In the wake of Demand Media's second public earnings reveal, in which it said Google's recent changes had lowered search traffic as much as 20% for its eHow site, the company announced a new feature writers' program to boost quality. And in conjunction with a new feature writing role, Demand says it's paying writers more.
We got on a quick call with CEO Richard Rosenblatt and Senior VP-Editorial and Content Jeremy Reed to get details. But a word of advice to all you professional writers out there: Hold on to your day job (if you still have one).
Advertising Age: Demand succeeds by keeping costs down. But what was the impetus for this new writers' program?
Mr. Rosenblatt: We have been putting feature content on our websites for a long time, for homepage placements. We saw it as more of a marketing expense to continue to drive users to our content. So now we've been testing the idea that , based on increased traffic and increased monetization, can we spend more and produce for more long-form content?
Ad Age : So what has that testing told you in terms of its sustainability?
Mr. Rosenblatt: It's still early -- not ready to talk about it yet. What I can tell you is our growth in direct traffic and mobile traffic has multiplied and has seen a 46% increase in RPMs (revenue per domain), and that 's driven mostly by brand and ad sales.
Ad Age : You're sounding more like a traditional publisher. With increased revenue from ad sales, you're expanding content categories and paying more for articles.
Mr. Rosenblatt: Absolutely correct, and you when you couple that with what technology we have, it helps us to better understand what our audience wants.
Ad Age : In that case, a little less like a traditional publisher, but let's talk briefly about exactly what you'll be paying more for. You had mentioned long-form content. Such as ...?
Mr. Rosenblatt: Not all titles are created equal. There's a difference in writing an article on "How to ripen an avocado" and "How to build a deck," which, as a much more involved piece of content that could include diagrams and videos, we'd be willing to spend additional dollars for -- content that we believe are of a higher value.
Ad Age : But these long-form articles will still be how-to oriented?
Mr. Reed: Actually not entirely. There is also topical, timely content. When we had the royal wedding last week, it made sense for us to look at wedding trends for 2011 for TypeF (its fashion site). That's not a 500-word article.That's a piece you want to get a top expert for. And for that we interviewed Mindy Weiss, a wedding planner. You want to build a piece to entertain and inspire people.
Ad Age : You guys issued a press release saying Demand will pay as much as $350 for an 850-word article. How'd you come up with that rate?
Mr. Reed: That's correct. Part of the process for how we're paying here is we brought in Martha Flores, who was at the L.A. Times and Us Weekly, and she thought of features as a day rate, and $350 was a rate they were setting for lifestyle content.
Ad Age : Speaking as a professional journalist, that 's a bit low for an article of that length.
Mr. Reed: I don't know if I agree with that . The people who write these articles are professional journalists.
Ad Age : Really? Wow. OK, what is the range of pay? And how is that determined?
Mr. Reed: We did actually say in our release that it was between $80 and $350 and it takes into account experience, turnaround time, a whole bunch of factors.
Ad Age : Is paying for more quality content connected to improving Demand's results in Google search?
Mr. Rosenblatt: We have always been testing. Even before the algorithm changes. We have always been working to try and improve this content.
Ad Age : It's clear that Demand has been building out more content categories, or channels, such as fashion and food, which appeals to advertisers. Which other areas are you looking to build out?
Mr. Rosenblatt: If you look at the six tabs on the top of eHow.com [Family; Food; Health; Home; Money; Style; More], you can look at those as a good guide to ones we're looking at. We'll get into any verticals where we believe we can be number one, two, or three, and where our data tells us where consumers are looking for good content.