Lindsay Lohan's sentencing and other celebrity news drove significant online traffic for major news publishers. But it was the articles about unemployment benefits, the Gulf oil spill, mortgage rates and other serious topics that were the top-earning news topics based on advertising revenue per page view, according to Perfect Market.
The company just launched its Vault Index, a ranking of the 10 most valuable topics for news publishers that uses a combination of traffic and advertising revenue data to estimate advertising revenue per thousand page views (RPM). For the Vault Index Summer 2010, it tracked more than 15 million news articles from 21 U.S. news sites, including those of The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle and The Chicago Tribune from June 22 to September 21, 2010.
Topics whose stories have more traffic might rank lower because they generate less revenue per page view - as seen with stories on the egg recall, which had more traffic than articles on Gulf recovery jobs. Gulf jobs stories, though, placed higher because it had a higher RPM. To arrive at topic RPMs, the Vault Index aggregates online RPMs from specific news articles about those topics. Representative RPMs by topic include: Mortgage Rates, $93; Immigration Reform, $26; Egg Recall, $20. Articles on the Lindsay Lohan sentencing averaged RPMs of $2.50.
The research leads to additional questions and some interesting conclusions for media and advertisers, writes chief revenue officer Tim Ruder.
For starters, does the Lindsay Lohan piece at $2.50 actually net less total revenue than a $26 immigration story? Or does it still pay off well because it gets so many more hits? According to Ruder, Lindsay Lohan story did net less revenue than Immigration for news sites - sites like TMZ and other entertainment sites weren’t considered in this analysis. "We don't know about how many sites are doing Lindsay Lohan vs. immigration - in the case of news sites they seem to do both. The traffic difference is not as great as you might think. In fact, in this case, immigration was a bigger traffic driver than Lindsay Lohan."
Ruder takes a stab at another question that has even larger implications for both publishers and advertisers: If the serious stories draw high CPM, why are there so many sites writing about Lohan and so few about immigration? His take: Most news sites aren't set up to cover specific stories such as immigration because their sales efforts and strategies are too broad. They either sell against a geographic audience (local), broad demographics (men, 18-24) or into broad content categories (national news, sports, etc). Any unsold page views get remnant rate ads at bargain-basement rates. Because none of these approaches captures reader interest or advertiser demand at a more granular level, the value is locked up at that level, inaccessible to publishers.
The larger point, he writes, is that news publishers in particular are not making this revenue calculation of immigration vs. Lohan to begin with, anyway - and they likely won't, from a journalistic ethics perspective. "So it's news that the topics they see it as their mission to cover are actually producing revenue, as opposed to a common assumption that these stories are loss leaders. There ARE advertisers for these topics, especially when you factor in search advertising."