a direct conversion or first-point-of-sale. Content could be focused on educating a reader for a decision they might need or want to make six months down the road, and should be part of a pre-mapped workflow that might end in a direct conversion.

Example: If your advertiser sells running shoes and clothes, you may have an audience segment of “potential or new runners” who want to know how they could train for their first 5K. You could offer them a video featuring a top runner who walks them through a three-month training schedule. How does that help? Well, they’re going to need new running shoes at some point.

Follow Your Reader

To that end, make sure you understand when and how your readers make decisionsthe buyer’s journey. Think about creating supporting content that may lead to that decision down the road, or a series of content pieces that, once consumed, may lead to a direct lead or conversion.

Example: That new runner, does she tend to buy new running clothes at the beginning of the outdoor running season for Boston? Or does she buy them right before a race? If you can understand her buying patterns, you can continue to time your sponsored content in a way that maximizes her schedule – “Top 5 Running Shorts for Summer Races”.

Matching audience behavior and preferences with the content, and then with the right ad, can be a tricky process. In the end, if you’re keeping the advertisers dollars and leads in mind, while also creating content that upholds the integrity of the publication, everyone is happy. It’s a win-win situation all around.

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