Long-term growth and profitability through layout optimization

March 6, 2019

The rapid evolution of advertising and publishing technology has lead to a more transparent, streamlined business model, but also a significant increase in the resources required for managing all the assets coming into play. While the benefits of programmatic are undeniable, the current state of affairs is also the underlying cause for neglecting certain practices, that require a bespoke approach for each web property, such as layout optimization. For that reason, we wanted to give you a brief overview of the process, its importance for digital publishing and how it can help grow your business.

At this point, everyone’s probably aware that quality is the make-or-break identifier for most media owners, but when talking about quality the conversation is usually centered around the basics, such as avoiding pop-ups and redirects, while in fact there’s much more to it. It’s also a common misconception that optimizing for quality and optimizing for profit sit on opposite sides of the spectrum. In case you haven’t done so already, take a minute and notice that most successful mainstream websites have abandoned aggressive ad strategies in favor of simplified, effective ones. Having talked to thousands of publishers, we realized many are under the impression that this is a privilege of the elite, while in reality, it’s one of the key components to success. It’s also dependant on a plethora of variables, meaning there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, so let’s take it step by step and go through the major elements of a good layout strategy.

Partners & Policies

The basic framework for your ad placements is to a large extent dictated by the platforms your inventory is being sold on and their respective policies. Most SSPs have detailed requirements in terms of ad positioning, amount, size, type, etc. Being up-to-date with these is key, as it provides a clear picture of the parameters for optimization. However, simply being in compliance doesn’t increase profits by itself, so it’s important to weigh the restrictions of each platform against what they’re bringing to the table. For example, a partner that’s only generating 5% of the total revenue, but at the same time is enforcing a lower ad limit, is probably not worthwhile for the business at that stage. A suggested method for conducting effective sales is to start off conservatively, get as many partners on board as possible and start comparing their yield potential against their own policies. This way each decision can be backed by data, instead of guesswork or third-party projections that may or may not be relevant to your business.

Further analysis of the historical data from each marketplace can also provide valuable insight on how susceptible they are to certain changes, which can be used to one’s advantage with respect to ad placement. Platforms can have slightly different approaches to evaluating inventory, which along with the variety of external tools available for advertisers can lead to disproportionate results of optimizations made across the board. In some occasions, being familiar with these dependencies can be employed to reallocate revenue streams from one provider to the next, via front end tweaks, in order to increase profit margins. This can be exceptionally useful when dealing with the inevitable instabilities of certain demand sources.

Viewability

To nobody’s surprise, viewability is one of several metrics that have a large impact on CPM and can be a good indicator for appropriate ad placement. However, issues can arise when trying to maximize viewability in the context of your particular website’s design, considering other factors that can lead to a countereffect. With only a certain amount of real estate available, it’s necessary to achieve a structure that accounts for clustering, disruption and user error, all of which diminish the quality and value of your inventory. Simply put, not all placements can be equal in their viewability score, neither is that a goal to pursue. Instead, publishers should aim to create an ad layout that follows behavior and generates profits based on engagement and the degree to which information is delivered to the user.

It’s important to find out where a page’s ‘hotspot’ is, meaning the area most consistently in view across all sessions. We recommend using a heat mapping tool in order to get a more precise measurement of this, but whether or not such data is available, there are a few universal considerations.

Although it’s obvious that user activity diminishes over a page’s length, the way this manifests itself can vary from one web property to the next. Recent reports show that the most viewable spot of a web page is right on the brink of the BTF threshold. This is mostly due to the increased popularity of using themes and templates, leading to similar user behavior patterns on average. Sometimes there can be deviations from the norm, an example of which is illustrated below so we can demonstrate why individual analysis is important.

Case A


This is a typical example of a news article featuring a large image on top and text positioned underneath. What’s to be expected in this case would be for users to quickly scroll down to the main piece of content, leaving anything sitting at the top of the page out of view. Thus, placing an ad on the bottom of the viewable area is likely to increase its viewability score.

Case B


On the other hand, in case B a large part of the primary content is visible right away upon opening the page. Under these circumstances, it’s much more likely that the page’s hotspot is higher up than in the previous example, which should be reflected in the positioning of ads as well.

Engagement

Last but definitely not least, optimizing your layout is to a huge extent a matter of user engagement. In digital publishing, the term ‘engagement’ is connected to a series of characteristics, all of which have a tremendous impact on growth and profits. In the short term, this would mean how long users stay on a page, how likely they are to generate follow-up page views within a session, etc. And in the long run – how many of them would return and visit the same website when looking for similar material.

While it’s certainly challenging to create a more positive experience through ads, one could easily fall victim to the opposite through poor ad placement, which can have a devastating effect on business. To avoid that, one needs to first and foremost have a clear understanding of each page’s purpose. There’s a wide variety of possibilities in this regard, but most websites have at least two primary page types – listing/feed pages (allowing navigation and organizing posts) and content pages (responsible for the delivery of the information or product). Although part of the same ecosystem, these facilitate entirely different ways of interaction, so it’s highly ineffective to have both painted with the same brush.

It’s advisable to treat each segment as an individual asset and establish specific sets of criteria, by which performance can be measured. Utilizing Google Analytics or any other alternative solution of the same standing is an absolute necessity for collecting the required data points, which we always recommend over going on a hunch. A plain example for such an analysis would be to measure the drop-off in follow-through traffic on your homepage before and after the relocation of a seemingly disruptive ad, based on which the impact on revenue can be calculated as well.

We’ve talked plenty about profits, but something else worth mentioning is costs. A deficiency in organic traffic can be a real pain, especially in situations where publishers are stuck in a loop of burning cash for SEO or paid promotion. It’s little known that while publishers may not receive a direct penalty, it’s possible for them to have a roof applied in terms of rankings, as a result of poor ad placement. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to measure or predict the exact implications of this on your user acquisition costs, mostly because of Google’s secretive policy on the matter. Nevertheless, it’s one more reason to consider optimizing your layout for quality.

Sustainable growth

Keep in mind that a large amount of the money advertisers spend goes towards ‘awareness campaigns’, meaning that the goal is to reach a large segment of consumers for exposure, instead of generating direct conversions for the least creatives displayed. That said, it is the nature and quality of your audience that holds the most value, so attracting and maintaining a loyal user base consistently is the best way to secure sustainable growth in this business. To that end, publishers usually spend a great deal of effort on designing their properties and we’ve found that the same attention to detail is required when it comes to ad strategy.

Don’t hesitate to get in touch with us if you’d like to learn more about layout optimization and how our program can help you achieve exceptional results!

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