How do you balance ad revenue generation with a high quality user experience?
The 2017 AOP Digital Publishing Convention took place at the stately No.11 Cavendish Square, just minutes away from Oxford Circus in London. This year’s convention, themed ‘Inside Out’, aimed to bring publishers and industry partners together to examine the challenges and opportunities driving the profitability and future of the digital publishing sector.
This blog post will zoom in on the third panel of the convention, titled ‘Positive ad UX is THE way forward for the industry’. On this panel, our own Global Commercial Director Alasdair Cross was joined by speakers from Celtra, Carat and The Telegraph to discuss the raising UX expectation. The panel was moderated by Dilip Shukla, Head of Content Strategy at AOP. Check out the transcript here:
Interacting with an audience
Dilip: “I’d like to invite the entire panel to join me on the stage. What we’ll try to do today is not focus on the concerns that may be a current industry preoccupation, but to think about where real value is created and share those ideas. Alasdair, to start with you, I’d like to hear your thoughts on what it is to interact with an audience or a person online? What you can learn from the way we can refer them to new ideas?”
Alasdair: “So, I guess first a brief elevator pitch here. Bibblio helps publishers to make the most of every page. What does that mean? We see a couple of big problems publishers experience. The first one has to do with the attention and the consumption of pages and its content. You see high bounce rates, low page views and attention and a large number of click-outs. So if we could help to get publishers longer dwell times and increased engagement on their own sites, then that’s a good thing. That’s going to increase loyalty and strengthen their brand.
“The second problem has to do with fairly large amounts of money being spent on traffic acquisition. Publishers will buy in traffic through social media and Google, and a large number leaks away to a variety of places. So if we can help publishers to retain the person for longer and also syndicate their content out to drive more relevant people back into their content, then that’s also going to help in their journey.
“So in terms of ad UX. When you think about the huge rise in adblockers - even my kids installed it without a second thought - and trying to change that; it’s going to be hard problem to solve. I think we need to start with publishers first, by encouraging them to retain people for longer. This means thinking about the right format of their own content and ads on their pages. That’s going to bring positive results.”
Throwing data science into the mix
Dilip: “What type of patterns are you seeing? What’s the success formula of referring people to the next piece of content?”
Alasdair: “There are ways we can optimise. These ways have to do with the positioning of the recommendation modules on different parts of the page. Essentially, it’s about relevance. Relevance is king. If we can surface the most relevant content to the right person, we’re going to see the best results. At the moment it’s very early days. There’s data science being applied to work out what fits best for which person. All the results point at relevance being vital for success.”
Dilip: “It is black box science that defines the relevance? What kind of human input goes into it?”
Alasdair: “I think it’s both. Ultimately, if we can’t get people to engage longer on publisher’s content, then there’s a problem. The science comes into it when we need to measure the audience response. We’re looking at the engagement rates, the dwell time, the click-through rates. And that will feed into the science at the backend.”
There's only UX
Dilip: “Thank you, Alasdair. Next I’m going to invite Ian to share his thoughts on the subject. Where is the world of ad UX going?”
Ian Curtis, Product Manager at The Telegraph: “Thanks. The way I see it at The Telegraph is that none of our readers show up to any page to see ads. They show up for that specific article, that piece of content, either curated or written from scratch by a journalist. There’s a couple of things we need to do, to continue to produce that content. That’s either to generate some revenue from that page, which could be through subscription, registration, advertising or more commercial journeys such as financial services or travel.
“Also, we need to make sure that the reader enjoys the piece of content, the experience a whole so much, that they want to come back or explore more in their limited time. That’s the balance we need to bear in mind.
“I don’t think there’s any such thing as ad UX at all. I think there’s UX. A reader shows up at a site and we need to make sure that reader has the best experience possible. Or else there’s a huge possibility that reader will not come back. Or when they come back, they come back armed with an ad blocker or a level of paralysis that won’t allow them to engage with your brand. With that in mind, it becomes an extremely nuanced situation for publishers and brands. Everyone wants what’s right for that reader at any point. It’s important that ads are operational, they are fast and that they complement the content that we have in place at any time.”
Dilip: “Ok. Listening to this, I think we could have the chance to consider next level of advertising, where all the ads have a creative connection to the content. Is there a way we can start researching the effectiveness of that?”
Ian: “The gaps we create on the page to support advertising are built with the reader in the mind. We test everything through. We’ve been doing that for the last two years. We look for statistical significance through multivariate testing. So we know what it does for all revenue streams. So far as what goes into those gaps we’ve created, they need to be brand safe and score well on viewability. Both of them are not good measure of success, but if you’re not hitting those you’re doing something wrong.
“After that it’s about specific engagement measurements. At that moment we’ve gone through much testing, so whatever ends up being shown to the reader should be in the right context and be able to do the job it’s meant to do.”
Dilip: “I love the point of multivariate testing. Does it allow you to say ‘if that ad format is there doing this, it seems to compromise the experience, but if I do that then…’?”
Ian: “We use Polar for our native advertising. To create an ad area on the page, we run a series of tests to find out what’s the most effective area to put that slot. And Polar is really a delivery mechanism as well. You put in five different thumbnails and headlines, and try maybe five different areas, it will run to find the most effective one. This way we try to combine the best creative process with the best space on the page.”
Getting creative with it
Dilip: “Ok. I often realize that when we have these holistic discussions it’s not immediately apparent what needs to be done. We see research saying we should be more creative in advertising - do you think this will gain traction?”
Alison Ashworth, Strategy Partner at Carat: “A few years ago we were all talking about how to stand out and be more creative. How do you build emotion around brands? I don’t know if this has really changed. I think in the last five years you’ve seen the world of digital and programmatic emerge. It’s all become automated. And it scared a lot of creative people. They are used to big expensive formats, they are used to storytelling. We live in an exciting and scary time. We’re not embracing the opportunity for sequential storytelling through programmatic. I think the narrative at the moment is quite fearful. That’s why we are all having this debate again.”
Dilip: “Is it the fear of the CMO who knows he’s about to get fired because he can’t prove ROI?”
Alison: “Is that a new fear? I think it’s just easier to gather short-term metrics and therefore short-term metrics rise to the top. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. But there’s plenty of conversation around that and organisations are evolving.”
Site's speed delivers knock on effect
Dilip: “The industry is indeed evolving. And will continue to. Data is going to be more under control and publishers and advertising can think about how they can work more closely together.”
Ian: “I think one of the things that’s interesting here is the speed of your publisher’s site. Each additional entry into the chain slows that done by x. And that has such a knock-on effect on the user. Latency affects everything. It affects your storytelling right down to that engagement and trust. I think there’s an element of fear for a reader when they land on a page and something is going on - they see words and pictures but the site hasn’t loaded yet in its entirety. New adtech needs to fall in line with the rules you have set to create a consistent experience across your site for all readers. We usually adopt a vendor-in-vendor-out policy, so we keep the baseline speed of the site consistent.”
What does the reader want?
Dilip: “Any last thoughts from the panel?”
Lolly Mason, VP Media Partnerships EMEA at Celtra: “I think we should start to look at what might be better ways to review campaigns. To figure out what is successful and what isn’t. Not immediately looking at short term success or last click attribution, but more meaningful things."
Ian: “I don’t think innovation has to be restricted by things such as speed or the process that’s in place. Innovation comes from understanding what the reader actually wants when they show up on the page. And then try to take them on another journey than the one that has been set out.”
Alasdair: “I think advertising and content can work in harmony. It’s going to take a lot of experimentation and science behind it to understand what is best for the reader."
Bibblio solves the problems of audience retention and engagement by showing each user the best of your own content.