“The Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.
Today's column is written by Christian Baesler, president at Bauer Xcel Media.
The Washington Post recently announced its new “lightning fast” mobile pages, using Google’s progressive web apps technology. Progressive web apps allow a mobile website to behave more like a downloadable app – without the downloads.
This increases speed, improves user experience and allows a publisher to provide good mobile experiences to a broad set of device types. While they enable a lot of cool things, the most basic reason to use them or similar technology is to increase mobile page speed.
Both Google and Facebook are now factoring page speed into their logic across several important products on which publishers rely heavily for traffic, including Facebook’s news feed and Google’s search rankings. The Washington Post’s announcement is likely in response to Google’s indication earlier this summer that it would start factoring mobile page load speed specifically for mobile page rankings.
Google’s and Facebook’s emphasis on page speed is in response to rising consumer expectations of high performance. But Google and Facebook are so focused on improving page load times that they are sacrificing user features, enforcing standardization across publishers and limiting some ad capabilities and tracking.
Google and Facebook both rely heavily on publishers for content, so it’s no surprise that they’re putting the pressure on them to improve. Some changes that Google and Facebook make aren’t great for publishers, such as Facebook’s recent announcement that it would favor friend posts over news posts.
Page speed is different. Page load time is a significant contributor to page performance in general. Faster page loads are good for everyone, and there are actually a lot of reasons why publishers should follow The Washington Post’s lead and consider the value of speeding up their websites, not just for the sake of Facebook and Google rankings, which are important enough.
Page speed matters first and foremost because consumers abandon slow sites. Publishers need to prioritize page speed to reduce bounce rates. A page that takes two more seconds to load than others like it will see a 50% increase in bounce rates. Consumers will abandon sites that don’t optimize the mobile experience.
Last year, Facebook reported that the average page load time for a publisher being accessed through the Facebook news feed was eight seconds. In contrast, Facebook Instant Articles can load a similar article in .8 seconds. That’s 10 times faster through Facebook.
Despite the fact that publishers cede some control by using a feature like Instant Articles, many are making the decision to try it anyway. However, publishers should think of speed as one of several important KPIs to consider with options like Instant Articles. It’s important to calculate the cost of the reduced control, minimized data and potentially less advertising revenue that comes with embracing Instant Articles or similar offerings from other platforms.
Speaking of ad revenue, there are several ways page speed affects ad performance. When a page starts to load, an ad may be called but may never get a chance to load if a user scrolls past or leaves the page. This hurts a publisher’s discrepancy and viewability rates, causing problems with third-party reporting and decreasing overall revenue.
With mobile, the IAB found that discrepancies between advertiser and publisher are frequently worse than 20% or even 30%. Add to that the IAB recommendation that advertisers’ numbers are the statistics of record when settling make-goods and it becomes clear why publishers need to prioritize anything that can decrease any mobile discrepancies.
With the more recent addition of header-bidding tags to a publisher’s pages, many publishers worry that they may need to sacrifice page load time. Header-bidding tags are so named because they are inserted in the header of a website, giving them a chance to load before the actual website content, so if they load slowly they can hinder the rest of the page from loading. The more tags in the header, the greater the risk of latency.
However, even with this relatively new and unregulated technology, there are ways to limit impact on page load time. Publishers will need to weigh the pros and cons of creating something of a black-box programmatic solution on their own site, but using a wrapper can help speed up site loads overall and help manage time-outs to ensure that pages don’t lag if a third-party partner suddenly slows down.
Some promising innovations are in the works, such as OpenX Meta, a server-side wrapper solution that could potentially create even faster results by performing all of the bid management on its own server, rather than on the page. Other solutions, such as limiting bid lag times and narrowing bid maximums and floors, can also help publishers speed up the programmatic advertising lag on page loads when using header bidding.
Publishers must consider page speed as a KPI that directly impacts revenue in the short and long term. Almost half of all consumers expect pages to load in less than two seconds, putting continued pressure on publishers to perform. Combine this with the effects slow pages have on ad serving and revenue and it’s clear that everyone in the digital advertising market wins when they focus on speed.