5 Monetization Tips for Small and Mid-Tier Publishers
Small- to mid-tier publishers have faced the same conundrum for years: As print has become increasingly obsolete and juggernauts Google, Amazon, and Facebook now lay claim to nearly 70% of digital advertising revenue, how can they best monetize the online experience? Even large-scale publishers haven’t solved this, with some laying off 10% to 20% of staff due to revenue struggles.
Adding more advertising to your website may seem like a straightforward solution, but sluggish pages weighed down by multiple ad units are polarizing and downright frustrating to navigate. The process of finding a happy medium between optimal user experience and a profitable amount of monetization can be lengthy.
Consider the following questions as you work to find the best digital advertising experience for both you and your audience.
What are your current site metrics? How will they change with more monetization?
First, take the time to track and understand your metrics before adding more advertising to your site experience. What is your average time-on-site metric? What is your pages-per-session metric?
If you put too much advertising into the user experience, these metrics will decrease or even plummet. With too much monetization, your user will either click out into that advertising experience or face a clunky, less navigable (and subsequently less enjoyable) web experience. They may not consume as much content as they typically would, and they may be driven to seek that same content elsewhere.
With that knowledge, you can run a straightforward mathematical exercise. Let’s say you begin with an average time-on-site of three minutes and four pages per session. You decide to go from three ad units on your page to four ad units. If your time-on-site goes from three minutes to two minutes and 50 seconds, and your pages per session from four to 3.8, you may see this as a worthwhile trade-off: “I added an extra 25% of monetization, and I lost less than 4% of engagement and time spent.”
However, if you add a fourth ad on the page and go from three minutes average time-on-site to two minutes, or from four pages-per-session to two-and-a-half, your readers are sending a clear message that you need to heed. With significant drop-offs like these, where more users are spending less time in the site experience, you will lose revenue despite the added advertising.
Where is your current advertising located? Can you better optimize that?
Something important to advertisers is viewability. Changing the placement of ad units can increase your ad revenue, as in-stream ads with high page placements pull higher CPMs versus rail units that get pushed down on mobile and ad units that fill the bottom of your page.
Private marketplace advertising packages and programmatic advertisers look for over 50% viewability. If you have five ad units with low viewability and simply make them more viewable, you can see a 30% to 60% higher CPM after you make those changes — all that without adding any extra advertising.
What does your site look like from the perspective of a user?
When you make layout changes to your site, you should test them with users. For around $50, you can have two users analyze your site and give you feedback on the experience.
A quicker way to test the user experience is with Google Analytics’ site speed testing. See how long your site takes to load before and after monetization changes — slower load times can drive users away.
When in doubt, turn to your established audience. Reach out to your readers in an email blast and offer them gift cards in exchange for their participation in a survey. Users with a base familiarity will have valuable insights that can help you gauge the success or failure of your site changes.
Have you considered non-traditional ad units that boost engagement?
If you have engaging content, you can increase time-on-site and revenue simultaneously. On that front, you can utilize ad technology like quiz and poll products, or commenting products that boost engagement. Non-traditional ad formats can enhance the user experience while adding to your bottom line.
Trying new formats can also help differentiate your content experience. With commenting, users can interact with other readers and engage in topical conversations. Will polls, your audience can immediately react to a story and make their opinions heard.
Do you understand your audience and their needs?
Ultimately, you have to know who your audience is. If you have a strong, established brand like Business Insider or The New York Times, you can get away with using a paywall. The New York Times has a large enough audience that will pay for their content. But if you're a mid-tier newspaper, it's much harder to garner that audience, because that same content or similar content is available elsewhere on the web with just another Google search.
Know your audience, and know who you are to your audience. Is your traffic coming primarily from social media and organic search, or is a sizeable amount of your traffic direct?
Striking the right balance of advertising takes a fair amount of trial and error. If you solely cater to your readers with an ad-free site, your bottom line will suffer. If you overmonetize your readers, they will get their news and information elsewhere. You need to consistently tweak and update your site to discover what’s best for both your company and your audience.
Zack Dugow is Founder and CEO of Insticator, an ad-tech firm that helps over 2,000 publishers around the globe increase revenue and engagement through unique embeds. Zack was listed in the 2019 edition of the DMN40under40, which recognizes high-level leaders in the world of marketing. Under his leadership, Insticator was recognized by the Inc 5000 as the 680th fastest growing company in the country in 2019.