Populis: Making Money from Online Content

Populis is an international online media group headquartered in Dublin, Ireland. By using algorithms developed in-house, Populis aggregates trending topics on the web and combines them with its own database of subjects and keywords to produce a list of story ideas, that when posted as blogs or articles are readily monetizable.

The story ideas are circulated amongst Populis’s freelance contributors who then select the subjects they feel most interested and competent to write about. These articles and posts can then be submitted to any relevant website out of the 550 that Populis own. They in turn produce the sales of which 90% are generated in the European market.

Almost uniquely amongst online content publishers, Populis is highly profitable. John Slyne, Managing Director and Group CFO, states that, “We had revenues last year of €58 million and over the last four years this represents growth of 43% year on year. In 2007 we were €20 million in revenues and now we are just under €58 million in revenues.

“We are currently producing 35,000 pieces of content per month in eight languages. We have over a million pieces of content online. And we have just under 26 million unique visitors a month to our websites.”

The company was called GoAdv up until its rebranding as Populis last year. It was founded in Rome in 2005 by Luca Ascani and Salvatore Esposito. The office there has 55 people working in it. In addition there is another office in Milan which has 25 employees as a result of the purchase of Blogosfere last year and Blogo in January this year.

The Dublin office has 60 people working in it from 13 different nationalities. As John explains, “The Irish office is very focused on traffic acquisition. It is focused on the editorial and content side. We manage all the editorial and content work for Northern European locations from here. Basically, Germany, The Netherlands and the UK.

“We look for mother tongues…We’ve tried using people who were fluent in German and fluent in Italian but it is just not the same.

“Dublin is one location that we can scale any language that we want. There’s competition for talent as you have Google, Facebook, Linkedin, and Zynga but…if people want to improve their English and want to work in this area then it is only Dublin or London for them to come to.”

Populis are producing 35,000 pieces of content a month now and the aim is to get to 100,000 pieces of content per month by the end of next year. They are looking to produce content on that scale across all eight languages.

According to John, “The market is for people who want to go to Barcelona at the weekend and they have fifteen minutes at lunchtime and don’t have time to buy the travel guide anymore. So they are reading short articles that tell them what to do.

“So, if it is a rugby blog speaking about the Heineken Cup and at the top of it Google has an ad for flights to the match then people literally read the content and say, ‘Oh, that sounds interesting. I wonder how much it will cost?’ and click on the advertising and that’s our model.

“We’re producing more content and we are spreading our niche model into more verticals. It’s about getting good product out there, the expertise in getting traffic onto our websites and having better quality websites.

“Google data suggests that people are becoming more involved in niche sites as their expertise on the internet is becoming higher — 77% of time online is spent on niche sites. Their engagement is much higher. People go on to niche sites looking to book a hotel are more likely to follow through and book the hotel.

“Having Google as a partner on the advertising side means that they are analyzing the content to see what we are talking about and then the advertising is linked to what they are seeing in the content.

“Right now we are bidding on 22 million key words across the languages. By the hour we can change our strategy. We have internal technology that gives us a return on investment on our spend and in terms of our adwords spend. We are not only using it to generate traffic and revenue but we are also using it to generate data. We use that data in terms of our algorithm as well.

“There is a gap there between what people are looking for in terms of the demographics and what is available on line. Populis produces multi-lingual content for a multi-lingual global population. We produce content in English as well but our focus is very much on the other European markets.”

The algorithm was written in-house. It is basically taking the topics and the data that have been built up over seven years of keyword analysis.

“A lot of people create content for the sake of creating content. We create content that we can monetize.

“We have external feeds. We have our own databases. We use aggregation algorithm analysis. That essentially brings up topic creation. We send out the topic assignments to the content producers.

“Our idea is to build in technology towards the platform that looks at traffic, that looks at SEO results and the monetization value of the article and grades our writers. Obviously if we’ve got someone who’s a really strong writer we’d want to pay them more and retain them within the group.

John says that Populis has been in profit since day one. “The company started on €10,000 and it is growing in value every year. Our profitability has been strong every year as well. We’re producing content that has a useful life and has a monetization value.”

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