“Data-Driven Thinking" is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.
Today’s column is written by Eric Berry, CEO at TripleLift.
The mobile web does not monetize particularly well for publishers. User data, bandwidth and screen size constraints make it inevitable.
The harsh reality that mobile simultaneously represents the greatest opportunity for growth in content consumption while providing a nearly punitive monetization rate has created an unfortunately mixed set of incentives.
Through a combination of real and proposed solutions, however, publishers stand to see their mobile web fortunes improve.
A Single Ad ID
Safari is the mobile browser for a substantial percentage of the most valuable mobile users. By default, it blocks writing cookies that don’t belong to the top-level domain. Hacks to circumvent this restriction, largely based on clicks temporarily redirecting to advertising domains, have proliferated through the ecosystem. This mediocre user experience – especially in a mobile context – undermines Safari’s original vision and has resulted in lawsuits.
The ideal outcome would be for Safari to provide a single advertiser ID, without any other cookies, much as it does in the app ecosystem. Advertising platforms could register with Apple, agree to a certain set of user data principles, such as not commingling with personally identifiable information, and have their domain whitelisted.
This advertiser ID would significantly improve monetization, eliminate the need for cookie syncs between providers and help usher a shift away from the present system that favors Facebook and Google through the consumer-facing cookies.
Admittedly, this would undermine Apple’s push to apps and would require a deviation from the HTTP protocol, much like blocking cookies. It should be noted, however, that Apple generally does not make money with advertising in apps either. So this would only improve monetization – from which Apple could theoretically take a cut if it so chose – while perhaps ensuring that advertisers agree to a set of privacy principles that appear to be core to Apple’s mission.
Disjointed Monetization System
The mobile web monetization ecosystem is fragmented and less optimized than desktop. Header bidding is an effective remedy, but is burdened by being an unfortunate combination of both first- and second-price auctions.
The input into header bidding is each SSP’s auction result. Since they are generally contractually required to hold true second-price auctions, they cannot submit anything but the second price as the header bid. Yet each header bid competes equally on a first-price auction, meaning the winning header bidder pays roughly equal to the price they bid.
This disjointed monetization system, especially in the mobile web’s particularly sparse bidding environment, materially impacts overall yield. A more effective implementation of header bidding would be a client-side second-price auction process.
Each SSP could submit their first and second prices and a neutral third party would determine the winning clear price based on all the submitted bids. The parties could use certain encryption techniques to limit the availability of bid information. Thus the global second price could be determined rather than the hybrid technique currently employed.
While this technique applies equally well in the desktop context, the need is more acute for mobile web, where bids are less dense and the impact of bid reduction is more severe. Submitting the global second price will always provide better yield for a publisher and still meet the requirements of a second-price auction.
The mobile web experience has improved dramatically over the past 12 months, but the environment must continue to grow and balance the needs of consumers, publishers and advertisers.
From the consumer perspective, high-quality, low-bandwidth experiences are paramount. Slow page loads are easily remediated by adhering to the foundations espoused in Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project. Mass adoption will fundamentally improve the user experience for the better.
Optimizing the consumer experience also requires eliminating large interstitials and overly intrusive autoplay video experiences. While both experiences may provide a temporary increase in yield, they also undermine the mobile web as a platform and effectively serve as a tragedy of the commons.
For advertisers optimizing for the mobile web, a change in mindset is necessary. While banners were the primary modality for monetization on desktop, they are wholly inapposite on mobile web. Native and content recommendation have emerged as a significantly more user- and bandwidth-friendly monetization system.
Similarly, 30-second pre-roll videos arose as an effective desktop monetization scheme for long-form videos, but are less tolerated on mobile devices where shorter vignettes of content are the norm. Mobile publishers and advertisers must increasingly adopt video ads that are six to 15 seconds lighter.
Desktop remains important, but mobile is assuredly the future of content consumption and mobile web is a key, but often overlooked, component. Content publishers cannot simply apply desktop techniques and hope for success.
The unique challenges and opportunities with the medium require significant consideration and innovation. Fortunately, the temporary depression in overall monetization does not portend the end of content publishing – and instead simply speaks to an opportunity yet to be monetized.
By applying many of these techniques and rallying for the others, publishers may ultimately see improved overall yield by improving the quality and quantity of user interactions, each with significantly enhanced monetization.