News ad network chief says Google’s algorithms mean local publishers are 'feeling the squeeze'

An advertising network of local news publishers has stepped up its efforts to compete with Google and Facebook for advertising by creating an audience development division.

1XL sell advertising across 30 local newspaper publishers including Newsquest, Johnston Press, Archant and DC Thomson. Collectively they claim to reach an audience of 24m readers per month.

Former Local World and Telegraph executive Richard Underwood is heading up the audience development division.

He admitted that Google and Facebook present a huge challenge to local news publishers by hovering up most of the available advertising, but he said they also provide the biggest opportunity for titles to grow their audience.

He said: “They are also provider the largest organic reach for publishers, it’s an interesting situation.”

He said that a “good balance” in terms of sources of traffic for a local news publisher might see around a third of traffic come from Google, a third from Facebook and a third coming direct to the site.

Asked about the sort of advice he will be giving to member publishers, he said: “The obvious things are about what content local people want to read and how to get it in front of them through search and social media.

“How publishers can continue to become more digitally focused and publish content that is more aligned to a digital audience rather than a print one.”

He said he will encourage publishers to think more about “owning their local areas”. So looking at what people are searching for in their local areas (beyond news and sport) and starting to “own more of that as well”.

He said: “It’s often about packaging. They might write about what to do in a local area but not signpost well in terms of the sort of things people are searching for.”

1XL is seeking to lure advertisers away from other online networks and platforms because, Underwood said, it offers brands “control of where their adds appear, quality and a premium environment”.

Premium local news publisher co-operative 1XL, the UK’s second largest source of news audience, today announces the launch of a dedicated Audience Development division, which will be headed up by former Local World and Telegraph executive Richard Underwood.

Underwood said: “Local publishers are not currently turning up the volume enough on their premium content.

“Given the fragmentation in the market, it’s now more important that audience acquisition becomes the connective tissue between publishers’ revenue and content.

“Google’s algorithms mean traffic is sent to the bigger news brands, while smaller, more local publishers are feeling the squeeze.

“Audience development plays an important role in rebalancing this, which in turn helps publishers scale and make more money, and I’m excited to drive this initiative forward at 1XL.”

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