I caught up with Forbes’ European managing director, Charles Yardley, to find out how the publisher moved toward a native content revenue model and why it chose to go down that route.
How worried are you personally about ad blocking?
Ad blocking is a hugely important topic and poses real threats to all ad-supported publishers. It’s very much top of mind at Forbes.
How damaging could it be to the publishing industry?
In the short term, it’s clearly a hot topic and, consequently, publishers and technology companies are currently paying a lot of attention and working towards solutions for how to tackle the ad blocking crisis.
We are monitoring this closely at Forbes, and it remains a priority for our CTO and teams of programmers.
Why do you think consumers are increasingly turning to ad blockers?
Pages load quicker, cheaper data plans and the fact that some people just don’t want to see disruptive or irrelevant ads.
Forbes has been using native ads for a while now in the form of BrandVoice. How does this platform work?
BrandVoice is our native advertising platform offered both in Forbes Magazine and on Forbes.com. It differs from most other native solutions in that it allows advertisers, for a fee, to publish directly onto Forbes.com using the same CMS that our staff journalists and contributors use on a daily basis.
When a brand posts a piece of content, the content experiences the exact same organic journey as content written by a Forbes staff journalist or contributor, enjoying the same distribution and visibility.
This is even before a native ad is served. We also use native ad placements to help promote and distribute our BrandVoice partners’ content across Forbes.com.
Since the brand’s content runs on the editorial track, it is visible, discoverable by search both internally and externally, and has long tail value.
Even when funding has ceased, the articles remain part of the overall content mix on the site. All three streams of content – from Forbes staff journalists, contributors and BrandVoice partners – co-exist in harmony.
The key is transparency. All content is clearly and transparently labelled so that users understand the source of the content: whether it’s from a Forbes staff journalist, a contributor or a brand.
What made you go down this route? Did ad blocking play a part in the decision?
Forbes transformed itself in 2010 from a website to a publishing platform, creating high quality content at scale, informed by shifts in the media landscape that were fueled by social media and mobile.
We recognised the fundamental economics behind web publishing were broken, and we built a model for the future of social journalism, which saw significant changes to the traditional editorial and commercial models.
Ad blocking in 2010 was in its infancy, and didn’t contribute to the cultural publishing shift that took place at Forbes.
What impact has BrandVoice had on your ad revenues, and on ad blocking rates on the site?
BrandVoice partners generate approximately 35% of our advertising revenues today. This past September, we reached a key milestone – 100 BrandVoice partners since the launch of the platform in 2010.
Currently, as many as 40 BrandVoice partners are live on Forbes.com.
Native ads seem to work, but aren’t we ‘tricking’ consumers by effectively masking ads as normal content? Do you think there could be trust issues further down the line?
Our native ads are headlines that push out the marketers’ content, and for us trust and transparency is absolutely key. Without it, none of this works.
Our content is clearly and transparently labelled so that users understand the source of the content. The trust we have with our readers is long established, and it is essential that native advertising adds to that trust rather than disguises brands’ content.
We have a duty to maintain a clear distinction between journalists’ and contributors’ opinions and brands’ opinions, but still be open to the fact that brands have valuable domain expertise and insights to share with our audience.
A big part of trust that must not be forgotten is that users get rewarded for engaging with brand content that is useful, adds value and is relevant to them.
Looking forward generally, can native ads alone solve the problem of ad blocking?
New revenue models will no doubt emerge, and we continue to monitor all the options.
We’re closely tracking the percentage of users coming to Forbes.com with ad blockers on a regular basis, and we’re continuing to evaluate a number of options.
We’ll soon be deploying tests to see how the various options lead to either recouping revenue from site sessions with users with ad blockers or create new means of monetising those user sessions.