Digital Publishing Guest Columns
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AOP Awards 2021: What are the foundations for quality digital publishing?

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As part of the Association of Online Publishers (AOP) Awards 2021, the AOP conducted an in-depth series of interviews with the finalists to tease out the strategies and innovations that have proved so successful. In Part One, the AOP looked at the essential ingredients for successful publisher growth; in Part Two, what creates successful publisher innovation; and in Part Three, a deep dive into why culture and values are such a strategic priority for digital publishers.

Now, in the final installment, the AOP is examining the building blocks for successful, quality digital publishing. You can read the full in-depth blog here, but below are some highlights from our focus on digital publishing excellence.

Defining quality journalism and content

Quality publishing should deliver accurate, fact-checked information, but we also have to continue to deliver a range of perspectives and challenge outdated preconceptions in order to build towards a better future.

I think it’s incredibly important that we in the UK working in the news industry continue to have a broad range of journalism that expresses different viewpoints.

David McMurtrie, Head of UK Publishers – Partner Solutions at Google

Quality publishing has to be about ensuring that your content meets a need that your reader has – whether that’s trusted information on a breaking news item, or just the faith that your website will help them find the perfect recipe: “We’ll only create recipes where we know there’s a strong user demand for them,” explained’s Digital Group Editor, Lily Barclay, “which is why we will only ever work with brands where we actually genuinely feel like they are the best in the market.”

Creating a quality reader experience

Of course, quality content also requires quality context – what is the overall reader experience?

Google’s David McMurtrie stressed the importance of keeping the user experience at the front of mind: “The ad industry is frequently blamed for poorly targeted re-marketing campaigns. But I’d argue that publishers too often just look at pure revenue goals and ignore the user experience.”

You want quick page load times, you don’t want pop-up advertising, you want the ads to be within context rather than being intrusive.

Sam Tomlinson, Partner at PwC

Ensuring quality data sources

Analysis of data sources is improving within quality digital publishers, with more publishers interrogating their engagement metrics beyond click-through; instead, a more detailed picture is being created around reader engagement by understanding what content encourages most time spent, who visits most frequently, and more. 

Data contributes in any number of ways to creating a quality publishing environment. As David McMurtrie at Google stressed, “the best journalism won’t reach an audience without investment in data and in web development.”

And as well as providing a pool of potential consumers for your advertisers, it is critical to developing and refining a great subscriber experience. With the demise of the cookie on the horizon, investing in your first-party data is more critical than ever for long-term success.

Working with advertisers to create quality branded content

How can publishers work with advertisers to monetise their content without detracting from the reading, watching, or listening experience? Creating unobtrusive ad placements and putting the focus on context and placement of the ads is obviously one solution, but branded content is rapidly becoming a key channel to meet the needs of both advertisers and readers.

“From an editorial perspective, we still jealously – fervently – protect the editorial integrity of what we do,” explained Bryan Glick, Editor-in-Chief at Computer Weekly, “but we do also work with clients to help them produce branded content for themselves as well.”

Gone are the days when readers perceive branded content as lower-grade content.

Jo Holdaway, Chief Data & Marketing Officer at ESI Media

Earning trust and building a reputation for quality

Finally, it goes without saying that a quality digital publisher’s greatest asset is their reputation for quality and the trust readers place in them.

Registration from a user means ‘I trust you’ and ‘I also trust you with my data’. You have to be very respectful to your audience to get them to come back.

Jo Holdaway, Chief Data & Marketing Officer at ESI Media

With a wealth of media sources to choose between, more and more consumers are looking for publishing brands that stand by their values and work to make a positive impact in the world. It was wonderful to see such evidence of this in the finalists for the AOP Awards, and we look forward to celebrating with our finalists – and our winners! – at the AOP Awards presentation next Thursday 16 September.