Davidcard[Posted by David Card]

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Marketers looking to tap into the long tail via organic search – rather than via a paid search campaign – ought to take a look at Associated Content. Remember About.com, the network of "guides," or semi-pro content experts, now owned by the New York Times Co.? Associated Content is built along the same lines. It's a loose collection of articles written by freelancers that can provide inexpensive, contextually relevant ad inventory alongside content with some of the authenticity of UGC but none of the risky elements of unsupervised conversation.

Advertisers include familiar brands like Frito-Lay, P&G (Febreze), Sprint, and American Express. Marketers can buy exclusives on content collections like health & wellness and green, and Associated will put together custom sponsorship packages to deliver branded experiences. Marketers could consider Associated as a potential alternative to ad networks or blog networks.

Associated's secret sauce as a media business – besides its low-cost content creation – is its own content yield management system. That helps it figure out what kind of articles will do well in terms of popularity and ad revenue generation. Associated often pays contributors up-front for content (as well as a revenue share based on traffic), and has an assignment desk where it bids out topics that could be advertiser-sponsored. It's also working on syndication deals with mainstream media partners who need a ready-made library of evergreen how-to or best-of content. Associated needs to beef up cross-promotion and user retention, and probably should do more than SEO to help seed two-way distribution. But it's an intriguing model for post-Media-Meltdown media.