Clean Ads IO: WaPo CRO On Balancing Revenue With UX

UXJed Hartman, the CRO of the Washington Post, knows that a focus on user experience can also conflict with a publisher’s ability to drive revenue

“Our owner Jeff Bezos focuses relentlessly on the consumer,” Hartman said during a publisher panel at AdExchanger’s Clean Ads conference on Tuesday. “It’s UX-first, which is a challenge for me because there’s so much a marketer might want to do [such as a nonskippable pre-roll format or scrolling animation] that’s not positive for the UX despite the high CPMs or demand.”

The Washington Post recently appointed what Hartman described as a “UX ambassador,” a role not tailored to think revenue-first, but rather to survey all ads on-site or on mobile to ensure those placements meet UX standards.

In the past, revenue-driving KPIs created UX challenges. For instance, when the marketer goal was pure reach, “we turned our pages into Times Square,” Hartman said. And when the desired outcome was a click-through, “we would just hide the X.”

With the industrywide focus on viewability, new ad units are emerging that once again undermine UX. Certain formats designed for viewability, such as outstream video, are arguably intrusive because they mimic the user's scroll on a page or automatically start and stop when in view.

Decreasing latency – a big UX initiative – also can undermine monetization. While products like Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages speed up content delivery, sometimes the user scrolls through the page quickly before the ads have even loaded because “it’s so lightning fast,” Hartman added, “and that’s a challenge.” 

Jed Hartman, chief revenue officer, The Washington Post Credit: Jin LeePublishers like the Post have taken matters into their own hands, introducing new ad tech like Fuse, which mimics Facebook Instant Articles but includes pre-cached ads for faster load times across the publisher’s own desktop/mobile site and app content. (The Wall Street Journal reported the Post may license the technology to other publishers in the future.)

“With the rise in ad blocking, we introduced lightning-fast light ad units that don’t slow down the experience,” Hartman said. “If a marketer offers up an ad, and it was the last ad a consumer was served before they enabled an ad blocker, we’re having conversations about that.”

Equally important to solving viewability and ad blocking is managing click fraud, which can artificially inflate viewability figures.

Even if a marketer has high viewability rates as defined by accepted industry standards, it’s useless if those numbers are inclusive of bot traffic, Hartman argued.

“Media plans will not look nearly as good when you remove fraud,” he said. “It’s hard to solve for viewability without solving click fraud.”

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