The Future of Content Discoverability

Content and Content Packaging is Changing

In the future of content discoverability, both content as well as the way content is packaged will further evolve and change as the functionality of the internet changes to create new ways in which content is discovered.

According to the World Economic Forum, “inexpensive mobile hardware, software, collaboration and infrastructure technologies are driving democratization of the content creation process. Prices of content production, storage, serving and collaboration tools have dropped considerably, while functionality and ease-of-use have improved. As a result the number of content creators is growing rapidly, leading to a significant jump in content production. In response, content creation businesses are leveraging bottom-up content models, introducing branded content on low-cost platforms and differentiating themselves by creating higher-quality, exclusive content.”1

It is important for publishers to be thinking about these new developments as they take place and as well as the practical applications as they pertain to the content that’s being created. But publishers must also be aware that not every discovery tool is useful for every piece of content for every member of their intended audience, so in many situations there is some additional thought required into how you can optimize discoverability for specific content.

SEO: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

One of the ways in which publishers can improve content discoverability is by optimizing content for search. While this is not a new strategy, the tactics that are being used are steadily evolving to become more focused on not only getting traffic to the site, but retaining it once it arrives. According to David Sasson, the Chief Operating Officer of Outbrain, “in the world of online publishing, publishers have increasingly focused on keeping Google’s crawlers well fed with tasty morsels of meta data, keyword repetitions, internal linking and more.”2 Sasson says that designing websites for crawlers can create a poor experience for flesh-and-blood users. This is because once users land on a page, they rarely use these added tags for navigation and so the tags just become clutter at that point. And if something is junking up a page it can deter the user, resulting in back button clicking. Or it could make it difficult for them to discover the content you’ve optimized the search for, even if they choose to stick around, because the tags, serving no other purpose for the user, become a distraction.

Search is Dead

While the old absurdity that ‘print is dead’ is something that most publishers are familiar with, there’s been a growing controversy on the internet for roughly the past decade that new ways of looking for content are going to overrun the search engine. The arguments behind this may not be completely rational, but they aren’t something to ignore altogether. We have to begin to think about technology without the current forms of technology. David Sasson argues that, “While search may have constituted the majority of referrals to a publisher five years ago, we now see it giving up ground in favor of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter and through the recommendation of other content creators and curators who link out more frequently than ever before.” According to Sasson, this means a shift in publishers emphasizing content creation for humans instead of web crawlers and there is also an increase in audience engagement from these sources.

Search isn’t Dead, but it can be a Dead End in Some Cases

Sasson explains the problem with search as being that, “someone accessing content from search is usually looking for an answer to a question. If Google does its job perfectly, then the person should never need to go deep into a publisher’s site to get what they came for. Meanwhile, how do people find great, original content using a search engine if they don’t even know it exists? They can’t. Search provides wonderful answers to directed inquiries, but it is not the natural starting point for discovering new, interesting content.” Where the audience that is looking to discover this new and interesting content comes in is where the future of content discoverability is taking us.

According to Jon Gibs, Vice President of Media Analytics at Nielsen, “over the past two years search navigation has appeared to shift to social media.”3 As publishers we need to be aware of these changes and how consumers are using the internet to find us and our competitors, or how they could potentially be using it. We need to constantly be looking for ways to improve our own discoverability.

Content is Becoming More Social

Research conducted by Nielsen suggests that, “Almost 15 percent of Socializers (which comprise 26% of all online users) most trusted information they found on blogs when researching new purchases online, while nearly 20 percent trusted most the information they found on message boards.” Gibs concludes that, “if we don’t understand and address people feeling increasingly alienated by the amount of information on the Internet, and the need for a human guide, yes, your favorite social network (or something like it) will become the next great content gateway.” All content wizardry aside, it’s important for publishers to talk to consumers in a human voice and for websites to interact with them in human ways. The second that our technology becomes something other, we lose our consumers to the sea of information.

Consumer Actions On The Web are Expanding

Buddy Media CEO Michael Lazerow, said that by simply adding an optional Facebook share capability to common online applications such as an e-commerce check-out or taking an online poll, companies can increase traffic and revenue by 12.98%. Yes, he’s done the math. However, these Actions are not frictionless. They require the user to take the extra step to share. According to the World Economic Forum, That changed last September when Facebook revealed that the ubiquitous “like” button is giving way to all kinds of verbs. Two of these – “read” and “listened” – are already live. Facebook users who install certain news and music social applications can opt in to share their actions, effortlessly. In other words, if you read news or listen to music on the social network, it’s broadcast. This could open up a pandora’s box of all kinds of online verb or experience sharing. Already users can “watch with” other friends on Youtube, so it might be possible to read an e-book together in this future world.

However, the impact of this new verb sharing capability is already here. The World Economic Forum reports that for the handful of media companies that jumped in headfirst, “Yahoo! News saw a 600% increase in traffic from Facebook, and people who connect to Facebook on Yahoo! read more articles than the average user. The Guardian’s news application is generating, on average, almost a million extra page impressions every day, and MOG, an online music streaming service, said it saw a 246% jump in new users in the month following the launch.” And this report is from 2011. Again, privacy controls become a contention with most users, however, according to the WEF, this shows that “the promise of natural gestures for content discovery for both the media and consumers is greater than the pitfalls.”

Improving Content Discoverability in the Future

Some of the keys to improving content discoverability that Sasson discusses are as simple as writing better headlines and making content more visual. While no one will argue that a poorly written headline is just lame and will not get an audience excited about clicking or reading, when it comes to including content that is well thought out visually, many publishers have struggled, while some have found strategies that have worked for them.

Sasson notes that, ‘it’s important to designate engaging images in your page structure in order to capture audience attention from outside and within your site.” He cites that at Outbrain, when an image is included as part of an article headline there is a 27% increase in click engagement and content discovery. And creating visual content doesn’t necessarily mean ‘add image.’ It can be as simple as presenting your content in a new and exciting format. Sasson uses the example of Cosmo and their love of lists. An example of this that he gives is, “The 9 Reasons We Love Fatty Foods.” Outbrain has conducted research on the publishers in their company network that indicates that odd-numbered lists will net you a 20% increase in headline click-through rates over even numbers.

Using Analytics, Testing, and Responsive Design to Optimize Content Discoverability

Sasson says its also important to analyze, “the real value you’re getting from each navigational device,” on a page and whether users are actually using them to click deeper into the site. He says that if you’re not getting at least 1% engagement on a navigational module to junk it and opt for a cleaner layout. The alternative to this (which can also be done in tandem), is to do A/B testing (or split testing) and compare results between two different samples with the overall goal to be to improve conversion and response rates. This idea of multiple sample testing can also be applied to any other design process when creating a prototype including the design of other e-publications because it creates a richer understanding of user preferences.

Publishers can no longer compete on just content alone, but they have to now consider context. Brian O’Leary argues that, “Increasingly, readers want convenience, specifity, discoverability, ease of access, and connection…Publishers need to see these outcomes as the driving force for future sales, not as a cost or add-on to “making a book.”4 O’Leary also talks about the challenges publishers face in a digital world. “The challenge publishers face is not just being digital; it’s being demonstrably relevant to the audiences who now turn first to digital to find content.” He also discusses the on-going rights debates over backlist content. O’Leary says, “In a similar way, we often speak of digital content as a derived or secondary use. The recent debate about reclaiming ebook rights for backlist titles underscores how deeply this bias runs. Who “owns” ebook rights is a different topic, but the conversation about digital versions of backlist titles has centered entirely on contractual issues. The debates are telling for the question that has not been asked: Who owns the context that drives discoverability, use, and value in a digital realm?”

Keeping different users in mind, if you’re designing a website, for example, you also need to test the layout you design in different browsers (though it also doesn’t hurt to test other technologies such as e-books on different platforms as well). You can use a tool like Browser Shots that will produce screenshots for you in Linux, Windows, Mac, and BSD. If you’re not as technology savvy, WIZYWIGS like WordPress are now also offering more themes for webpages with Responsive design built right in. There are also a myriad of other responsive web design tools that can help resolve aesthetic issues of content across platforms.

Chip Jones also commented on the Nielsen website that while “social networks have become a huge factor in our online world…they will never entirely replace the desire to use a search tool or web portal for most research needs.” So while discoverability is happening increasingly on a social scale, other methods for content discovery will continue to serve their respective purposes.

Another concept that distinguishes how content is discovered is how it is initially looked for. People are either looking for something specific, in which case they will use a search engine, or they are just looking for new information and are more often finding it on social media.

Is it Panda Approved? How to Get Google Juice.

CEO of BlogWorld, Yaron Galai, explains that. “Google’s new Panda algorithms have made it more important than ever for bloggers and content creators to make their content discoverable and shareable (as opposed to simply creating content that is powered for search engine spiders). From 2000-2011, keywords and link exchanges were top-of-mind for all content creators, he explained. But today, your Google search rankings are raised or lowered depending on whether your content is favorable to and discoverable for consumers.”5 According to Galai and Martinez, one of the ways of doing this is to find ways to keep readers engaged on-site. One of the ways they suggest is to make internal recommendations to keep readers discovering content within your site.

Often companies have a lack of resources dedicated to content marketing. Martinez notes, “less than half of companies (46%) claim to have individuals dedicated to content marketing.” So, while the capabilities for content discovery continue to increase, the potential for most companies to adapt is quite low. There is a need for marketers to act as curators because just as journalist Maria Popoya notes, “even though digitization has made access [to content] easier [it] doesn’t automatically mean things are more accessible.”6

Content Becomes Personal

It’s not only about being human, it’s also about being personal with content. According to the World Economic Forum, “Technologies that leverage data and context are taking personalization to the next level. Consumers want relevant personalized experiences that grab their attention and rescue them from data overload.” The WEF argues that, “While [some] companies [have already stepped into the market and] are leveraging micro-segmentation technologies to capture personal and contextual characteristics to create and deliver the most appropriate content,” there is a balance between consumer demand for personalized experiences and “the need for privacy.” Privacy will be an issue that heats up into the future as content discoverability tools continue to take shape.

New technology is already starting to take shape. Just two days ago, on January 16, Inkling, a software developer specializing in creating multimedia content for the iPad, announced the launch of the Inkling Content Discovery Platform, which will be a way of structuring Inkling content that can be indexed by Google and will be able to link web searches directly to enriched saleable content within a book. In an article published in Publisher’s Weekly, Matt MacInnis, Inkling CEO and founder, said that “Search is the new store front.” PW says, the new Inkling Content Discovery Platform, “structures Inkling content so that Google searches not only pickup the appropriate content, but also provide a link that takes the reader directly into an Inkling developed online version of the book, complete with any multimedia content it may feature. In other words, the reader is not linked simply to a page on Amazon, a publisher’s catalog, or descriptive information about the book on the author’s Web site, but to the actual content the user if looking for. Once a user clicks through the link and is within the desired content, MacInnis said, the consumer can navigate through a limited section of the book, sample its features and rich media content and, of course, buy the book or a buy a section of the book. All content is available in downloadable “chunks,” for purchase.”

O’Leary notes that content may become more mixed and match to fit user needs. He says, “Many current audiences (and all future ones) live in an open and accessible environment. They expect to be able to look under the hood, mix and match chunks of content, and create, seamlessly, something of their own. Failure to meet those needs will result in obscurity, at best.” This may become a possibility, but it will not work in all situations. There is something about a novel retaining it’s ‘whole’ nature, whereby chunking would just hinder the reader experience. This mix and match future would apply to content that could be easily chunked like cookbooks or travel guides, or even short stories, though Inkling’s ability to take readers directly into books will be a useful tool to increase discoverability of e-books for publishers nonetheless, if consumers find books and purchase them.


1 World Economic Forum. 2011. “The Future of Content” <Accessed: 1/15/13>

2 David, Sasson. April 7, 2011. “How to: Optimize Your Content for Discoverability.” <Accessed: 1/15/13>

3 Gibs, Jon. October 5, 2009. “Social Media: The Next Great Gateway for Content Discovery?” <Accessed: 1/15/13>

4 O’Leary, Brian and Hugh McGuire. Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto. “Context, Not Container” <Accessed: 1/15/13>

5 Martinez, Juan. June 8, 2012. “How to Distribute Your Content at Scale and Get Google Juice Now!” <Accessed: 1/15/13>

6 Popoya, Maria. “Accessibility vs. access: How the rhetoric of “rare” is changing in the face of information abundance.” Nieman Journalism Lab. <Accessed: 1/15/13>

7 Reid, Calvin. January 16, 2013. “Inkling turns Web Searches into New Storefront For Digital Books.” <Accessed: 1/16/13>





  1. You chose an interesting and current topic for this essay. You corroborated your arguments with facts and expert opinion, data from reputable institutions and authorities in this field.

    Your essay is structured well. It is easy to read and arguments and examples you presented are easy to understand. You mentioned different areas of publishing industry (Yahoo being a web publisher and predominantly a search engine, the British daily newspaper Guardian, a female magazine Cosmopolitan, and then you mentioned book publishing in general.) Content discoverability is highly important for all these publishing subindustries. I’m sure that readers of your essay would be curious to find out more about concrete examples how some publishers have worked on content discoverability.

    One suggestion if I may, maybe you should have given an explanation what A/B testing is for a reader who is not familiar with web design terminology and its processes.
    It’s great that you provided your reader with current and relevant reference at the end of the paper.
    Great job Kim.

  2. Agreed, great job. A few points that come to mind in reading your essay are that publishers in some ways are familiar with SEO because, as you mention, there are some aspects of it that involve meta data. Meta data is something publishers are highly aware of due to the onix standard for sharing bibliographic data. Many of the discoverability cues the provide booksellers (both digital and bricks and mortar) can be applied to their own sites.

    That said, I certainly agree with the point that “search provides wonderful answers to directed inquiries, but it is not the natural starting point for discovering new, interesting content.” The question to be answered “what should I read next” is not readily found by doing a Google search whereas browsing a bookstore certainly brings options to the forefront. Even the merchandizing opportunities with online retailers are lacking, which leads to social media, as you suggest, and other websites like Goodreads.

    Many thanks for the engaging read.

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