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For the past few years, one of the most popular strategies used by brands to get their products and services in front of prospects was to “guest blog” for a reputable online media publication. That blog post often turned out to be thinly veiled advertisement, though, with plenty of links back to that company’s products and a very biased perspective of how their products could solve problems facing consumers.
How we got to where we are today
The problem is, online publications often couldn’t afford to turn down these guest blogging pitches, no matter how bad they were, mostly because they needed the money or the clicks. If their regular advertising dollars were drying up, well OK, at least they could charge deep-pocketed companies a few bucks to publish their promotional articles online. And, since there were so many corporate hacks willing to write for free, it also meant that these publications could cut back on their paid editorial staff and still get the clicks. So at the same time that media publications were making more money, they were also cutting costs. Genius, right?
Wrong. Unfortunately, the guest blogging privilege soon became so abused that many once-prestigious websites are now basically just a lot of sponsored content pieces masquerading as serious articles. If you see an article written by the CEO or founder of a company, you can be pretty much assured that it started out life as a guest content pitch. All the big websites do this – it’s just that some do a better job of hiding it than others.
Results from a survey of online editors
But now editors are waking up to the fact that most of this guest content appearing on their websites is absolutely horrendous. In one recent survey from Influence & Co., 79% of editors said they rejected guest content pitches because they were “too promotional.” These articles often contained mention of products and services right within the article – complete with links back to pages where readers could purchase them. And these “too promotional” articles often were too biased, presenting a problem facing consumers only from the vendor’s perspective.
Moreover, 56% of editors in the survey said that the content was not the “right fit” for their readership. In other words, PR flacks from companies were just mass submitting articles to any publication they could find. All that mattered to them was placement on a prestigious media site – it didn’t matter at all that the readers of that website might not care a bit about their products or services.
And, finally, one issue cited by the editors in the survey was that the content being submitted was not in the right format. In other words, publications are now looking beyond just text-only blog pitches. They want videos, infographics and audio content (i.e. podcasts).
In search of a better business model for media publications
One thing is certain – the mainstream media is very much broken. The failure of the advertising-based business model led most – if not all – media publications to develop all sorts of “sponsored content” solutions that actively supported guest content pitches. The wall between advertising and editorial disintegrated, leading to content that was part-ad, part-editorial.
For awhile, that hybrid solution might have worked. But as editors are now pointing out, this practice of accepting anything they received eventually led to diluted, watered-down content that readers didn’t want to read. And now editors are finally fighting back, rejecting guest content pitches that aren’t within the editorial scope of their publication.
The hope, of course, is that this will lead to a better business model for media publications. “Sponsored content” might have sounded like a great idea a few years ago, but now that readers are abandoning these publications due to low-quality content, it’s time to re-think matters.