Advertising Guest Columns
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Time is money: Why publishers can’t afford slow native advertising partners


Publishers work with ad tech partners for one reason: revenue. But when it comes to “content discovery,” publishers are learning that deals with certain types of so-called “chumbox” partners are slowing down their websites and costing them revenue.

Wait a millisecond. Wasn’t content discovery supposed to be good news for publishers?

First, let’s call content discovery what it is—native advertising. Although the content in the chumbox is meant to look like editorial, that space is an ad unit. If publishers refuse to call it what it is, they’re making deals with their eyes closed. To be clear, publishers gain by designating space for native advertising. But like everything else, the devil is in the detail.

Back when this form of native advertising began, most ad tech partners offered fair terms for what was considered remnant inventory. Where venture capital drove eye-popping valuations, however, a few vendors offered suspiciously generous terms that have since turned out to be bad for publishers over the long-run.

Today, we’re seeing the results of those suspiciously generous deals. The widgets have gotten bigger, the number of placements has grown to the point of swallowing the page in some cases, and scrolling has become infinite—a great way to maximize inventory and annoy readers. Even worse, the lines between advertising and editorial have become blurred to the point of damaging the publisher’s brand. On the front end, publishers are strangling their user experience to please native advertising partners. On the backend, those partners are weighing down publishers with unnecessary JavaScript that has a real opportunity cost.

Speed is the opportunity cost

Publishers may choose to ignore the consequences of chumboxes run amok, but sooner or later, the revenue from the chumbox threatens the rest of the publisher’s revenue—if it hasn’t already.

Speed is one of the most important aspects of digital publishing. In a 2010 blog post, Google told us they value site speed as a key signal for their search algorithm. Here’s how Google put it: “Faster sites create happy users and we’ve seen in our internal studies that when a site responds slowly, visitors spend less time there.” Because organic search accounts for more than half of site traffic, it’s impossible for publishers to ignore Google’s speed mandate.

Google prioritized speed for mobile in recent years because the need for speed has only become more pronounced since the mobile revolution. In a blog post, the company wrote: “Since we looked at mobile page speeds last year, the average time it takes to fully load a mobile landing page has dropped by seven seconds. The bad news is that it still takes about 15 seconds, according to our new analysis. That’s far too slow when you consider that 53 percent of mobile site visits leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load.”

Of course, slow sites don’t just hurt a publisher’s traffic and annoy readers, they have real dollar costs. If a website is making $100,000 per day, a 1-second page delay could potentially cost $2.5 million in lost revenue every year, according to Neil Patel’s analysis. Meanwhile the bigger the site, the greater the cost of slow load times. Back in 2012, Amazon figured out that a one-second delay could cost the company $1.6 billion in sales per year—a figure that’s certainly much bigger in 2020.

Publishers that monetize based on an ad-supported model may not be able compare apples-to-apples with an e-commerce site. But looking at the bounce rate can shed light on the extent to which slow load times impact revenue in terms of lost impressions. Publishers should also analyze their audience data over the long-run because users lost to slow load times stymie audience development.

But no matter how a publisher quantifies the cost of slow load times, it’s important to understand that all publishers face the same challenge of meeting consumer expectations. According to one study, half of all consumers expect a website to load in two second or less. If a site takes three seconds or more to load, the same study found that 40 percent of consumers abandon the site. Put simply, if a publisher can’t load their page in under two seconds, all of their revenue is at risk.

Are your partners risking your revenue?

Each ad tech partner ads a cost in terms of a page’s load time. According to one study, 60 percent of the total loading time of a page is caused by third-party advertising scripts. Naturally, publishers should seek out partners that can justify the weight they add to the page. A slight delay is worth the cost, if it generates enough revenue. That’s a simple cost-benefit analysis that publishers weigh whenever they consider working with an ad tech partner.

Unfortunately for publishers, the native advertising space has some unscrupulous partners. In fact, slow load times are a sign you may be talking to a partner that’s more parasitic than helpful.

A good native advertising partner respects the fact that the publisher controls their business. That means the native advertising partner can’t make their TOS a link to a website that changes without notice, auto-renew the contract without mutual agreement, or interfere with editorial. In short, publishers, not their partners, should control who they work with, what their site looks like, and the overall user experience.  

Of course, it’s not always easy to spot a bad deal. That’s especially true with multi-year deals, when the terms may look favorable at the outset and problematic down the road. That’s why a laser-focus on speed is the best way to measure the intent of a native advertising partner. After all, if a vendor plans to wrestle control away from a publisher, they’ll need a heavy footprint. But if a publisher safeguards their speed, they’ll protect their autonomy, and publishers that protect their autonomy also protect their revenue.

Richard Marques, CEO, Revcontent

About: Richard Marques is the chief executive officer of leading content discovery platform, Revcontent. Richard has helped lead the company’s growth and strategy since its founding in 2013. Prior to his appointment as CEO, Marques served as both CMO and COO.  

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