ICSCS RAMPS UP WITH NEW OFFICERS, ENERGETIC AGENDA
Moving aggressively to increase the visibility of content syndication within the online industry, the Internet Content Syndication Council has announced the hiring of a new executive director, an expanded staff and a full agenda of planned activities for 2011.
The Council has named a new Executive Director, Laura Murray. Murray, who has run her own business strategy consultancy for many years, holds an LL.M degree in Constitutional Law from Columbia Law School. She served as Legislative Director of the New York ACLU, where she developed an expertise on informational privacy issues, and subsequently served as Executive Director of the Alliance for Consumer Rights.
The Council also announced that Arthur Pober, Ed.D. has taken the new position of Director of Government Affairs. As President of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB), Dr. Pober was responsible for creating the most comprehensive media rating system in the US. He has worked extensively on regulatory issues at all levels of industry and government. In addition to consulting with numerous media firms, he serves on the advisory board of several academic and non-profit institutions.
Former Executive Director Tim Duncan will continue his active participation with the Council as Director of Research. As the main author of the industry-defining White Paper on Content Syndication, he is well versed in industry issues. A longtime media consultant with a background in advertising, he served as Executive Director of the Advertiser Syndicated Television Association.
To fulfill its mission of promoting the growth of content syndication, the Council plans to take action in a number of directions in 2011, including:
- A greater presence at industry conferences and events
- More interface with legislative and regulatory governmental bodies
- Providing timely information on industry issues
- Actively seeking to expand the membership base
In keeping with this agenda, Murray made her first public appearance as executive director at the Content Marketing Strategies Conference in San Francisco on Feb.13th. In her speech she called attention to pending Do-Not-Track regulatory initiatives, which are intended to discourage behavioral tracking by marketers. She pointed out that content syndication does not rely on behavioral tracking for its effectiveness and thus represents an important model to consider when marketers develop their online marketing strategies.
As a further step, the Council has announced plans to release a white paper, A ‘NO TRACKING’ MODEL OF ONLINE ADVERTISING: CONTENT SYNDICATION, coincident with the opening of the ANA Advertising Law and Public Policy Conference on March 15th . In addition to making a case for content syndication as an intrinsically effective form of online advertising, the paper details the multiple privacy proposals emanating from legislators and regulators in Washington, DC. It includes a summary of the major recommendations of the Federal Trade Commission’s Staff Report on Privacy – particularly the proposed creation of a “Do Not Track” system similar to the “Do Not Call” system, which restricted the use of telemarketing. It reports that content syndication would not be impeded by any such restriction, since the FTC report specifically endorses marketing techniques which do not rely on tracking for their effectiveness.
Finally, the Council is considering providing a daily industry news/analysis aggregate to its members; members can expect to receive a survey about that project in the near future.
ICSC EXECS PRESENT CONTENT SYNDICATION
AT CONTENT MARKETING STRATEGIES CONFERENCE
The effectiveness of content syndication as a marketing strategy was highlighted by ICSC executives at the Content Marketing Strategies Conference in Berkeley, CA on Feb. 16th and 17th.
ICSC Executive Director Laura Murray explained how content syndication provides Internet publishers with professionally-produced content which attracts valuable, targeted users. By sponsoring this content, marketers can reach these viewers, who are aggregated across multiple websites. She provided examples of successful campaigns from ICSC members Mochila and Howdini.
Murray emphasized that content syndication does not rely on behavioral tracking for its effectiveness. “With syndicated content, the advertiser isn’t tracking the consumer, trying to figure out where she’s likely to go next,” she said. “Because content syndicators know what websites targeted audiences will likely visit, the advertiser’s message is already there when the consumer arrives.”
This is a key point because, as she explained, “a backlash against behavioral tracking is in full swing...” Congress and various regulatory bodies have taken up the issue of consumer online privacy, most especially with a proposal by the Federal Trade Commission to adopt a “Do Not Track” policy similar to the agency’s “Do Not Call” registry, which discouraged telemarketing. Because of the heightened interest in consumer privacy, Murray predicted that “a Do Not Track bill will pass this Congress, though most likely not until 2012.” Judging from comments made after the presentation, as well as published conference tweets, this came as important news to many present.
In this environment, she said, content syndication can represent an effective alternative for marketers who need to reduce their reliance on behavioral tracking. It is a form of contextual targeting which was given specific endorsement by the FTC as a “commonly accepted practice because it does not rely on invasive data-gathering.” The full text of Murray’s remarks can be found at Internetsyndication.org
In his remarks ICSC Chairman Andrew Susman, president of Studio One Networks, described how his company’s syndicated content such as “the Daily Cat” have worked well for both viewers and marketers. He emphasized the fact that content syndication works well without behavioral tracking. “We do not deploy risky or invasive targeting technologies for a simple reason: we don’t need them. We don’t need them because we don’t target our audiences.... because they, like all audiences throughout commercial media history, will target us as long as we have the right bait. In that regard, the Studio One Networks model is about fishing not hunting…” The “right bait” remark found favor among conference tweeters, along with this one: “Human nature is always the same. And all of us here are working to make technology work for human nature – not the other way around.” The full text of Susman’s speech can be found at Internetcontentsyndication.org. Conference tweets are available here.
AN IMPORTANT UPDATE ON CONTENT QUALITY
Over the past year, the Internet Content Syndication Council explored the issue of content quality. The impetus behind this project was an increasingly widespread concern that the Internet is being inundated with hastily produced and/or poorly documented content, published by so-called “content farms” primarily to score high in search rankings.
A group of 12 members met in July 2010 to discuss the issue. It was agreed that the issue was an important one, although concerns were raised as to the difficulty of trying to establish agreed upon objective measures of quality. There was a collective realization that the entities in the best position—and the most motivation—to address the issue were the search engines, since user dissatisfaction with their search results was increasing.
ICSC staff ultimately drafted a set of voluntary guidelines for the creation of informational/fact-based content. The guidelines sought to establish an agreed-on set of procedures (drawn from common journalistic standards) that, if followed by responsible organizations, would help to ensure that the content they create/publish meets high standards of quality. They were posted on the ICSC website for comment.
On February 24th, Google took decisive action to address the issue with a major change to its algorithm designed to improve the quality of search results. Although dubbed the ‘farmer algorithm’ within the industry because it was presumed to take direct aim at content farms, they were not actually mentioned in the Google announcement. (See “Google Breaks Up With Content Farms” in ADOTAS on Feb 25, 2011.
Did the ICSC initiative have any influence on Google’s course of action? Since Google keeps its own counsel there’s no way to tell. An article in Adweek on Jan 21st, which reported the Google announcement, speculated that the ICSC’s actions might have been one factor (See: Is Google's 'Search Spam' Focus Bad for Content Farms?
Of course, the ICSC was hardly alone in calling attention to the increasing deterioration of search results, and competitive factors such as the launch of Blekko may well have been more urgent. Nevertheless, the ICSC is pleased to have added its voice to the call to action on this issue.
Now, however, the next chapter begins.
Relying on numbers provided by the Online Publishers Association, CNN’s Money.com reported that an estimated $1billion in annual revenue had shifted within the industry as a result of the algorithm change.
At the paidContent conference held in New York on March 3rd (ICSC members Reuters and Studio One were among the sponsors), an entire panel was devoted to “Quality, Quantity & Mass Content” view the panel discussion.
Similarly-themed panels have been added to online marketing conference agendas throughout the country, including last week’s SMX West, which brought together Blekko (CEO Rich Skrenta), Google (Matt Cutts, software engineer and head of Google’s Webspam team) and Microsoft (Sasi Parthasarathy, program manager of Bing relevance) to discuss their role as ‘spam police.’
But, has the algorithm accomplished what it (presumably) set out to do?
Sistrix compared pre- and post-algorithm placement data for 1 million keywords and ranked the relative change for each on Sistrix’s visibility index. Surprisingly, eHow actually fared better post-change, although other Demand Media sites did not. (For a detailed report on these results as well as several other analyses, click here.
Although reports of innocent casualties abound, most thus far seem anecdotal.
SO, ICSC MEMBERS, WHAT DO YOU THINK OF GOOGLE’S ALGORITHM CHANGE? PLEASE LET US KNOW:
- HAS YOUR BUSINESS BEEN AFFECTED?
- IF SO, HOW?
- WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE CHANGE OVERALL?
- SHOULD ‘INNOCENT VICTIMS’ BE ABLE TO PETITION GOOGLE’?
SEND YOUR RESPONSE TO THE DIRECTOR OF RESEARCH, TIM DUNCAN:
About the Internet Content Syndication Council
Founded in October 2007, the Internet Content Syndication Council (ICSC) represents the voice of a new industry that is creating new forms of marketing and advertising within the global Internet community. The ICSC seeks to increase the awareness of the Internet Content Syndication industry; to promote content syndication as an effective and efficient model of online marketing; to develop a robust and diverse ICSC membership; and to speak as the unified and public voice for this segment of the online marketing industry.