Populis a pan-European network of more than 6,000 blogs, which is in effect Europe’s answer to AOL and Demand Media, is putting together an infrastructure that will ultimately mean casual bloggers can derive an income from their writing.
The company, which has annual revenues in excess of €50m, has established a major operation in Dublin with 54 staff and plans to grow this to 80.
Populis was started in Rome in 2004 by Luca Ascani and Salvatore Esposito. Previously known as GoAdv, Populis was founded with just €10,000 in cash but has been profitable since day one.
The company has been acquiring blogs all over Europe, and in recent weeks bought Blogo – a network of more than 250 bloggers covering 70 subject areas – for €6m. Populis also bought another player called Blogosfere in Italy for a similar sum.
The chief financial officer of Populis, John Slyne, says content is king and points to how, in the new media world, the standard is being set by companies like Populis and AOL, which recently bought The Huffington Post for $315m. Another contemporary, Demand Media, is planning a $1.5m IPO this year.
Slyne says Populis is planning for global expansion and is looking into markets like Brazil.
"Our model is built upon locally sourced content in local markets. Quality is really important. We are focused on people who return to websites because they like and trust the content."
The company has key advertising deals in place with Google, Yahoo! and Ask.com and has amassed a collection of more than 16m keywords.
While the authors and editors of Populis’ various blogs are salaried and rewarded on the basis of traffic, Slyne says the key is to give each author the licence they need to serve their audience best.
Other products, such as its Better Deals portal, are edited in Dublin, and Slyne says the plan is to launch a crowdsourcing product that will attract writers with authority on various subjects, from travel to mechanics.
"Our in-house technology and products allows us to see what people are searching and if there’s content that is commercially viable from an advertising perspective, the writer gets validated and paid for it."
Unique content only
Slyne agrees that while it is impossible to have editorial control from the outset over a vast population of contributors, safeguards are in place to ensure there is no plagiarism and only unique content. He says a new technology called Koego has been built in-house at Populis that will take crowdsourcing to scale.
"A lot of people have blogs and don’t know how to get involved in where the traffic comes from. So we have created an analytical tool for bloggers that tells them their audience and gives them a score.
"We’ve decided to go beyond that now and turn this into a revenue model. If a blog attracts revenues the blogger then gets a revenue share.
"They can focus on creating content and don’t have to worry about the advertising aspects. This means we can monetise the blogs without ruining them because the bloggers can focus on creating really good content, attracting reader loyalty but in terms of monetising it allow bloggers to make a living."
Populis eyes video content
Slyne says it is Populis’ strategy in the future to not only focus on social media strategies but build video content into its sites.
"By the end of 2012, we want at least 5pc of our content to be video. Mobile apps are also going to be a big focus.
"We do everything here with a certain method. We get it right, focus on it and reinvest."
To that end, Slyne says the company is already looking at more acquisition opportunities.
"There are huge opportunities in Europe and 11pc of our revenues are already in the US. We are producing 35,000 pieces of content a month and by the end of 2012 this will be 100,000 pieces of content.
"We see a huge market out there, particularly for different languages. On the internet, 73pc of traffic is non-English speaking and one of our key advantages is we don’t translate anything. Our content is created in each blogger’s mother tongue," Slyne adds.