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Why It May Cost Publishers More to Prioritise Revenue over User Experience

Vincent Flood  22 February, 2016

Yoav NavehGetting the balance right between user experience and monetisation has always been something of a tightrope for publishers. However, now consumers have more control via things like ad-blocking tools, it’s fair to say the need to improve the user experience is more urgent than every. Here Yoav Naveh, Founder and CEO at ConvertMedia, explains why now is the time for wholesale reform of the industry.

In digital media the strongest revenue stream for publishers comes from the advertising real estate and the associated eyeballs. Then on top of this a publisher might layer audience segments and an engaging ad experience, all if which will ultimately lead to a purchase or conversion. A solid record of performance will keep advertising partners satisfied and attract new ones.

That said, achieving these goals can conflict with user experience. Audiences are built on strong content and positive user experiences — visitors aren’t there for the ads. So publishers and advertisers are fighting an uphill battle from the outset, as their goal is to drive people to look at something they did not initially enter the site to see. Then things like slow page load times due to multiple ad calls and heavy files frustrate users even more.

Now those same consumers have the power to vote via ad blocking. The reality is consumers are flocking to ad blocking for a reason — they want a smooth user experience. It really is that simple.

So it’s time for our industry to have a very honest discussion about user experience. But how do publishers find the right balance?

My suggestion to publishers is for them to look at the bigger picture – their entire portfolio — and analyse the trade-offs and alternatives, and to move to measurement metrics that incentivise both strong content and user experiences. New metrics really could help us redefine the entire Internet experience in such a way that it’s better for everyone.

We’re already seeing moves in this area. One of the world’s largest ad agency trading desks, Xaxis, owned by WPP, recently announced their release of a new product called Light Reaction to buy ads on performance metrics, like cost per engagement and cost per acquisition. This is where the world is moving — more metrics focused on the actual outcome rather than on the ad impression.

To that end, publishers need to use page analytics software more effectively to better understand the impact each ad unit, set of units, or vendor has on such key metrics as bounce rates, time spent on pages, and number of pages visited.

Having insight into these metrics will help publishers choose the right mix of ad formats – video in particular- vs. just looking at which ad network generated a higher eCPM at a given moment, but in actuality drove users away from your site at a higher rate than another network.

“We Have Overstuffed The Bird”

Our friends in the cable industry are coming to grips with a very similar issue as well. In fact, ad clutter in basic cable is an equally big problem, with Kantar Media recently reporting paid ad time on cable networks rose by 4.8% over the past year alone, hovering over the 20-minute-per-hour mark, which five networks actually crossed. As Kevin Reilly, president of TBS and TNT, recently said,“We have overstuffed the bird.”

Reilly’s acknowledgement of the problem, has also led them to a possible solution with TNT now planning to cut the ad load on three new 2016 drama series by 50%, or eight to nine minutes.

The basic idea behind this move is that if the ad load shrinks, advertisers might be willing to pay premium for the better exposure. That and a potential uptick in ratings from consumers attracted by the better viewing experience could partially offset the losses from the halved ad inventory.

This same theory holds true for online publishers as well. Refinery29 and others, for example, have started trading the rewards of programmatic in favor of selling directly with more control of the ad quality and over participating vendors, resulting in higher revenues. Others, like ThoughtCatalog, are carefully weighing the balances of guaranteed direct banner media versus lower-revenue non-direct inventory.

As a publisher, it’s easy to get caught up in ad sales, dealing with myriad media buyers and vendors, most of whom won’t be focusing on UX or new formats. But publishers need to hold firm and seek out partners that provide insights into which ad format you should use on every page and throughout a session. So while it may seem counterintuitive today to opt for less ads vs more ads on your site, perhaps it’s easier to understand if you think about how you’re offering the best ad formats that will convert at the highest rates per session. That old adage – less is more – can still ring true in this context.

Our brains are wired to subconsciously recognise and appreciate simplicity: we can instantly interpret the information and digest the message.  And the odds that people will remember an ad and connect it to a specific brand increase dramatically.

After all, you’re lucky if a visitor gives your ads any time of day at all, so why not make it easy for them?  Give them a simple, clean, clear user experience. The cherry on top of your simplified user experience would be to ensure your advertisers provide you with creatives that trigger an emotional, humorous, or relatable response, but… no pressure.

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