The Publisher’s Reader Satisfaction and Revenue Dilemma


ADOTAS – How do good-looking Olympians, CTRs and Manhattan real estate come together? Well, let’s take a step back first, review the basics and get to the real issues faced by web publishers, which is what the connection is really all about. So where to start? It all begins with the layout of a website’s article page.

For web publishers, an article page is a carefully measured and controlled piece of real estate. It’s all about placement, flow and accessibility. When broken down into its individual parts, the article page is composed of a finite amount of rentable real estate (e.g., areas rented by brands /ad agencies and used by the publisher to produce revenue). Also, the page will offer navigational hooks to funnel a reader deeper into the site’s maze of content, with revenue being generated with each click to an additional page view on the site. Shrinking real estate, meaning readers on smaller screens consuming content, and suppressed revenues are leaving publishers scrambling to squeeze the money-juice out of the website-lemon. Shoehorning in yet another revenue-generating object on the page is akin to trying to wedge-in a new building in an already-overcrowded Manhattan city block. It’s just plain hard, and more is not always better.

As such, the publisher beat-down has really come to light in the past four years. Monetizing through display advertising has become increasingly difficult for publishers, with many brands/agencies moving to programmatic distribution of their creative between DSP (demand-side platform) and SSP (sell-side platform) entities. Virtually everyone in that ad-serving chain takes a cut of those brand dollars along the way before the publisher gets theirs. The ad units on an article page that were once tried-and-true and sold directly by the publisher — the traditional IAB leaderboard and a couple of 300 x 250s in the rails of the page — have exploded into an array of takeovers, widgets, interstitials and virtually anything that diverts the attention away from why the reader came to the site in the first place: the content. If the CPCs aren’t cutting it for the publisher through their display ad units, other revenue-producing items on the page have to take over or provide alternate shots on goal.

Enter: The 10 Sexiest Olympic Athletes

In the new media world, the (literal) bright and shiny object on the page for publishers is the related content widget. These widgets produce results as they rely upon impulsivity and distractibility. Sensational titles accompanied by risqué thumbnails advertise articles that have zero contextual relevance to the article on the page the reader is on. It’s very basic advertising and provides some alternate paths of revenue for publishers. I’m not one to overgeneralize, but after finishing that article on the debt ceiling on your favorite financial pub’s website, it’s easy to indulge in “a little downtime” and click on the 10 Sexiest Olympians thumbnail. The capitalization on the distracted and impulsive human is upon us. Squirrel!!

But how can content remain king if the overbearing queen of distraction and impulsivity is really ruling a publisher’s destiny?

Relevance, that’s how.

Technology and data are helping publishers take advantage of infinite opportunities to navigate readers to contextually relevant and quality content. Moreover, leveraging this knowledge to create new monetization opportunities puts readers on paths to consume content. The path to content’s revenue potential lies with the publisher being able to sift through very large data sets (e.g. analyzing the content’s text, keywords, category and sentiment) and leveraging tools that enable them to do so. Being able to analyze and map those attributes in ginormous Hadoop clusters let publishers match articles across all criteria in order to create connections between content. This type of technology is a panacea for publishers, one capturing a lot of attention in the digital media and ad-tech industries.

Witness the recent acquisition of Gravity by AOL. Gravity, and a few similar start-ups, are bucking the ‘traditional’ paths taken by VC-fueled capital to build carbon-copy ad-tech solutions. These new companies have demonstrated the value in the analysis of large data sets to produce truly actionable results for publishers. Establishing connections between content allows publishers to greet a reader with personalized options of alternate, yet related, content to enjoy based upon the highest probability that individual reader will click. Yes, bespoke content offerings. Similarly, other companies are pointing their large data centers at this content-to-content problem. By deeply understanding the content of a page, new technology is able to place links upon keywords in articles that point to other contextually similar articles the reader will enjoy. An entire economy through open-market bidding has opened up, with marketplace models that supply publishers with readers through specific pieces of content. The demand side gets what they need, new visitors, and the supply side what they need, revenue and satisfied readers.

Supply and demand. Relevant content-to-content connections. Readers transported to other great articles that satisfy their interests. That is the way forward to create new economies for the publishing industry while ensuring readers remain loyal and satisfied with every click. Every now and again, we’ll allow ourselves a click-through to the next irresistible thumbnail of the 20 Hottest Mayors in the US. Go ahead and click. You deserve a break.


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