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Understanding traffic performance in the new normal

From the pandemic and presidential election to civil unrest, these are tumultuous times. So, it’s no wonder consumers are upping their news intake and exploring more varied sources.

Daily sessions with news apps increased by 104% between January and April, as consumers across the U.S. moved to stay informed about the latest COVID-19 developments. Now, it looks as though ongoing disruption will keep driving the need for diverse and up-to-date information, which means adoption of breakthrough aggregators such as Smart News and News Break is set to go on rising; as is the volume of users they divert from media giants.

Publishers are watching this trend closely. Those with high-quality, original news recognize that aggregator partnerships could help diversify their traffic, attract bigger audiences, and reduce dependence on major platforms. And as a result, many are keen to join forces.

Some have already taken the leap and seen significant spikes in traffic. But does that mean they’re on the right track for higher revenue?

To answer this question, MGID ran analysis of top tier U.S. publisher performance for the first six months of 2020. Findings show harnessing varied traffic sources can be complicated, but also highly profitable. If publishers want to maximize success in the new normal, they’ll need a better understanding of core streams and the results they drive.

The highlights below outline the top three factors they must consider:

Not all news apps are equal

The data shows automatic correlation between eyeballs and positive impact isn’t certain for top tier publishers. Just because a news app is generating huge streams of traffic doesn’t necessarily guarantee high revenues.

For example, Google News fuels sizeable traffic — generating 50% of app impressions — but accounts for just 8% of app revenue. Contrast that against Smart News, which delivers a lot for its much smaller share of the traffic pie. While only holding a 2% portion of app traffic, it makes up 26% of app revenue and achieves a higher average cost per thousand impressions (CPM) than any other news app; outperforming Google News by 100 times.

Confusing as this might seem, the key takeaway is simple: results aren’t unpredictable and that means publishers must assess each news aggregator individually. As demonstrated by Smart News, there is a huge opportunity to increase traffic and yield by forging ties with news aggregators, but publishers need to choose their partners wisely; using accurate analysis, not purely traffic levels, to guide decisions.

Apps aren’t the only valuable stream

When it comes to expanding reach and revenue, publishers must set their sights beyond just news aggregators. Our analysis highlights that although news apps have the ability to create valuable results, they aren’t the only traffic source worth tapping.

At the top of the list is referrals. Traffic volumes produced by referrals and news apps are pretty much the same across the MGID platform, yet income driven by referrals for leading publishers is nearly three times greater — and CPMs are higher too. 

But it’s also critical not to overlook other potentially powerful streams, such as organic search and direct site traffic. In terms of revenue, both are at level with news apps; generally bringing a similar proportion of yield. Deeper evaluation, however, reveals search and direct traffic frequently have the edge on quality, and user engagement. For instance, news apps deliver twice as many impressions and lower CPMs, but lower cost doesn’t necessarily mean value for advertisers, especially if the goal is to increase engagement. Moreover, visitors arriving at publisher sites via organic search also tend to stay twice the time than visitors directed via news apps.

AMP is a crucial traffic source

Last but not least is the importance of optimizing for mobile users. Granular investigation of organic traffic indicates the majority comes from accelerated mobile pages (AMP), meaning publishers need to ramp up their efforts on mobile and search.

Given that mobile became the main internet access point for two-thirds of Americans back in 2018 — and most currently spend over five hours using their smartphones per day — this isn’t exactly surprising. But the number of users flowing from AMPs demonstrates that improving site speed, lightening ad loads and streamlining the overall the mobile experience is essential; especially considering the high traffic, revenue, and CPMs associated with AMP.

And the prevalence of AMP referrals is further evidence that the biggest gains don’t always spring from expected sources. Where publishers often assume social platforms such as Facebook will fuel the bulk of traffic and revenue, their contribution falls below AMPs and multiple other streams; accounting for 5% of top publisher impressions and 4% of revenue.

To boost long-term performance, it’s clear publishers must do more than simply adding one new traffic stream. As the findings show, increasing distribution across alternative news apps can be a smart and rewarding move for publishers; pulling in wider audiences from different corners of the web and higher revenue. But it’s not enough to secure the bottom line. The best path to sustainable returns lies with analyzing the performance of multiple traffic sources and leveraging their combined strengths to build a durable monetization mix.

Michael Korsunsky
CEO North America, MGID

MGID is a global innovative pioneer in native advertising that drives revenue growth for all participants of the ecosystem. Founded in 2008, the company has offices in the US, Ukraine, Vietnam, Russia and India. MGID offers clients a 360 solution, from planning and strategy to delivery and reporting, and works across more than 60 different languages.

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