How Coronavirus / COVID-19 is Affecting Web Traffic & Ad Rates (Live Updates)
We will include ongoing daily updates with timestamps below. We’ll also keep our list of resources and advice updated as new information becomes available.
Coronavirus Digital Impact Updates:
LAST UPDATE: APRIL 6, 7:41PM PDT
— April 6, 7:41pm PDT —
Over the weekend, ad rates dipped to 37, though they rose back up to 40 by today. Fluctuations in ad rates are normal for weekends, even in more stable environments.
Many publishers are still feeling the financial effects of coronavirus on their ad revenue, some of which is content related to coronavirus; many advertisers are blocking their advertisements from showing on content or websites about coronavirus. In a recent poll of 50 publishers by Digiday, 86% of publishers responded that advertising was negatively affected by COVID-19 while another study found that 88% of publishers do not expect to reach their original 2020 goals.
However, there is one place ravaged by coronavirus that is now experiencing a resurgence in ad activity: China.
China, the origin and initial hotspot for COVID-19, has gone through the worst and recently began seeing improvements in coronavirus case numbers and decreases in death. Following this movement towards stability, major media brands are seeing ad activity in China and nearby Asian countries effected by coronavirus that are now coming out on the other side; some brands are even signing contracts with Chinese ad buyers. Other indications of the Chinese economy recovering has also been observed–companies are launching new products that were put on hold during the worst of the outbreak.
China’s coronavirus peaked around mid-to-late February, with initial concerns announced in December and January. It is currently predicted that the US is just now approaching the worst of the pandemic nationally.
This means that if the US is following in China’s footsteps, it could be at least another month and a half before any economic upturns begin, including in the digital publishing space.
However, as we saw at the beginning of the pandemic, ad rates are quick to react–they were the first to decline initially but that also means they will be one of the first parts of the economy that begin turning around once the worst of coronavirus is over.
— April 2, 2:11pm PDT —
Ad rates from our Ad Revenue Index did not show a significant drop as we anticipated; instead, the ad revenue rate stayed at 39.
Looking at ad rates from the start of the year, we can see right at the beginning of the graph the steep decline from December 31, 2019 to January 1, 2020, as we have come to expect seasonally. Then, throughout January, February, and half of March, ad rates were stable and following the anticipated pattern for a typical March/end of Q1.
Looking at this Dow Jones Industrial Average graph, we can see that the market began decreasing back in February, with a slight peak and then a downwards trajectory. Looking more closely at the Ad Revenue Index, ad rates took a couple days to react and have been in decline ever since.
The first major falls in the market did not much affect ad rates. Why is this?
It’s likely brands and ad buyers were waiting to see what happened with coronavirus, especially in the United States; no one wanted to make any rash decisions about ad spending or budgets until there was more clarity.
It was right around March 15, 2020, however, that many states began implementing social distancing measures, limiting social gatherings, and Connecticut issued its shelter-in-place initiative on March 10. Many companies saw the writing on the wall, bringing the market drastically down, and brands and ad buyers quickly followed when they realized this was not going to blow over.
We are still predicting Q2 to be difficult for ad rates, especially as Q2 marketing strategies historically begin to ramp up ad spending.
Despite the Ad Revenue Index not changing, publishers across the web are reporting that their RPMs fell by over 50% yesterday. It is anticipated Q2 will continue this way.
It is more important than ever to make sure your ad inventory is high-quality and you are not affected by malvertising (malware + advertising). Clean.io, a malvertising protection company, reported that what they call the “Global Threat Level” (percentage of the amount of malvertisements Clean.io blocked to pageviews analyzed), was 50 times higher in the back half of March than at the beginning of March.
Malvertising Techniques to Watch Out For
- Malvertisers know how to avoid being detected in the approval stages of advertising
- Many of these fraudulents are posing as large brands, like Nike, by using real Nike creatives and advertisements
- Click-jacking: tricking a user into visiting a fake landing page and auto-redirecting ads that tell a visitor they have won a gift card in a bid to get the user’s personal data)
- Video stuffing: packing file requests into one ad (800 vs the usual 10-150), one of which is a video player that implements a secondary auction behind the real ad
- Pixel stuffing: stuffing ads into a single pixel, making it seem as if these ads are getting impressions even though one single pixel is impossible to see
- Cryptojacking: malware that hides on devices to steal its computing resources to mine for online currencies (like Bitcoin)
How Digital Publishers Can Get through Coronavirus
In our previous posts for this blog, we’ve been giving tips on what to do in this tumultuous time. Below, we have summarized them for you so you can best strategize and navigate the unknowns.
- Many ad buyers and brands are blocking words that either is or related to coronavirus and COVID-19, as they don’t want their image to be associated with the virus. Don’t flood your content with reference to the pandemic to test this theory out for yourself and avoid an even greater shortage of ad revenue.
- While overall ad spending is down, mobile and tablet device targeting and programmatic buying are expected to increase. Make sure your site is optimized for these devices.
- Facebook and Google are giving out ad credits and grants for small businesses and ad buyers. The grants will assist small businesses while the ad credits can be used to participate in the advertising marketplace. When these credits will be sent out is still unknown but should happen in the next few months. Look for announcements on this to take advantage of these ad credits and/or to keep up on ad buyers’ behavior. Some ad buyers may use those credits immediately to try to increase consumer awareness and spending and you will want to make sure your website is optimized and of quality, so you can earn ad revenue.
- Additionally, Google created a best practices guide to help health organizations with SEO, including content accessibility, good page content and titles, how to check how their site looks on COVID-19 queries, how to analyze coronavirus-focused queries, and how to include structured data for FAQ pages. A lot of what their suggestions work for all websites, however.
- Focus on keywords that are popular right now; many people are stuck at home and are likely to pick up cooking, crafting, reading the news, playing games, starting new hobbies, etc. Additionally, keep up-to-date on news and reports about what verticals are doing poorly, what ones are growing, and any companies or brands laying off employees, freezing hiring, or hiring. This will give you a good idea of what companies have money to spend.
Categories of sites that are generally seeing lower traffic:
- Housing and DIY sites
- Business-related topics
- Educational references
- Wiki’s and referential sites
- Coupon and money-saving sites
- Travel sites
Categories of sites that are generally seeing higher traffic:
- Productivity tools and web applications
- Entertainment sites
- Religious sites
- Gaming sites
- Ideal time resources
- Ecommerce is quickly rising as more people are stuck at home and buying everything online (toilet paper, milk, clothes, dog food, etc). Many brands are either creating their own ecommerce platform or have begun to invest in third-party ecommerce platforms, like Shopify or Pinterest. If you are a publisher with something to sell, now is a great time to focus on ecommerce.
- Ensure your website is in top shape; advertisers have the ability to be extremely picky about what types of sites they advertise on right now because of the large decrease in ad buying, and you will want yours to be at its best.
- Make sure your ad inventory is high-quality. With competition low and many publishers desperate for revenue, low quality ads and malvertisements (malware + advertisements) are infiltrating the ad market.
- Keep tabs on COVID-19. Look at shelter-in-place trends, infection rates, and the global economy. Once there is a slowdown in new cases, some of the restrictions are relaxed, and countries’ economies begin to recover from the pandemic, spending will resume and so will advertising.
- Business as usual. Now is not the time to make panicked, short-term decisions that could hurt your website in the long run. Focus on quality and relevant content.
- Ad rates are expected to improve in Q3 and Q4, especially as this is a US presidential election year, which will require a lot of advertising.
We have multiple blogs and videos specifically covering how digital publishers are acclimating in this time:
How these Publishers, Hit Hard by, Coronavirus, Have Weathered the Storm (recorded interview to be released tomorrow on our YouTube channel)
The Impact of Coronavirus on Ad Rates Webinar & Discussion
How Coronavirus / COVID-19 and the Global Economy are Affecting Ad Rates
We will continue updating this blog every two or three days, so continue to check in for more information for publishers on coronavirus / COVID-19, ad rates, content, and news.
— April 1 5:43pm PDT —
The first quarter of 2020 ends with ad rates below 40, which we will likely see steeply drop for April 1.
A quarter of ad brands paused all ad spend in Q1 and Q2 and 74% believe that coronavirus will have a greater impact on US ad spend than the 2008-2009 financial crisis.
For Q2, brands are planning to spend 33% less on digital media, and as we reported in an earlier post, the majority of ad buyers anticipate that coronavirus will affect their Q3, Q4, and Q1 2021 strategies.
Regardless of how soon things will ‘get back to normal,’ there is new behavior developing as a result of coronavirus lockdowns that has the momentum to continue after the pandemic has passed—an increase in ecommerce, rise in video chatting, and more information being consumed.
For publishers who are grasping at straws, keeping up with these new behaviors and realities can help point you in the right direction. It’s important to go about your digital publishing as usual but just as important to capitalize on the new trends emerging, as well as any movements or changes in ad buying.
Facebook announced on March 30, 2020 that it would be investing $100 million to assist the news industry during coronavirus. This is in addition to the $100 million it pledged to 30,000 small business in over 30 countries affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Only a quarter of that $100 million for news companies will function as grants; the other three-quarters will be only for ad buying.
Google reported today in its Webmaster Central blog that it has created a best practices article to help health organizations with SEO. The article focuses on assisting these health organizations with content accessibility, good page content and titles, how to check how their site looks on COVID-19 queries, how to analyze coronavirus-focused queries, and how to include structured data for FAQ pages. Though their best practices guide focuses on health, most of what they say is helpful for all publishers.
Tomorrow we will have the first Q2 ad revenue index numbers in and will update the blog immediately.
— March 31th 5:38pm PDT —
The Ad Revenue Index has increased by one point, but today being the last day of Q1, we expect that today’s rate will be the last day it is level.
Today is the last day of the first quarter, so check back in on our Ad Revenue Index updates the next few days to see how Q1 ended and how Q2 began.
Google announced on Friday, March 27 that it will be committing over $800 million for small and medium businesses, health organizations and government, and health workers because of the financial impact of COVID-19.
$340 million of that will be given to small and medium-sized businesses who have been active advertisers since the beginning of 2019 as credit in Google Ads. These credits can be used any time before December 31, 2020 on any Google Ad platform. Those who qualify will receive a credit notification in their Google Ads account in the next few months, though Google has not offered any other information on how to tell if you will be receiving credits.
Chart displaying Dow Jones Industrial Average performance over the past ten years
A lot of small and medium-sized businesses are struggling through the declining economy right now and have likely decreased ad spending or even paused it completely. While advertising isn’t the end-all-be-all solution to these businesses surviving, many of them rely on advertising because they don’t have brand recognition like some larger brands and businesses. One of the top ways for these businesses to get their name out there is to advertise.
When these businesses receive their ad credits, it is likely they will begin using them immediately. Some businesses may choose to use them all at once to get their name out there quickly, though we predict they will spread them out over this period of uncertainty until the economy is more stable.
For publishers that advertise, keep your eyes peeled for notifications in your Google Ads account for ad credits that can be used until the end of the year.
For those who have ad space, there will be more demand from ad buyers once these ad credits are released, so it is just as important to keep up on when these ad credits are released.
— March 30th 7:04pm PDT —
Ad rates have declined slightly once more and we very well might see it dip just below 40 before Q2 starts in one day.
We are currently entering into uncharted territory. Rishad Tovaccowala of Publicis Groupe (a French advertising and public relations company) described what may be ahead of us as “9/11, plus the financial crisis, times two.” While almost all publishers are affected financially by coronavirus, some publishers reported they are expecting 30% decrease in revenue.
This revenue loss will mean even more big cuts, from anything like employee lay-offs to spending.
In a study using crowdsourced data, Candor, a company focused on tech workers, found that 267 companies have stopped hiring, 44 had layoffs, and 36 rescinded offers. Business software was the largest vertical to submit to Candor with 81 submissions; 41 of these submissions indicated they were implenting a hiring freeze.
Unsurprisingly, travel and transportation are being hit the hardest; 83% of respondents within the travel and transportation industry have either freezed hiring or laid off employees. Retail is also experiencing difficulties, with 77% freezing hiring or laying employees off.
Other industries are a mixed bag–IT infrastructure, financial services, education software, business software, food and dining, consumer tech, and healthcare are nearly split down the middle, with half of responding companies freezing hiring/laying off employees and the other half currently hiring.
The only verticals that are hiring more are those in productivity software and communications. Since many companies have switched to WFH (work from home) structures, it is not surprising that productivity and communications companies are doing better than others. The Candor study has live updates.
In today’s previous post, we suggested publishers keep tabs on brands/ad buyers’ behavior and which verticals are doing well in order to better strategize during this tumultuous time. In addition to the advertising industry, publishers should also stay on top of what is happening to companies from all industries.
If the productivity software industry is actually hiring more than they are laying off employees, they are probably doing well and are more willing to spend on advertising. If a publisher were to write a really good article about productivity, their content might be a desirable location for a productivity and organization company, like Asana, to advertise on.
It is important to bear in mind that many ad buyers and companies are blocking words like coronavirus and COVID-19, so if you can avoid those words and ones related to them, you may be in better shape to get advertisers interested in your content.
— March 30th 11:39am PDT —
Ad rates stayed around 44 through Saturday, though we expect this number to begin trending downwards Sunday-Tuesday, March 31, 2020.
Looking at previous years, we can see that these last few days of Q1 do typically level out, with one last spike at the end. It is unlikely we will see that last big spend at the end of this first quarter.
Many ad buyers, from all different verticals, are reporting that Q1 ad buying has been halted or reduced and that this will carry through Q2. They also reported that Q3 and Q4 buying will be affected, though not as substantially, and even 2021 budgets. We can see below how ad rates, compared to 2019, are getting worse.
A survey by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) reported that 74% of ad buyers believe COVID-19 will impact U.S. ad spend more than the Great Recession’s 2008-2009 financial crisis.
In the report, IAB announced that digital ad spend is down 33% and traditional media is down 39%.
Respondents to the survey were a variety of buy-side decision makers from media planning, media buying, or brands. The majority of decision-makers were SVP/VP/Directors (43%), while 29% were C-Level/Presidents and 24% were Managers/Planners.
Industries surveyed were from a variety of verticals, with the majority comprised of travel and tourism.
Based on their answers, we learned that:
- 24% paused advertising spend while 46% adjusted it for the remainder of Q1 and Q2
- 73% will adjust their 2020 and 2021 upfront spend plans, with 20% decreasing that upfront spend versus their original plans
- respondents expect that there will be a slightly less negative impact on digital than on traditional spend in Q1 and Q2
- many believe digital will experience a quicker recovery in Q2 than traditional
- the impact on spending for Q3 and Q4 is likely to be less drastic
46% of respondents are making short-term changes to ad spend from March-June 2020.
Where we are likely to see the most change in ad spend for March/April that will impact digital publishers is Digital Display; during these two months, Digital Display spending will decrease by 41%. For May/June, there is still a projected decrease, but only at 28%.
42% of respondents are making entire tactical changes to advertising for the same time period.
30% of respondents indicated that they will decrease direct buys with premium publishers during these tactical changes, followed by 27% of respondents that will decrease news publishers and/or news content targeting. However, mobile/tablet device targeting and programmatic buying is expected to see increases.
While many ad buyers believe that there will be impacts from Q1 an Q2 that bleed into Q3 and Q4, nearly 70% of respondents have not decided if that means ad spending will be affected. Most ad buyers are waiting to see what happens before making big future decisions.
Breaking down the 25% of respondents that said ‘yes’ to ad spending changes, there will be an estimated 75% change versus what they originally planned for Q3 and an 88% change for Q4. It is likely Q4 will experience more drastic changes than Q3 because Black Friday is usually the highest ad spend all year; while it will still likely be the highest ad spending of 2020, it is likely brands and ad buyers will need to substantially cut back from their usual Black Friday spend because of the impact from Q1 and Q2 revenue.
Respondents are making decisions, both for the short-term and long-term, based on what is going on around the world, which can help publishers have a better idea of what they should be watching as well. 65% are watching quarantine statuses and nearly the same number are watching worldwide shelter-in-place initiatives. These two directly affect the other events, including the number of coronavirus cases, businesses opening/closing, and the stock market performance (all of which 44-49% of respondents are watching).
Ad buying and brands are severely cutting back on advertising for the first half of the year, which many publishers are feeling right now. Additionally, since publishers are struggling to get advertisers to buy spots on their sites, supply is very high; this means advertisers can be as picky as they like about where those ads show and what price they’ll pay for them.
Publishers should follow what brands and ad buyers are focusing on as to get a better idea of what to strategize for–mobile and tablet advertising is likely to increase, so optimizing your content and website for those devices and focusing on increasing traffic to them could be beneficial for when ad buyers are looking to purchase space. When more businesses open and the number of coronavirus cases decrease, ad buyers will feel safer about pushing advertisements; publishers should ensure their website is the best it can be and that they are ready to begin working with advertisers at a higher rate as this happens.
Things are changing daily, sometimes even multiple times a day. Check this blog for live updates and more information on ad rates and digital publishing trends during this time.
For our Ezoic publishers, this continues to validate the importance of personalized experiences for visitors. With so much changing so quickly, it can be nearly impossible to keep up with what is going to make you the most money through this pandemic.
Ezoic’s artificial intelligence within Ad Tester is going to constantly be making slight changes, per visitor, to give your users the best experience. Simultaneously, Ad Tester optimizing where those ad show, how many show, and what sizes show so you can make the most money possible, no matter what is happening in the economy or online. If you are struggling through this time, keep up with our blogs, podcasts, and videos, and reach out to your account manager with questions or concerns.
— March 27th 8:31pm PDT —
For the third day in a row, ad rates are at 44 and the gap between this year and last year continues to grow.
March 2020 will continue to flat line over the next four days while we will see it rise slightly in 2019’s ad rates. Currently, March 2020’s average ad rates are 10 points below 2019’s, as show in the graph at the beginning of the post.
Additionally, ad rates for 2020 have officially dropped below 2016’s, though since ad rates will likely stay around 44 until the end of Q1, it is likely March 2020’s will end on a little better note than 2016. But this is likely to change significantly at the start of Q2.
Traffic will continue increasing in Q2 as there are more states (in the US) and countries on lockdown. The gap between revenue and traffic will almost certainly grow much wider beginning on April 1st; any campaigns that carried out through the first quarter will end and it is unlikely that many brands are going to invest in much advertising in Q2.
Additionally, many advertisers don’t want anything to do with coronavirus content and often block words associated with it. Unfortunately, that is also the hottest and most relevant topic right now.
“According to ad tech vendor Browsi analysis of CPMs across three news and sports publishers between 10. Feb and 10. Mar, those impressions that had a viewability score of 70% or more had CPMs of more than 30% than those impressions that had a viewability score below 70%.”
While traffic is up for some sites as high as 70%, Snopes is having similar traffic/revenue balancing issues and also trouble keeping up with demand.
Snopes, a fact-checking site, has experienced a 44% increase in traffic over the previous month, which translates to about 36 million unique visitors. Snopes’ VP of Operations, Vinny Green, recently stated that the site’s CPMs are decreasing and likely to get worse right at the beginning of Q2. Even though traffic is increasing, as undoubtedly visitors are looking to debunk coronavirus misinformation, Snopes can’t afford to hire more employees to keep up with fact-checking and refuses to work its current employees to the bone.
Ecommerce still growing
Something we mentioned in a previous post was the rise of ecommerce during this time, especially third-party ecommerce like Shopify. Pinterest is taking advantage of the ecommerce evolution through the roll out of new features to help with the rising search volume.
Now, retailers can become a part of the Verified Merchant Program. This will allow verified merchants’ products to be distributed throughout Pinterest through features like “Shop the Look,” and gain eligibility for additional metrics like conversion reporting. Pinterest Catalogs and dynamic retargeting have also experienced upgrades.
— March 26th 3:46pm PDT —
Ad rates have not budged since yesterday and remain at 44. For the rest of Q1, we can assume this will likely be the trend for the Ad Revenue Index. These rates will likely not remain, however.
As we can see, last year there was a large splurge of spending on March 24 as companies began their last, week-long campaign before the first quarter ended. What we can expect to be similar this year is that ad rates will drop on the first day of Q2, or April 1st, as well.
What will be different is just how big that drop is.
As mentioned in a previous update, some ad campaigns are contractual; despite the current financial climate, some companies were unable to get out of those contracts. So, though companies are losing money, they may technically still be spending significantly on ad campaigns. This will likely come to a screeching halt on April 1st, when Q2 begins.
As a result, publishers should expect a very significant drop in ad rates on April 1st and, in general, the second quarter.
Though the stock market is recovering, many companies will have greatly adjusted their Q2 goals, strategies, and predictions from whatever they had planned at the beginning of 2020. They will be pinching pennies to avoid mass revenue losses, layoffs, and potentially bankruptcy, with the hopes that things will begin to behave with some normalcy on the far side of the coronavirus pandemic.
Facebook and Twitter have both reported steep revenue declines, even though traffic has increased on both platforms. Publishers have also likely seen this on their own websites; many of our publishers have reported that their traffic has increased in the past month but that revenue continues to decline simultaneously.
Publishers can expect this to continue in Q2 to a greater extent. Though more people will be in lockdown and using the internet at a higher rate, the ad revenue won’t be there because ad spending is so low.
While publishers may be struggling to make ends meet, ecommerce is experiencing a huge surge right now. Typically, companies who have brick-and-mortar stores may have their own online store set up, but choose to really drive sales through third-party ecommerce sites that are specifically designed to sell items. While ecommerce has already been climbing, it still only makes up a small percentage of online sales and traditional retail still brings in the majority of revenue.
However, for the first time, people need to buy even just basic needs solely online, not to mention non-essentials as well. Many companies are beginning to catch on and either develop their own ecommerce site or use third-party ecommerce services.
If there are publishers who also have items to sell, this may be the best time to invest in ecommerce.
Publishers giving publishers advice
This week, we interviewed two publishers on how they are coping during the COVID-19 pandemic. Those videos will be posting next week and we will link to them here.
In the meantime, publishers should prepare for the coming big ad revenue drop that we can say, with near certainty, will appear on April 1st.
The best thing publishers can do right now is to ensure their ad inventory is high-quality and that their website is optimized to its best in order to make the most of what ad spend is out there.
Ezoic users are able to do this through Ad Tester, which always optimizes for the best revenue and user experience balance. Though earnings may be lower than usual, Ad Tester users can rest assured they’re getting the best ad inventory and the best of this situation.
— March 25th 3:11pm PDT —
The Ad Revenue Index is now updated through Tuesday, March 24, 2020. As predicted, numbers have stayed stagnant in the mid-40s.
Around this time last year, ad rates began increasing quickly, as yesterday was the one-week mark until the end of the first quarter. Ad rates always drop April 1st, and we don’t doubt this year will be the same, if not more drastic.
As suspected, people around the globe are on their computers and phones increasingly. In a media consumption report by Kantar Media (a data, insights, and consulting group) of 25,000 consumers from 30 different markets between March 14-23, internet usage was up by 71%. This was before the United Kingdom and India enforced their lockdowns.
Graphs from The Drum show how viewing percentages have changed across mediums and within social media networks.
Globally, all mediums of media consumption are up except for cinema. As more countries initiate lockdowns, WhatsApp usage has seen the most growth in 18-34 year-olds, who are likely checking in with family. 18-34 year-olds are leading the social media usage increases, and they are using higher than the global average on every platform.
Many Gen-Zers and Millennials will be on social media off-and-on all day and online most of the day. Publishers who use social networks can use this as an opportunity to reach your audience through social media more than in the past. If it makes sense for your brand, consider how you can get in front of and connect with your audience on a more personal level through social media, which can then convert to website visitors.
— March 24th 2:43pm PDT —
Ad rates in the Ad Revenue Index are now up-to-date through Monday, March 23, 2020. Since Sunday, there was a slight decrease but it is still within the mid-40s.
The ad revenue index is still roughly 20 points below this time last year.
We will likely see this gap stretch farther, however, in the last few days of Q1. Typically, marketers usually spend more money at the end of a quarter to use up the last of the marketing budget and attempt to finish up some quarterly goals.
The end of 2020’s first quarter may follow this upwards trend a bit, followed by a drop April 1, due to contractual advertising campaigns. Publishers and companies may be stuck in quarterly advertising contracts they can’t get out of, regardless of their financial crisis. But it is likely the increase will not be as steep.
However, on the first day of Q2, there will likely be a significant decline due to those Q1 campaigns ending and pinched purses for Q2 and maybe Q3.
A little bit of comfort should be that though the market is surely in decline and ad rates are dipping, we can see in this graph that 2020 ad rates have still been better throughout March than in 2016.
— March 23rd 3:16pm PDT —
As discussed in a previous update, the ad revenue index is staying level now that the initial impact of coronavirus has passed. Since Thursday, March 18, 2020, the ad revenue index has fluctuated between 45 and 47.
Though this is still roughly 20 points lower than this time last year, this steadiness should give publishers a moment to collect themselves.
Below, we can see from this sample cross-section of different categories of publishers that pageviews are altogether higher today than they were last week or yesterday, but follow the same daily decline around this time of day. This daily decline is normal ad rates, even in ordinary circumstances.
In light of the impact of COVID-19 on the market, many publishers and media companies are reporting they will hit much below their Q1 goals and are revising their Q2 and even Q3 goals.
This volatile time requires flexibility and creative thinking, as much of this is changing day-by-day. It’s important to not get involved in quick-fixes and scams, as there are plenty of people who will capitalize on the fear and uncertainty. As always, but especially now, do not make any major changes without data to back up why the change is necessary or beneficial.
The more intimately you know your site, the better off you will be. Ezoic’s Big Data Analytics gets even deeper than other analytics and is specifically designed for publishers to understand minute details about their content, traffic, and revenue.
Regardless of what you use, ensure that you’re making data-driven decisions, not emotional, fearful, or reckless ones. This won’t last forever, and it is important that publishers don’t make short-term and desperate decisions now that will jeopardize their site long-term.
— March 23rd 08:12am PDT —
Ad rates continue to diverge in a downward trend from 2019 as we get more data from last week about the impact of the cornonavirus on publisher ad inventory. Our update from yesterday includes a nice roundup of news and information related to this impact.
In positive news, many publishers may note that traffic volatility has curbed slightly week over week. In the previous Monday, we were seeing week over week losses in pageviews for publishers as a whole (we discussed below which types saw gains and which types saw losses); however, this week it appears that user-behavior has shifted — for the short-term at least — in a favorable direction.
This shows nearly a 15-20% increase in pageviews week over week across the large spectrum of publishers we’re including in our live updates. This may some of the bleeding of pageviews to site categories hit the worse may be seeing a a stop to the gradual decline in traffic that they were perpetually seeing last week.
— March 22nd 1:23pm PDT —
Ad rates are now up-to-date through March 21, 2020. Ad rates are currently about 20 points below where they were this time a year ago; on March 21st, 2019, the ad rate was 67. This year, it is 46.
However, ad rates have stayed steady since about Wednesday, March 18.
The following ad rates may have fluctuated by one or two points from earlier blog updates, as the ad rate may have been reported earlier that day. The following results are the final, end-of-day rate and are fully updated now.
- 3/18/20: 47
- 3/19/20: 46
- 3/20/20: 45
- 3/21/20: 45
In recent news, CNN recently reported that coronavirus is speeding up the death of local newsrooms. News stations and publications, like The Detroit Metro Times, went from celebrating its 40th anniversary at the beginning of 2020 to laying off half of its employees and decreasing paychecks for the remaining.
Additionally, since most of the city is shut down–restaurants, concerts, events–there is a lack of content variety. On top of this, the revenue from these events’ advertisements is also gone.
Other publishers are having to make a difficult decision: either lift paywalls for coronavirus-related articles or keep it walled.
Pros of lifting the paywall are increased readership and exposure. Cons of providing that free content is a major loss on ad revenue, as many advertisers are blocking keywords associated with the virus.
Pros of keeping the paywall is that valuable content about the virus could be indispensable, grow subscriptions, and thus grow revenue. Cons of keeping the paywall include visitors finding the information free elsewhere and subscribers leaving after coronavirus is less relevant.
Some publications, like Tribune Publishing, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times are doing some sort of combination of both. This can mean subscription-based content except for specified content about coronavirus; keeping its limit on free articles, with articles about coronavirus counting towards that limit, but still allowing free coronavirus content after the visitor has maxed out that limit; and creating an entirely new section for free coronavirus content and live updates.
Other publishers in this space should take advantage of larger publications’ uncertainty and strategize how they might fill in the gaps or follow these large news publications’ lead.
— March 20th 2:16pm PST —
Though ad rates experienced a slight incline yesterday, it decreased later in the day even lower than before. This comes as stricter regulations concerning coronavirus are becoming more widespread, particularly in California; California Governor Gavin Newsom ordered Californias to stay home except for necessities in the evening of March 19 and high-risk countries, like Italy, are experiencing more COVID-19 positive cases and deaths.
It is likely a fluctuation in ad rates will continue, as businesses adjust their ad spending and more updates about the virus are released.
Earlier this morning, we posted a graph on how each vertical in ad impressions has experienced changes due to the virus. See the graph directly below.
— March 20th 10:53am PST —
Through Ezoic’s network, we have collected data on a sum of ad impressions by vertical. As stated below in our earlier updates, certain niches are seeing a steep decline in revenue and traffic during this pandemic while others are experiencing increases.
About one month ago, Travel and Tourism’s impression share was roughly 8%. This graph shows us that around March 11, Travel & Tourism began quickly losing impression shares and that the trend is continual. Now, the vertical has shrunk to 2.5%. Dining and Nightlife has also experienced decline.
The 5.5% has been absorbed by Jobs and Education, Hobbies and Leasure, and Arts and Entertainment.
The Ad Revenue Index now has data through the middle of the week that further reflects some of the advertiser data we shared yesterday evening. We are finally seeing ad rates drop in line with the decreased advertiser spending. This has resulted in the lowest March index score in the last two years. In 2019, this is when rates really started trending upward, so it’s likely that the seasonal impact of this will be magnified for publishers when they look at year over year EPMV (revenue per session) data.
As we mentioned before, traffic has really varied basedon website categories and site audiences. Overall, pageviews have been slightly down week over week across all types of publishers this week; however today that trend seems to have ended. Although last Friday was wehen Coronavirus info really started picking up steam, we are seeing traffic overall head in an upward direction across all types of publishers.
News, gaming, and other sites you would imagine people using right now are seeing big jumps in traffic (that is likely skewing some ability to see the impact of lower ad rates on their revenue).
On the flipside, sites focused on topics like sports, events, education or workplace references, and topical subjects (professional wrestling is a good example) that are seeing less content opportunites as a result of the Coronavirus are seein big losses in week over week pageviews alongside reduced ad rates.
— March 19th 7:45pm PDT —
Part of the reason ad rates are remaining flat despite the typical upward trend at the end of Q2 is the behavior of big brand advertisers.
Public companies and large advertisers often have the greatest marketing budget agility with digital spending. Thus, digital ad rates will often be the first sign of advertising spending being curtailed.
This recent data from ad campaigns our team has been analysing paints a picture as to how this happens.
— March 19th 12:35pm PST —
As of Thursday, we can see the Ad Revenue Index is showing a increase compared to the end of last week and last weekend. With data up until Tuesday (March 16th), the index is down only 8% year over year. This is slightly less than what has been predicted so far; however, may be slightly skewed at the moment from some of the sites seeing major improvements in traffic. Advertisers may stiill be tryign to capitalize on initial opportunities in the crisis as well. As the economy is further impacted globally, the index will likely reflect how many public companies will inevitably dial back advertising.
Traffic continues to evolve slightly each with various sites types seeing big gains and others seeing significant declines in overall web traffic. Google Analytics trends for publishers will be really dependent on the site and site category for the next 10 days.
—March 19th 8:40am PDT—
Thursday, overall web traffic so far looks to be trending slightly above Wednesday. Government/municipality-related sites, games (think, Scrabble and crosswords), and sites specializing in current news and information are seeing massive booms in web traffic. Educational sites and sites that would often be referenced by people at work (Think, coding and part numbers) are seeing some of the steepest declines in overall pageviews.
Results from our recent webinar poll on the topic…
— March 18th 9:00pm PDT —
Wednesday, web traffic across all types of site categories looks to align with the data collected from Tuesday. So far, trends look nearly identical.
Ad rates have started to flatten day over day, but we are seeing a rise up Monday compared to the weekend. It’s important to note that many of the worst impacts of the recent global shifts are not yet felt programmatically yet.
Looking at data from Ezoic users, as competition for ad space is decreased — due to advertisers lowering budgets and bids — it has been interesting to see machines optimize the value of inventory by constricting ad denisty to increase the value of the publisher inventory supply (ad space).
i.e. Ezoic’s A.I. shows fewer ads and is driving up the ad rates for publishers many are earning more by showing fewer ads during this time period.
This is especially true for publishers that have seen big declines in web traffic and have also been most affected by advertisers that have needed to pull the plug — travel categories, event-based catebories, etc.
Our recent webinar touched on what this entire shake-up means for publishers, who’s most affected, and featured a live Q&A with our CMO, Tyler Bishop, who’s been in the media sharing more recently about the impact of the coronavirus on website ad rates.
—March 17th, 8:00pm PDT—
Tuesday, we saw traffic normalize a bit from the day before. As globally things continue to shift, internet traffic across all types of web properties week over week have begun to stabilize.
Ad rates also are proving to be flat compared to the begginging of the year on average; however, this probably isn’t immediately apparent to most sites since many are seeing either declines or increases in traffic alongside major changes in advertiser behavior.
Typically ad rates have risen during the back part of Q2 by now; yet that hasn’t shown to be happening in this environment. This will likely be more pronounced at the end of the month; where the Ad Revenue Index hit 71 at the end of March in 2019.
—March 16th, 8:10pm PDT—
On Monday, we saw overall traffic across many publishers properties finish the day down about 10-15% on average; however, sites that are primarily used for school, work, travel, retail, real estate, sports, saw the steepest steep declines. Sites in the categories: entertainment (games, etc), cooking, video, etc. saw the highest increases in traffic.
Ad rates have shown a decline year over year and so far the news of the COVID-19 outbreak has led to a flattening that we typically don’t see in this part of March. Traditionally, ad rates start to rise as the end of Q1 approaches.
Categories of sites that are generally seeing lower traffic:
- Housing and DIY sites
- Business-related topics
- Educational references
- Wiki’s and referential sites
- Coupon and money-saving sites
- Travel sites
Categories of sites that are generally seeing higher traffic:
- Productivity tools and web applications
- Entertainment sites
- Religious sites
- Gaming sites
- Ideal time resources
Video consumption trends and information
Video adtech provider, Primis, shared a recent graph the suggests an increase in the number of videos watched and video content consumed in the United States starting in late February.
How Ad rates Are Impacted By The CoronaVirus
Original Article Published March 16th
The global crisis and events surrounding the spread of COVID-19 due to a novel coronavirus are having major rippling effects across entertainment, health, and global economies. What was once an isolated event in one part of the world has had far-reaching impacts across the globe that have brought many cities and countries to a screeching halt. The impact of a major global event like this is long-reaching and multi-dimensional. Below, we’ll provide live — and regular updates — regarding the digital impact this is having on publishers and advertisers.
Publishers worldwide are wondering what coronavirus / COVID-19 means for ad rates and their website traffic. Given our unique proximity to tens of thousands of sites worth of pageview data, we wanted to do our best to provide regular updates and information to publishers struggling for clarity regarding the impact of these events on their businesses.
Initially, there was speculation that ad rates would increase as quarantine numbers skyrocketed, as people are more likely to be on their phones and computers consuming content. However, it has become overwhelmingly clear that the coronavirus’s impact on the global economy will likely have widespread effects on both website traffic and ad rates for the foreseeable future.
Online ad rates typically follow the general economy. Given the current situation around the world, countless companies will be suspending their online ad buys (DisneyWorld, airlines, travel, retail, gyms, events, local advertisers, etc). Not only does this remove their money from the market, but it also decreases competition in ad auctions, depressing prices for everyone.
While website traffic has far more variability — depending on the website category or niche — global advertising budgets are being throttled each day. This leads to overall lower global ad rates; although some of this may not be fully-realized just yet.
HOW THE STOCK MARKET AFFECTS AD RATES
The market initially saw a big dip earlier this year in mid-February, as the virus spread over China and parts of southeast Asia. Many companies worldwide, including the United States, use China for manufacturing or assembling. For example, Coca-Cola grows their corn in the US, ships it to China to be made into corn syrup, and then China sends it back so it can be used to make Coca-Cola.
Ironically, Purell is behind in production because they, too, work with China. But, since that piece of the ‘production line’ is missing, many companies cannot hit projected 2020 goals and fulfill demand.
Now, the stock market is seeing some of its worst numbers since the 2008 recession. These drops are largely due to big sell-offs during the day, which can be attributed to coronavirus fears and the current oil market. On March 9, 2020, stock prices dropped significantly during after-hours; the Dow logged its biggest point-drop in history and had its worst day since October 2008.
Additionally, the S&P and the Nasdeq declined and both had their worst days since December 2008. To fix this, the stock exchange implemented a fifteen-minute delay on trading the next morning. This was only a temporary fix, however, because the next day, halt stocks decreased again. The stock market carried out a halt once more, but the market declined again. We are likely to continue to see these ups-and-downs as economies are further hit.
If we look at ad rates over the past couple of years during Q1, they all tend to follow the same pattern–this time of year is typically a bit slow because holiday ad campaigns have ended and companies are slow to get their 2020 strategies rolling.
We have come to expect this seasonal change and a dip in ad rates after the holidays. Then, it typically sees a bit of up and down, with February-March seeing it rise once more, especially as marketing departments in companies need to finish out their Q1 budget. But we aren’t seeing that happen this year.
Digital ad budgets are the fastest and easiest to pull when the market drops and revenue forecasts for public companies (the ones that advertise the most) change; digital ad campaigns rarely involve any sort of contract, and it’s pretty simple to cut a campaign or add one back in quickly. Businesses who advertise, particularly public companies, want to keep their company in or near the black as much as possible, especially as they have to report their earnings at the end of Q1 (March 31st). If they can easily cut an expenditure, they will.
THE NEAR FUTURE OF 2020 AD RATES
As companies pull their ad campaigns and money from the market (DisneyWorld, airlines/travel, retail, gyms, events, local advertisers, etc) competition in ad auctions will decrease, depressing prices for everyone.
Each site is going to be affected differently by these massive changes to the ad market. Sites whose niche is for travel, sports, retail, etc. are likely to have steep declines, as travel halts, sporting events are canceled, and governments continue to implement mandatory, but temporary, closes.
Sites that focus on online entertainment, cooking, health, and science might see increases, as people have more time on their hands and want information about the virus. It all depends on the keywords you optimize for.
In instances such as this, it is most important to have quality ad inventory over quantity and to continue to create valuable content. Your content has the opportunity to get a lot of exposure right now because more people will be online.
That being said, there will be also be increased competition to get eyes on websites. If your content is higher-quality, it is more likely to be found and read, increasing the value of the ads on your pages. Since there are many companies pulling digital ad spending, it is more important than ever to ensure that the ads that do show on your site are still good quality and that you know how many and what sizes those ads should be.
What is good to know is that most of these changes to marketing and advertising strategies are for the short-term until there is more of a handle on COVID-19 and the global economy.
Additionally, the other side of all this is that when the economy is doing really well, ad rates follow. In Bull markets, ad rates increase and publishers are likely to make more money. Around Black Friday and through the holidays, companies are spending more money and ad rates soar. This is true for the current state of ad rates. As the economy recovers, companies will increase their digital ad spending and ad rates will increase.
In the United States, we also have an election to look forward to. Election years usually have higher ad rates because political advertising continually increases as the election comes closer. So while the next few months may be a bit tumultuous, we are likely to see ad rates recover more quickly due to the presidential election. And while the election is for the US, the American economy and politics generally have an effect globally as well, so non-American publishers and economies will be positively affected.
FOR EZOIC PLATFORM CUSTOMERS:
With all of this volatility and the decline of the ad market, it’s more important than ever to make sure your content and inventory are valuable. It’s a quality over quantity situation. The good news is that Ezoic’s machine learning systems are constantly monitoring making adjustments to ad positions, sizes and densities to DO EXACTLY THIS.
Adapting ad placements, density, and ad sizes to manage supply and demand the way Ezoic does is the number one thing you can do to ensure your ad rates stay as high as possible during this time. A decline in ad budgets means less competition for publisher ad space. This means supply and demand will change each day. Ezoic automatically adapts all sites to the changing conditions to maximize performance. This means our machines are learning in real-time from tens of thousands of websites and understanding how to adjust ad sizes and ad locations for every visitor to ensure the best possible revenue performance. Ezoic was built for fluctuating supply and demand to help publishers with revenue. For sites that don’t leverage our machine learning, there’s a strong chance they’ll be even more negatively impacted as ad competition continues to decline over the next several months.
If you haven’t already, we’d encourage you to check out our support article on EPMV optimization best practices during this time. It includes methods that maximize Ezoic’s ability to help during this time.
WHAT TO TAKE FROM THIS
Digital ad rates are directly affected by the stock market, for better or worse
Digital ad budgets are the fastest and easiest to pull when the market drops and revenue forecasts for public companies (the ones that advertise the most) change
This will impact digital ad rates in the short-term and indefinitely until there is more clarity on the virus and thus the economy
With lower ad budgets, it’s more important to have more valuable inventory (quality over quantity) and to understand how to optimize ad size and location
OUR ADVICE TO PUBLISHERS…
Focus on keywords that are likely to be of interest right now. More people will be cooking, crafting, playing games, reading news, starting new hobbies, etc. Additionally, if you are able to create content that is more relevant for the current circumstances, do it
With all of this volatility and the decline of the ad market, it’s more important than ever to make sure your content and ad inventory is valuable. It’s a quality over quantity situation. You will be competing with many others for the attention of readers who will likely be online more.
If your site is doing well or has not changed, it’s still important to stay on top of things. The economy and ad rates could change at any moment, so you, too, should be focusing on quality and relevant content, valuable ad inventory, and staying on top of keyword optimization
Whitney is a former writer and journalist for several nationally syndicated news outlets and media businesses. She is a creative marketing professional that works directly with publishers at Ezoic and is a professional photographer. Whitney also produces several digital video series that live on YouTube.