As banners, buttons, towers and pop-ups give way to rich-media advertising with sight, sound and motion, advertisements are a key revenue source for b-to-b Web sites. The growing options on the creative side, however, are not nearly as critical as developing new ways to target users and serve the right ad in the right place at the right time.
"The future of online b-to-b is targeted advertising that is served based on context, behavior and demographics," said Martha Connors, VP-general manager for International Data Group's Computerworld.com. She said it's critical, therefore, to have a controlled, registered site, just as it's critical in print to have an audited, controlled circulation. But because the Internet reaches a broader audience, the online opportunity is exponentially bigger, Connors added.
Dana Fisher, group publisher of Advanstar's Cadalyst, keeps selling out of ad positions on the Cadalyst.com Web site. To solve the problem, which first arose last fall, Fisher redesigned the site from a single home page to an opening page plus four sector-specific home pages (architecture, manufacturing, geospatial mapping and management). Even with the redesign, the entire network of Web sites was sold out for the month of January by Jan. 5, she said.
Now Fisher's focused on traffic generation, which will enable her to sell advertising and sponsorships deeper into the site. In addition to putting more money into marketing and promotion, Fisher is adopting the latest traffic-building technologies, offering RSS feeds and actively looking for industry personalities who can write blogs within each of the four content areas.
The No. 1 source of revenue for agriculture.com is advertising, whether it's run-of-site or special online sponsorships, said Tom Davis, publisher of Successful Farming and its companion Web site, agriculture.com. Creativity has been the key to many of those sponsorship sales. For example, when the industry predicted the imminent invasion of a South American soybean fungus, Davis teamed up with a competitor, Vance Publications, and the United Soybean Board to build out a service site called stopsoybeanrust.com. The Bayer agricultural division, a maker of fungicides, stepped up to sponsor the site, which was ready to be launched as soon as news hit that soybean rust was found in the southeastern U.S.
2. RSS feeds and blogging
RSS ("Rich Site Summary" or "Really Simple Syndication") is one of the hottest new Internet technologies for publishers, even though only about 5% of Web users have adopted it.
RSS allows a Web site to publish its content in a format that other sites, blogs or computers can easily digest, which means easy repackaging and distribution of content. Readers employ a software client known as an RSS aggregator to check RSS-enabled Web pages and display the results.
Colin Crawford, VP-new business development and operations for IDG, said he sees many uses for RSS, particularly to drive traffic to your site. "Of course, that's fine as long as you can monetize it," he said. IDG's InfoWorld.com is at the forefront of that monetization, already experimenting with advertising imbedded within RSS feeds. Crawford sees RSS technology being able to accommodate images and video as well as print headlines in the not-too-distant future.
IDG's PCWorld.com is building the capacity to add advertising into RSS feeds in the first quarter of 2005, said Ulla McGee, general manager of PCWorld.com. But IDG's long-term pricing model for RSS advertisers has yet to be determined. "Once we see how RSS advertising converts, we'll sort of work backward from that," she said. "If it turns out that RSS generates good user response, it may become a cost-per-click model." Otherwise, it will be priced more like a brand-building advertisement, she said.
When it comes to Weblogs, "Every media company is confronted with the question, `What do we do about blogs?' " said Stacey Artandi, VP-online publishing at ALM. "We see our readers and users going to them." But, she continued, "it was a major step for us to break through the thinking that we have to control all the information" associated with ALM's editorial brands. "We don't think the right strategy is to try to replicate the bloggers," Artandi said. "So, we decided the thing to do was to embrace them."
In November, Law.com launched its Blog Network, composed of eight or nine blogs that were carefully selected and invited to link to the site. The network is highlighted in the center of the Law.com home page.
"This caused tremendous excitement in the blogging community because we were giving the blogs a revenue share of any advertising we sell on their sites," said Artandi. At the same time, "their link back to us drives traffic to our site," she said. ALM also hired a blog editor who is responsible for identifying new potential partners for the ALM blog network and producing the "legal blog watch," a series of excerpts from the day's blogosphere. "After the first full month, this was a clear, unmitigated success" in terms of the traffic and audience response, Artandi said.
3. E-mail newsletters
For most b-to-b media companies, e-mail newsletters still represent the No. 1 or No. 2 source of online revenue.
"You can't say that just because you've done something, it's done," said Tom Cintorino, VP-digital media at PennWell, which publishes about 30 e-newsletters in very technical vertical markets. "I would like to see e-newsletters get better and better," Cintorino said. "As there's more competition, they're going to have to-and readers will continue to value the good ones."
Prescott Shibles, Primedia's VP-online development, said e-newsletters are the No. 1 revenue source for most of Primedia's business units. Most of the electronic revenue at Primedia's Catalog Age, Direct and Operations & Fulfillment comes from e-newsletters, followed by Webinars.
"Banners and buttons aren't where it's at," said Primedia Group Publisher Leslie Bacon.
For 101communications, Web site advertising and e-mail products are virtually tied for the No. 1 revenue-generating position, said President-CEO Jeffrey S. Klein.
Technology publications saw the potential of Web seminars, or webinars, years ago. But they weren't alone. Thomson Media is beginning its fourth year of webcasting, and Web seminars are probably its most successful online revenue producer, said Bruce Morris, president of the banking and corporate group. "We started [webinars] with our technology publications, and then it spread throughout the company," he said. "The banking group went from zero dollars to $1 million with over 20 webcasts." Last year, Thompson did about 70 webinars companywide, and this year expects to produce over 100.
In addition to high-quality content put together by Thomson's in-house conference division, the sponsor gets its name on all marketing support, from house ads to e-mail blasts. Finally, the webcasts deliver viable leads, with buying and demographic data from the participants.
"The two big and fast-growing revenue streams we see are webcasting and integrated custom publishing," said Mike Azzara, CMP's VP-group director Internet business. "We've generated a lot of energy and revenue over the last two years with webcasting, and that growth is continuing to increase even with a good-size base." Over the course of a year, CMP does hundreds of webcasts. "In 2005, we'll have a half dozen or so new products in the webcast area," Azzara said.
Webcasts and white papers are both "a great source of lead generation," said TechTarget CEO Greg Strakosch. TechTarget, which currently delivers roughly 80 webcasts a month, enhanced its bank of white papers by acquiring Boston-based Bitpipe for $40 million in cash in December. Noting that IT buyers are "more than willing to read or view everything possible that will help them make a good decision," Strakosch said he doesn't think there's a limit on the amount of vendor-generated content a technology Web site should have.
For Post Newsweek Tech Media's Government Computer News and Washington Technology, the advertising base sometimes has difficulty with the price tag of a full video webcast. "We've been using a supplier called Talk Point to produce seminars that are just audio and PowerPoint," said Alec Dann, senior VP-Internet publishing. "We're about to start doing audio conferencing with MarketingSherpa, which produces printed notes in pdf form. We definitely see a market for that."
5. Paid search
For most b-to-b media companies, search income is a relatively passive stream that comes in the form of an occasional check from the major search companies such as Google and Yahoo!
However, it is possible to actively boost that revenue, said Primedia's Shibles. "We educate our editors on optimizing stories for the search engines by carefully using industry-specific terms," he said.
Other b-to-b publishers go so far as to imagine they can become the Google of their particular industry. Take Watt Publishing, publisher of Meat Processing and Meatnews.com. Watt launched MeatNews Search last June with the help of SearchChannel, a 1-year-old service provider led by former B2BWorks CEO Bill Furlong. SearchChannel has created private-label search engines for a handful of b-to-b media partners-earlier this month it added Advanstar's Dental Media Group.
According to Meat Processing VP-Publisher Jeff Cummings, MeatNews Search puts the entire meat processing industry at the fingertips of operators who tend to spend more of their time in plants than at their computers. "We have gone beyond our own content. We have over 500,000 Web pages indexed, from supplier Web sites and industry associations to government reports and consumer newspapers," Cummings said.
Search advertisers "buy a bucket of words or phrases, similar to Yahoo! The pricing is customized based on the number of keywords. We also have packages for key topic areas, like food safety, where there is space for one premium advertiser and three regular advertisers," said Cummings, adding that packages are priced from $3,000 to $4,500 per year. Cummings conceded "it's been a slow build, but we are more and more encouraged each month." To encourage adoption, Meat Processing is revving up marketing. For example, it is investing in a magazine supplement that explains the search tool in depth and shows people how to use it.
Sponsorship revenue flows into b-to-b Internet operations in many ways. Advertisers pay to support special content areas that are relevant to their products, they sponsor white papers and other research reports, they link their names with certain discussion groups, and they get behind contests and awards programs. The objective is always to connect with decision-makers while standing out from the crowd.
At 101communications, e-books sponsorships are hot. While a white paper is usually written by a sponsor, 101's e-books are written by independent journalists, which gives them greater credibility, Klein said. The 100- to 200-page reports, in pdf format, are available for download from various 101communications sites. "Early on, we charged readers for them, but now they're more commonly supported by sponsors and readers give us registration data. Companywide, more than 50,000 e-books were downloaded last year," Klein said.
At Reed Business Information, sponsored contests on the Internet have become good revenue producers. "We do a fair amount of them," said Stephen Moylan, president of the company's Boston division and chairman of Reed Electronics Group. Contests are popular with advertisers "because they are highly focused lead generators and because they're good value," Moylan said. The sponsor's message hits the audience multiple times during the life of the contest as people participate and as the contest is promoted online, in e-mails and in print.
There is also a revival in interest in the virtual trade show, an area that has produced mixed results in the past and, consequently, has seen relatively little new activity in recent years.
In late 2004, Ziff Davis eSeminars held its Security Virtual Trade Show, its first event of this kind. With 4,500 registrations and 1,800 senior-level technology executives in attendance, the event "far exceeded our expectations," said Jason Young, president of the consumer technology and Internet group of Ziff Davis Media. Due to that success, "we have four virtual trade shows scheduled for this year," Young said.
"Every publisher would like more of a balance between subscription revenue and advertising revenue," Shibles said. "But you not only have to provide information that the user wants enough to pay for, you also have to do it in a way that it makes sense to the audience for you to be doing it. It has to fit with your brand."
At Primedia, Ward's AutoWorld and Ward's Dealer Business have had great success with paid online subscription products. "The key is having the data with a structure to it so that the subscriber can extract value," Shibles said. "At Ward's, they started by collecting detailed information on auto production for a newsletter. When you aggregate that data over time in spreadsheet form, it becomes much more valuable because of its usability."
McGee of PCWorld.com said that user revenues from the site will be more important in the long run than they are now. Currently, she said, "the ad market is heating up so much that we're jeopardizing the traffic that would view advertising if we gate off content." Even so, PCWorld.com will be charging a subscription fee for the first time in a new gated area in the first half of this year. Keeping details close to the vest, McGee said the how-to content on PCWorld.com is "more interesting to users than to advertisers, so that's where we see a lot of opportunity for user revenue."
8. Continuing professional education
Law.com's newly relaunched CLE Center for continuing legal education is the highest growth business in ALM's online portfolio, Artandi said. "For the last couple of years, we've had triple-digit growth rates," she said. Since the lessons can be completed for credit in more than 25 states, usage is compliance-driven. "It's a very captive audience," Artandi noted, adding that lawyers or their firms pay for the lessons, not sponsors. However, there is high demand for sponsors to put messages in the CLE section of the site, she said.
Certified Financial Planners are required to take 30 hours of continuing education every two years, and Wicks' Investment Advisor offers one hour of free continuing education in the publication and online every month, said Bill Glasgall, editorial director. "Last year, we revamped the online CE area, allowing sponsorship and enhancing the experience for the user," he said. As an additional revenue stream, Investment Advisor sells lessons and courses from carefully screened partners, which he said results in a modest commission and draws traffic.
At VNU Business Media, store technology has been developed to sell offline products online, said Toni Nevitt, president of eMedia and information marketing. "We've gotten some nice incremental profit just by repurposing what we already have," Nevitt said.
At Meredith, agriculture.com has a true e-commerce site, the FarmHome Collection Store. "We launched this about two years ago, and it's been extremely successful," Davis said. As businesspeople, farmers need some specialized products that aren't sold in the typical Wal-Mart, and farm families are often located as some distance from the shopping mall. "We go out and find unique products that are particular to farming, and we've also invested in select Successful Farming-branded merchandise," Davis said. This includes an afghan printed with the image of a vintage Successful Farming cover.
10. Job sites/ classifieds
In late 2004, Thomson Media launched Career Zone, partnering with Media Bistro on the technology side. "We want to be the Monster.com for the financial services business," Morris said. While each title, such as American Banker, will have its own branded Career Zone, all of the jobs go into one database.
Lawjobs.com is the specialized job search area for attorneys of all types, said ALM's Artandi. "Our message is that we offer the greatest number of quality jobs, real jobs that are really available," she said. "We have a built-in sales staff through our nine regional law publications," which allows ALM to get close to employers all across the country.
"The metrics we look at are, first, the number of job postings, which creates the feeling of a marketplace for the users," Artandi said. She also looks at the number of recruiters posting jobs. For ALM, the job site has had "super high growth" as well as high profitability, she said. M