Maven buys HubPages: No future for mom-and-pop publishers

A rapidly narrowing future. An unstable media business model will force additional industry consolidation in 2018
Written by Tom Foremski, Contributor

Ari Levy at CNBC writes about HubPages, an independent online publisher being acquired by publisher Maven.

HubPages sells to Maven, giving venture investors exit after 12 years

Levy writes that the deal won't make anyone rich but at least employees will keep their jobs and have stock in a publicly traded company. Paul Edmondson, CEO of HubPages and his 32-person team have to meet performance targets over the next few years before there is any payout -- that's not going to be easy. But there is little choice for a publisher like HubPages with about 37 million monthly page views, to join with others for more traffic.

James Heckman, CEO of Maven said:

"Paul and I are aligned because we both agree that mom-and-pop or small publishers no longer have a sustainable business. It's over."

Foremski's Take: I used to meet regularly with Paul Edmondson, CEO of HubPages. He was constantly frustrated by Google's changes in its search algorithm which would cause massive drops in his traffic without any apparent reason.

When Google's Panda search algorithm was set loose in 2012 it caused "panada-monium" amongst web publishers because of the sudden drop in traffic. Google said it was demoting low-quality content.

HubPages rewrote massive numbers of articles to improve their quality and it deleted thousands more. It did everything it could to meet Google's demand for quality content.

Edmondson told me that it seemed as if improving the quality of the content resulted in triggering a volatile ranking by Google rather than a positive increase. Months of hard work were not paying off.

I found the reason it wasn't working described in a Google patent.

Google is very suspicious of anything that increases a sites search rank. It suspects some possible spammy search engine optimization tricks might be at work so it will flag the web site and cause its search rank to fluctuate wildly so as to prevent testing the possible SEO actions. Then it will schedule a manual check of the web site to see if it is legit.

This means that if you rewrite your website to improve quality -- and Google wants higher quality content -- you are using optimizing your site deliberately to improve your ranking. Google will flag this as suspicious behavior and will vary your page ranking on a random basis that has nothing to do with the changes you made.

You cannot win. Your business success is in the hands of another entity.

Google and Facebook today have about 85% of all mobile ad traffic and they dominate desktop ad markets -- small mom and pop publishers have to combine into large enough networks to attract the media buyers.

It's a race to the bottom -- Google revenues are 15% to 18% less per click per quarter -- but Google can race to the bottom and still beat Wall Street estimates. That's not the case for smaller media companies.

The disruption in the media industry will continue in 2018. There is no stable business model and there is none in sight.

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Please see:

Google suspects web site improvements as potentially manipulative

Media disruption: The race to the bottom is bottoming out...

$GOOG Analysis: Google's rapidly narrowing future

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