“The Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.
Today's column is written by Neil Glass, SVP of data strategy at IDG.
You've heard it before: “Slow and steady wins the race.” The moral to Aesop's famous fable is also a mantra that publishers should adopt when it comes to both short-term and long-term revenue goals. Steadily engaging users for the longer term is mission-critical, but too often, the short game (aka quarterly goals) wins. This in turn can impact your ability to engage, retain and grow your audience.
Publishers should fight the impulse to employ clumsy, short-term tactics like the ones below that destroy the user experience and damage long-term trust. Focus on a two-year revenue strategy at a minimum – even if it means giving up a quarterly spike.
Ad Clutter And Ad Frequency
Problem: Increasing the number of ads on a page or adding a welcome ad on top of a video might provide a quick revenue boost, but this will impact user experience by slowing down the page while delaying access to desired content.
Compounding the issue is that when users become disenchanted and bounce rates increase, that also impacts ad performance. And that's bad news for advertisers and their media partners. Research from the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) in May 2016 revealed that ad clutter was the biggest obstacle to multiscreen digital advertising, with more than half (54%) of US brand marketers and ad buyers calling it a big problem.
With frequency-capping, some publishers violate their own standards to drive short-term revenue gains. An advertiser might be offered a condensed flight by a publisher looking to bump quarterly numbers (e.g., offering a two-week flight instead of a six-week flight) and, in the process, deliver twice as many ads to the same person in a shorter time period.
Solution: Under pressure from broadcast viewers, TV media companies are (surprisingly) leading the way on the ad load issue. About a year ago, National Geographic reduced ads in new its series and specials in the US by 25% and started to run documentaries commercial-free, while “Saturday Night Live” removed two ad breaks, cutting commercial time by a third. Parent company NBCUniversal made the move to improve the live viewing experience.
Not every media-seller has to take such dramatic steps. Transparency is key; publishers need to set expectations with advertisers and communicate with their own salespeople about how aggressively they sell – and align incentives accordingly.
Problem: Publishers love email newsletters. They are great for lead generation and driving traffic in a low-cost way. However, it's a rampant industry practice to saturate the end user with too many, especially across different titles. Frequent email blasts may help publishers to hit a short-term number, but over time, users will become less responsive and frustrated.
Solution: Publishers must develop rules of email engagement for how their databases are leveraged. Different business units should not use the same email database without following shared rules on frequency or volume. Invest in strategies that increase the number and quality of people in the database. Don't be afraid to buy new names to take pressure off your existing ones. This approach may take longer but could easily generate more quality leads.
Blurring Content With Advertising
Native advertising is a perfectly legitimate revenue strategy – as long as there is a clear distinction with editorial. The publisher may be incented to drive as many views as possible to the ad, but in order to maintain long-term trust, best practices must be in place to maintain the distinction between content and advertising. Native products should be called out very clearly so that they're recognized as sponsored content. It's vital to create an editorial relationship with users that assures long-term viability. Personalization, not clickbait, is what will win over your readers.
Overall, revenue strategies should be designed for long-term success and not fast, easy gains. The world's most successful publishers know that quality customer engagement is a marathon and not a sprint.