Matthew Ingram writes:
Everyone seems to want to generate content that will go “viral” nowadays — to the point where a new site specializing in that kind of content, such as Upworthy or ViralNova, seems to come along every week… In the end, the impulse to find or build portals around viral content is driven by the same motivation as SEO was — namely, to produce vast numbers of pageviews that can be sold to advertisers…
In part, the blame for this state of affairs lies at the feet of the advertising industry, which continues to focus on big pageviews numbers even as it claims to be more interested in engagement and other metrics.
Matthew is right that content publishers’ behavior is determined by what pays the bills. But he’s wrong that advertisers don’t pay up for engagement. We’ve seen, for example, that advertisers value and pay handsomely for placement on vertically specialized sites like Seeking Alpha which help users make decisions.
Rather, the problem is that high quality general news sites don’t have meaningfully higher engagement than sites which feature slide shows, link bait and viral content, because they don’t help users make decisions. They just have a higher quality audience. But that audience gets diluted with growth, and in any case can be targeted or re-targeted elsewhere.