Advertising Digital Publishing
7 mins read

How publishers can grow ad revenue with the help of right metrics

seagull on perch

Our goal is to help publishers understand which metrics to look at in order to get the maximum value out of their chosen publishing model (and ensure stable growth for their businesses).

Today, we will focus on exploring metrics that can help publishers who are operating on ads to come up with the strategy of selling prime real estate on their website and ultimately increase their revenue.

Understanding ads as a business model

According to the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2019, advertising is becoming more intrusive and, as a business model, it usually implies low margins, but nevertheless publishers continue to stick to it or combine it with other revenue models. 

Really, it’s not that surprising. The relationship between advertisers and publishers goes way back, so the concept of ads as a business model has a sense of familiarity around it. This is partly why ads have become the primary source of revenue for many online publishers, especially those who have transitioned from print to digital. 

In an ideal case, advertisers and publishers can form a kind of a symbiotic relationship where both sides derive some kind of benefit from it: advertisers get exposure to a relevant audience, and publishers get the money needed to maintain their business operations. If they’re placed correctly in the broader context of the publication, these ads won’t by default annoy readers and could in fact help them find out about useful offers, services or products that are of interest to them.

Ad inventory can be priced by impressions, clicks, and in rare cases, there may even be a special agreement between the publisher and the advertiser which implies a flat-rate. There are two main ways publishers sell ads:

  • They sell ads directly to sponsors (this is usually the case with established publishers who form long-term contracts with well-paying advertisers)
  • They sign up for third-party ad platforms (e.g. programmatic ads; after setting up their account, publishers place ads on their website and collect revenue depending on the exposure or ad clicks)

However, if the publication in question is already fighting for survival publishers may turn to clickbait and focus on quantity instead of quality in order to attract eyeballs and generate as many pageviews as possible. There is this obsession over pageviews partly because pageviews are what ad agencies benchmark against. The paradigm needs to be changed since it benefits nobody.

Alas, more pageviews means more impressions and – ultimately – more ad revenue. This has a very destructive impact on the integrity of online media and newsrooms. It’s a bitter irony that in trying to monetize (and in many cases, save their businesses, publishers might in fact be destroying those businesses because readers are getting turned off by the very thing that’s enabling their existence in the first place. 

This isn’t hyperbole. The rise in ad-blockers and the digital condition known as ‘banner blindness’ are evidence that readers rail against these strategies, if they’re poorly executed. 

And, if that wasn’t already enough, there’s another issue: publishers need to compete with the duopoly of Facebook and Google for advertising revenue. Namely, these two tech giants have the advantage of scaling with ease while also having access to identity data and state-of-the-art ad technology.

All of this paints a pretty bleak scene, but it needn’t be. By following the right metrics, publishers can make the most of their traffic and maximize their ad revenue without jeopardizing the bond they have with their readers. Empowered by data, they can negotiate better fees with advertisers and achieve better results.

So, let’s discuss how.


1. Exposure CPI

Advertisers mostly care about the volume. They want to know about the number of people they reach with their ads, so they’re mostly interested in Pageviews and generated clicks. However, at Content Insights we go one step beyond to bring more relevant information about the way a certain author, article, topic, or section has performed in terms of exposure.

Our analytics solution operates on an advanced algorithm called Content Performance Indicator (CPI) that recognizes three different behavioral models: exposure, engagement, and loyalty. In the context of ads, Exposure CPI matters the most, but it’s not the only thing that’s important (we’ll talk about this a bit later).

Exposure CPI speaks to advertisers in a tongue they understand and it values volume. It shows how good your articles are at attracting wider audiences and it’s always displayed in a single number between 0 and 1000. 

So, why should you as a publisher care about this metric? Well, as we mentioned above,Exposure CPI can be seen through different dimensions:

  • Authors
  • Articles
  • Topics
  • Sections

For instance, if you have a few authors who are exceptional at attracting a lot of readers, it might be a good start to examine which topics they cover and gradually form an offer for certain advertisers who could benefit from reaching your audience.

Exposure CPI score can serve as a proof of concept for advertisers, because it’s so much more specific and reliable compared to just the number of pageviews.

Identifying these “content unicorns” is one way Süddeutsche Zeitung uses Content Insights, even though they don’t operate on ads. Undoubtedly, it’s useful in many ways to know which articles generate a lot of attention and figure out if there is a way to monetize on them without sacrificing reader experience or quality.


2. Article Reads

Exposure CPI is great when you want a clear and easy-to-understand overview of the best authors, articles, topics, and sections with highest exposure scores. In the Content Insights’ app, you simply choose “Behavior”, then select “Exposure” and see the champions of exposure – a pretty valuable piece of information if you’re operating on ads.

However, Article Reads is another metric that could be of use when trying to define prime real-estate on your website, i.e. the best ad space you can sell.

Article Reads counts the number of times a real person opens a certain article, spends at least 10 seconds on it, and actually starts consuming the content. In order for one article read to be triggered, we need to register real in-tab focus and human interaction with the page.

This is primarily an engagement metric, but here’s why it still matters for publishers that operate on ads: it is more accurate and more precise compared to Pageviews.

Pageviews is a metric that measures browser events. So, whenever the person opens a certain page in their browser, one pageview will get recorded. This happens regardless of whether the person actually viewed the page, consumed the article, or clicked on the page by accident and closed it right away. This means that, just because there are pageviews – it doesn’t necessarily mean the page was viewed and that the ad has reached its target group. 

A lot of article reads indicate popularity of certain types of content. With further analysis, it is possible to determine where ads can be placed for the biggest ROI for advertisers.


3. Attention Time

Attention Time is yet another engagement metric, but it can also be of use to publishers who operate on ads. Advertisers who think beyond pageviews might be interested in the actual quality of sessions.

Grabbing attention is a delicate thing, so if publishers show that they can indeed prove themselves worthy of their readers’ time, it’s safe to presume ads might squeeze in a bit and occupy at least a portion of their attention. But, again, if they are contextual, well designed, and don’t feel intrusive.

Attention Time is a metric in the Content Insights analytics that measures the time a user actually spent on the page reading the content. In contrast to Time on Page found in Google Analytics and other similar tools, Attention Time doesn’t include ‘idle time’ when the tab is not in focus and the reader is away from their screen.


4. Social Actions 

Social Actions are not a metric per se, but they are of interest to advertisers who want to at least estimate their ad reach. Social engagement is already calculated in Exposure CPI, but some advertisers might want more details and see what’s going on from up close.

Social Actions in Content Insights represent the combined number of key social actions across major social network platforms. So, if some authors tend to produce articles that generate great visibility across social media, advertisers might want to find a way to get their share of the cake.

More social actions means more people will see the page containing ads, which is definitely important for brands looking to advertise.


5. Longtail content

If you are truly serious about monetizing your traffic, you might want to consider defining different ad price packages. We think you’ll be thrilled to hear about Longtail content in Content Insights.

Again, this is not a metric, but it’s pretty useful to keep in your analytics arsenal. Longtail content is any type of content that manages to generate traffic and social actions more than three days after publishing. 

In Content Insights, we recognize two different types of longtail content:

  • Reborn Article
  • Everlasting Article

Reborn Article is an older article that has suddenly started receiving external traffic again.

An Everlasting Article is an older article that constantly receives above-average traffic when compared to the other articles on the site published within the last 30 days.

For publishers operating on ads, it’s good to identify these ‘traffic magnets’ and reverse-engineer them to see what made them so popular. Is it the writing style of a specific author and the way he/she covers topics? Is it a certain section or a content series that resonates exceptionally well with the audience? Or could it be an evergreen topic that people seem to be continuously interested in?

In addition, if you are doing SEO and hold solid rankings, and if you can estimate you’ll be attracting fresh traffic from search engines in the foreseeable future, all of this will sound very tempting to advertisers. That is, if your regular audience matches the profile of the audience they’re trying to reach.

Remember: ads have to be seen by the right people. If you manage to use insights and data and effectively communicate the volume and type of your audience to the advertisers – you’re definitely on the right way to increasing your ad revenue.

by Mia Čomić

Republished with kind permission of Content Insights, the next generation content analytics solution that translates complex editorial data into actionable insights.