Balancing revenue and user experience doesn’t need to be mission impossible
By Asaf Shamly | October 19, 2021
Originally on whatsnewinpublishing.com
Revenue, product, and editorial teams are in a continuous battle over what appear to be conflicting needs. Not making enough profit, annoying users with endless ads, and poor user experience (UX). All this is regularly pushing publishers to the edge, scratching their heads over what to do.
Each side in this conflict has a good point. You need revenue and the core way to achieve it is through ads. You also need to create the best possible UX, especially after Google introduced Core Web Vitals (its new update to its UX tracking and measuring).
Visitors often get annoyed by ads (10 million adblocker downloads on Chrome certainly testifies to this) and ads clearly interfere with UX. So it’s no surprise that many publishers wonder how to achieve the balance in the seemingly unresolvable conflict where users perceive ads as a nuisance.
Struggling with imperfect solutions
Typically, publishers are trying to address this problem through compromise and workarounds, often with limited success. Their ultimate goal is to deliver a premium ad inventory without annoying their visitors too much. This means serving ads that don’t get in the way of content, are relevant to the visitor, and get along with their devices, internet speed, and other variables.
To make this happen, publishers may deploy a/b testing or try better selling into viewable inventory. Others may use in-view ad refresh or try to increase the site speed. Some work round the clock to get past sophisticated bid-shading algorithms.
While different, these methods have something in common – they all fail to achieve true synergy across all departments. There’s always some disadvantage, whichever path you decide to take. What’s more, these methods usually don’t result in a drastic change for the better (or any change at all).
To top it off, Google’s new update increases the game difficulty by bringing in a new set of metrics that track the behavior of different websites. This affects the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) of those websites that fail to meet its standards. Thanks to this change, publishers are forced to work harder on improving UX which, you guessed right, may entail sacrificing revenue.
So, is there anything you can do to increase your revenue without hurting your UX, website traffic, and the bottom line? There is.
AI to the rescue: personalizing ad layouts using real-time data
One solution, employed by some leading publishers, is to use real-time data to tailor the ad experience to each individual visitor. This means using hundreds of anonymized data points to gain key insights into visitor behavior, along with many other important technical details.
This information may include anything to do with users’ browsing habits (mouse movements, scrolling speed, clicks, etc). For instance, some users scroll faster, some just skim through the pages (especially those with a lot of images), while others devote more time to it.
It also takes into consideration variables such as the device the person is using to access the website, their internet connection speed, the device’s location, and so on. For example, some users browse on smartphones and have limited real-estate for observing content. By contrast, others may use large, 27-inch screens.
Using this information, publishers are able to customize the ad layout to suit each individual visitor. This layout personalization includes the type of ad to be served, as well as when and where on the page it appears.
All this data is gathered, analyzed, and acted upon within a few milliseconds between a visitor opening the site and the site actually loading. As a result, users get a completely personalized ad experience that includes the best ad positioning, best ad sizes, best timing for ad loading, and other advantages.
This all leads to higher viewability rates and ads that blend in perfectly while retaining the UX. Better viewability rates also make selling ad positions a lot easier, along with removing the need to choose between revenue and UX.
Of course, this massive amount of data cannot possibly be analyzed in real-time by a human, which is where Artificial Intelligence steps in. Fortunately, this AI-based tech is already a reality.
Let the figures do the talking
A leading US publisher deployed AI to serve its visitors a personalized ad inventory. We observed its progress for an entire day, noticing some exciting results, both in terms of performance and UX metrics.
Specifically, the number of ads per page went up by 11%, viewability increased to 80% (a 38% increase), while invalid traffic (IVT) dropped by 55%. We also noticed an increase of average scroll depth by 6%, a decrease of average scroll velocity by 38%, while still retaining the average time spent on page.
Here’s what ads per page distribution looks like when the digital real estate is optimized:
The perfect balance
Publishers have always faced the difficult task of juggling visitors who expect superb UX with the ever-present need for ads that can interfere with the user experience. The new changes implemented by Google have made this challenge all the more complex.
However, thanks to the proliferation of AI, publishers now have effective tools to provide the best possible UX without sacrificing ad inventory and revenue. Consumers get what they want – great content with unintrusive, relevant, and contextual ads – whilst publishers get maximized ad revenue. Advertisers can also rejoice as the viewability of their ads goes up and invalid traffic goes down.
And it’s all thanks to the power of AI, spiced up with a little data.
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