These are trying times for the digital publishing industry. The combined effects of ad blockers -- used by almost a quarter of British adults -- and the overarching control of the tech giants make it challenging for smaller publishers to monetise their inventory. With insufficient ad revenues to finance the production of high-quality content that will attract website traffic, as well as to support ongoing monetisation efforts, the publisher’s task becomes harder still, creating a vicious cycle that must be broken.
At the same time the duopoly of Google and Facebook seem to have it made, with the companies accounting for over half of UK digital ad revenues. But not everything is rosy in the duopoly’s garden. The recent Cambridge Analytica scandal significantly damaged user trust in Facebook and prompted advertisers such as Mozilla to pull ad spend from the platform in the same way that brands boycotted Google’s YouTube following last year’s brand safety breaches.
With consumers and brands potentially disillusioned with the tech giants, now is the time for smaller publishers to grab the opportunity to generate revenues and position themselves as a better-quality, more trusted alternative to the duopoly.
Experiment with ad formats and sizes
When placing ad units on their websites, publishers should test out a variety of sizes and formats, while minimising ad clutter to maintain a positive user experience. Different-sized display ads perform better for different metrics -- for instance, leaderboard ads command the highest CPMs, while full banners have the greatest viewability and large rectangular ads generate the best fill rates. Half-page ads tend to perform well for all three metrics, making them a good overall choice, but their performance inevitably varies according to site layout. Publishers may want to consider flexible sizing solutions that allow smaller creatives to be served within larger ad units, increasing competition and offering more demand for inventory.
Video ads are also well worth exploring, with digital video set to account for 64% of UK ad spending in 2018. This is hardly surprising, considering that 92% of consumers watch online videos on a daily basis, with 88% viewing more than they did a year ago. For publishers that don’t have video inventory to monetise with pre-roll, outstream provides an effective non-intrusive alternative.
Leverage valuable first-party data
Smaller publishers -- especially those with niche websites -- have highly engaged and passionate audiences, often with particular hobbies or interests. They also hold a wealth of first-party data related to those audiences, which is incredibly valuable to advertisers looking to reach specific consumer segments. To make the best use of their data, publishers first need to understand what they have and where it is stored, and ensure that its collection and use complies with the new General Data Protection Regulation. Once they have a handle on their data, it can be packaged and made available to advertisers for targeting purposes, increasing the value of ad placements.
Get creative with monetisation models
In the face of adversity, publishers need to explore different monetisation methods, and many are investigating the feasibility of user subscriptions or paywalls, especially as consumers are increasingly willing to pay for online content. While these models are unlikely to generate enough income to entirely replace ad revenues, they could reduce reliance on advertising and the duopoly. Google has actually aided publisher paywall models by ending its first-click free policy that compelled publishers to allow visitors to have some free content if they wanted to appear in search results.
Where publishers are using an ad-supported model they can investigate different types of advertising such as reward ads -- where users gain game credit for watching ads -- which offer a positive user experience. AOL is using the same principle in its new DataPerks offering, which gives users free Verizon data when they interact with mobile ads. Reward ads consistently outperform other ad types, with 93% of consumers saying they feel it is important to be recompensed for their time.
Collaborate with other publishers
Rather than seeing other media companies as competitors for valuable ad revenues, publishers could consider creating alliances with like-minded publishers with complementary content and similar target audiences. By creating a larger pool of premium high-quality content, which is perfect for contextual and native advertising, publishers can make their inventory more attractive to advertisers, and have more chance of competing with the duopoly for advertiser budgets.
After a tough few years, the time has come to tip the scales in favour of smaller digital publishers, and these four steps will help them maximise inventory monetisation and become the David to the duopoly’s Goliath.