In recent years, known and loved media brands like The Guardian have widened and diversified their online footprint in new and exciting ways. This should have driven revenue up – so why are they forced to cut resources back?

Unfortunately, the challenges facing digital media are difficult to overcome, as the space becomes progressively crowded and competitive. The likes of Google are channeling away advertising budgets, while social media behemoths are doing the same with traffic. Platforms such as Facebook are not the industry godsends they once were – the largest publishers are seeing their  traffic referral from Facebook drop dramatically.

On top of this, the ad blocking affair only worsens. On the other side of the pond, FT reports that major US publishers are up in arms as a new ad blocker has the technology to replace publisher ads with its own. The software additionally uses bitcoin rewards to entice readers to engage with the ads, which – according to the creator – have shorter load times. This is threatening publishers in a potentially unlawful way.

As an industry, we should read these issues as warning signs, symptomatic of a situation in need of revolution. We must reinvent how we monetise digital content, in a way that benefits publishers, readers and brands.

Swelling the revenue stream

Every day, more suggestions are thrown up as potential solutions to this issue, and it takes time to see which ones stick.

Real-time decisioning has opened up new opportunities for digital ads, and now the same technology is being applied elsewhere. The automation of content discovery is one way for editors to drive traffic by showcasing their best content on other sites, attracting an incremental audience based on user personalisation. They can promote the content pulling in the most revenue, instead of the piece with the most page views or a certain ad campaign as they did previously.

This is possible by tracking with accuracy the advertising value of each page – even though the value of video content can fluctuate by 60% in one day and up to 262% for an entire page. By understanding how 30 common variables, from ad formats and platform types to RTB partners, affect the value of a piece of content throughout the day, editors can be in a much stronger position to maximise their revenue streams.

And to ensure every piece of content is working as hard as possible, and that editors are monetising their existing assets in the most effective way, it is also possible to test a headline’s effect among readers and edit accordingly, as well as continuously monitor and fine-tune accompanying images.

Investing in user experience

But even when an editor has successfully brought more readers to their site by promoting content cleverly, their work doesn’t end there. A publisher is nothing without its readers, and if they are disappointed by the user experience they will resort to ad blockers or look for content elsewhere. The industry has not reached a consensus on this issue, but what is certain is that advertising must improve and become more transparent in order to regain users’ trust.

When it comes to content recommendation, this can be achieved through keeping content premium and personalised as a minimum – a click-bait quick fix is likely to turn readers off fast. As seen at the bottom of articles on The Telegraph or CNN, the selection of articles to read next must be kept to a high standard – and incorporate a complex series of algorithms to ensure all content is relevant to the user as well as the time of day or the month. Done right, it is like a totally customised newspaper where every article is cherry-picked and relevant.

These recommendation engines are also a form of native advertising, sitting neatly and unobtrusively in the editorial environment of the page. So instead of losing revenue from more intrusive advertising, publishers can please readers and brands simultaneously.

And best of all? Recommended articles enjoy a 10, sometimes 20, times higher CTR than display ads.

Getting brands on board

Every marketer has heard about the benefits of content marketing – it’s a long-form opportunity for brands to deliver value while telling readers who they are and what their story is. As part of a holistic digital marketing strategy, marketers can use content recommendation to appeal to those who prefer ‘pull’ rather than ‘push’ tactics, engaging readers based on who they are and what they are about. Whether playful or practical, as long as recommended content is personalised and premium, it will always be memorable.

And the ultimate marketing goal remains the same – transforming potential customers into brand ambassadors who keep coming back for more.