Digital advertising remains an essential element of publisher monetisation strategies, but the way ad inventory and demand partners are managed is evolving.

A recent report from Reuters Institute explains that although subscription models are gaining favour they are unlikely to fully sustain businesses, leading publishers to review and evolve advertising strategies to ensure the financial viability of quality content creation. Some users are prepared to pay a fee for premium content, but the ad-supported model will still be the most likely option for the majority.

So how do publishers best manage their ad inventory, and how can they balance the need to generate ad revenue with providing a positive and respectful ad experience to their audiences?

Shift from CPM to RPP

The value of digital advertising is generally judged on cost per thousand impressions (CPM). However, this narrow focus on one specific metric could be detrimental to the user experience, and subsequently the publisher’s long-term success. Everyone loves a high CPM, but what if that high-CPM ad has unwanted drawbacks? Perhaps they load slowly, intrude on the user experience, or are simply irrelevant to the on-page content — behaviours like this could wind up deterring the site’s core audience, which is exactly whom advertisers are trying to reach.

But there are alternatives. For instance, instead of focussing solely on CPMs, publishers could consider factoring in criteria such as load times that affect the quality of ads when measuring value. This is part of a new, alternative metric that is known as revenue per page (RPP) – which is already available through Google Analytics. RPP allows publishers to measure the revenue generated by a whole page, rather than a single ad unit, in relation to page views and impressions. This allows publishers to understand the value of ads in the context of the content surrounding them. RPP can also be used in conjunction with page level insight, revealing the relationship between ad performance, user behaviour and traffic patterns, including how this changes over time.

Factor in audience engagement

Another useful approach is to look at engagement metrics such as time spent with an ad and subsequent interactions, especially as the market moves towards cost per second (CPS) and cost per hour (CPH) advertising. Industry standards such as the new IAB Gold Standard, the LEAN principles, and the standards set by the Coalition for Better Advertising, can guide publishers in improving the user experience and in selecting relevant monetisation partners.

Publishers may also benefit from incorporating user feedback — complaints as well as positive reviews — into their monetisation strategies. If a particular placement results in a significant decrease in user satisfaction, for instance, it may need to be revised, even if it does offer high yields.

Revise ad quantity and placement

If in-depth measurement and engagement metrics are used to gauge ad effectiveness, publishers may find that quality outpaces quantity. They could then decide to reduce the number of ads on the page, perhaps even considering just one strategically placed, high-value ad.

For example, ads placed at the bottom of the page that only load in-view provide a valuable monetisation opportunity that is frequently overlooked. They may be seen by a reduced portion of the site’s total visitors, but these will be highly engaged users who, based on the fact that they made it all the way down the page, have a higher probability of being genuinely interested in the content — and are therefore more likely to interact with relevant advertising.

There are various guides out there, such as the AOP’s Ad Quality Charter that provides guidance on maximising viewability of advertising by optimising on-page placement based on user behaviour and content consumption.

In addition, publishers can perform their own A/B testing of different ad formats and page layouts to discover the best fit for their audiences.

Analyse demand partner performance

Finally, there’s the question of demand-partner performance. A publisher’s monetisation strategy is much more effective when they have a granular understanding of this. Once a publisher examines the quality of ads coming from a particular demand partner, this may result in only working with partners who can deliver impressions with the right balance of yield and user experience.

Partner analysis isn’t easy. It requires the introduction of robust reporting through analytical tools and platforms such as DoubleClick for Publishers (DFP). But such effort is well worth it. DFP allows publishers to combine multiple variables such as ad unit dimensions, campaign line items, revenue metrics, and effective CPM to gain a true understanding of each demand partner’s value.

Sovrn’s publisher services team have found that by following these and other techniques for analysing performance — engagement, ad quantity vs. quality, and page placement — coupled with assessing demand partner performance, publishers will be on their way to a healthy balance between positive yields and an engaging experience for their users.


By Andy Evans, chief marketing officer at Sovrn

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