Digital Publishing Guest Columns
4 mins read

Nobody likes ‘More from around the web’ links: so what can publishers do about it?

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A new survey has helped to draw attention to something that most publishers intuitively already know – people really dislike branded ‘More from around the web’ links.

It shouldn’t be a surprise to discover that 79% of people surveyed dislike the widgets, or that 73% are aware that these links are often paid for. It seems like the general attitude among publishers has been resigned acceptance – if you need the income these widgets bring, then you have to grit your teeth and keep going. Perhaps these latest findings will make some publishers reconsider this approach, especially with an eye on the longer term.

Those headline stats aren’t the end of it either. Almost 20% of respondents viewed the links as ‘fake news’ and clickbait. Not only that, but publishers are the ones whose reputations are most damaged when audiences react badly to the intrusion. More respondents blamed the publisher site for their negative experience (40%) than blamed the site they were directed to (30%) or the maker of the widget (24%).

Trouble on the horizon

Jessica Rovello, CEO of Arkadium, is quoted as saying that, “publishers are doing long-term harm to their reputations and relationships with readers when they opt for the short-term cash these widgets can bring”. The numbers certainly make it hard to avoid this conclusion.

It’s not that difficult to understand why the widgets get such a hostile response. Audiences don’t mind good content suggestions, in fact they like them; what they don’t like is the spammy nature of the widgets:

  • They rarely fit well with the look and feel of the site, making it seem cheaper and lower quality
  • They often feature irrelevant content that seems overtly manipulative
  • They clutter pages and can slow down load time

In the end, they make readers feel that the publisher is more interested in making money out of them than treating them like a valued customer or member.

Bring me solutions, not problems

It’s all very well pointing out the uncomfortable truth, but what practical steps can publishers take to move away from ‘More from the web’ widgets without trashing the bottom line?

Diversifying revenue streams is crucial, and that’s true these days whether you feature these links or not. Even sites monetizing on huge volume and social-media traffic acquisition are making a concerted effort to move away from an over-reliance on ads and ad-tech. Branded content, affiliate marketing, premium content and events are the most common areas that forward-thinking publishers are now looking to for growth.

In the past, publishers didn’t need a commercial strategy – ad revenue was predictable and growing. That’s not the case anymore, and that means that publishers need to start taking advantage of other ways to monetise that were, in reality, always open to them. All that’s changed is that now they’re necessary.

Moving away from spammy links and towards high-quality branded content are complementary. When you take the links off your site, your audience has a better experience, becomes more engaged, and becomes a more valuable market for branded content partners.

It takes work, but investing in diversifying your revenue sources is now the only way to avoid pain in the future. 

Any other recommendations?

One question that it’s easy to forget about in all of this is how to do real content recommendation well. Most ‘content recommendation’ widgets don’t actually recommend your own content, and, when they do, the results are often pretty hit and miss. This is a lost opportunity, because having people easily finding and consuming more of your content is going to mean increased revenue, however you monetize your site.

You can build systems to do this yourself, but in practice they tend to be either very basic or too expensive for all but the biggest publishers to maintain. Nowadays, there are SaaS products that exist just to make relevant, ad-free content suggestions to your readers. These come without any of the spam and ‘fake news’ that has characterised the yield-based products that have become synonymous with ‘content recommendation’. It’s an area you should be exploring if you’re looking to build deeper relationships with your users.

Key Lessons:

Your readers really don’t like ‘More from around the web links’. Think carefully about how crucial they are to your bottom line, because they are harming your brand.

The antidote to lower ad revenues is diversification. Publishers have always had more ways to monetize their readers attention than just banner ads and paid-for links, but in the past they didn’t need them. Things have changed, and you need to branch out if you want to thrive.

Real content recommendation is not the same as paid-for links. High-quality recommended content is a key part of creating a good experience for your readers – think carefully about how to do it, and explore the SaaS products out there if building your own system is unfeasible.

Mads Holmen, CEO, Bibblio

About Bibblio: Bibblio helps publishers and media partners drive better audience engagement and revenue through ad-free, AI-powered content recommendation as a service.

Photo by Michał Kubalczyk on Unsplash