Digital Advertising Trends For Publishers
Online publishers and site owners are currently in the midst of some major changes. Digital advertising trends have shifted dramatically over the last decade — and even more so over the last 3 years. And, the current climate tells us that these shifts are likely to continue.
My podcast partner John Cole and I recently discussed 12 of the trends we expect will emerge in 2017 for site owners, ad ops pro’s, and website owners (episode #11 available on iTunes). In this article, I will break down each of those 12 trends and provide some tips on how publishers may be able to benefit from this forward insight.
These are not your ordinary cookie cutter digital ad trends and publishing industry changes. The info below comes straight from John and I and our combined 30 years of experience in this space and our exclusive access to partners like Google.
You can watch experts weigh-in here…
3 categories of publisher trends
It might be smart for us to break down these trends into three different categories so that we can keep everything straight. Each is important for publishers in a different way.
Mobility, Monetization, & Content
This category of trends will primarily focus on things on-site that a publisher can actively change, prepare for, and modify on their site(s). These are things that are coming in 2017 that few sites are properly prepared for; however, most are not overly complex.
1:) “Mobile First” Will Arrive
I am hoping and assuming that you’re familiar with Google’s announcement of shifting towards a mobile first site indexing plan. This is probably a bigger deal than many are letting on. Google even admitted that this would be a very slow rollout for this reason.
You can read more about Google’s mobile first — and how you should actually be preparing for it — here.
Ultimately, many site owners will assume since they have a mobile version of their site, and are currently considered mobile-friendly by Google, that they will be unaffected by these changes. This is not the case.
Sites should be looking closely at how they rank in SERP’s on mobile vs. desktop. If your site performs significantly better on desktop than mobile, regardless of whether it’s mobile friendly or not, you could see some negative position changes on your site.
I recommend using a tool to measure these rankings and then dig through your analytics to better understand why certain pages may not be ranking as well on mobile if you experience this problem. Getting ahead of this could save you some real heartache this year.
2.) AMP & Progressive Web Apps Will Turn A Corner
You’re likely familiar with Google’s AMP Project and how hard they’ve been pushing it since it was announced. Google seriously wants to speed up the internet and they are all in on AMP.
Sites that have implemented AMP have seen some strong organic ranking benefits (although Google denies that it is a direct ranking signal); however, the real benefit to implementing technology like AMP on your site is providing a better experience for users.
We did a deep dive into all the things a publisher should consider prior to implementing AMP on their site here.
The bottom line on AMP is this: short-term returns in SERP will likely be good, but UX metric and monetization metrics might not be on par with regular pages yet; however, the transition has to be reviewed as an investment in the future of your site. Remember, regular mobile pages didn’t earn near as much as desktop in the beginning — and now they are very similar. We expect AMP to trend in the same direction.
Ultimately, it may be beneficial; to start testing AMP this year; as the search ranking’s boost could be more beneficial for those that get their sooner than others.
If this interests you, another thing you may want to start thinking about is this new idea of a progressive web app. Since the rise of mobile, there has always been some friction between mobile web-browsing and the mobile app experience. People are generally used to a browser experience but enjoyed the speedy qualities and improved UX of mobile apps.
A progressive web app is a blend of an app experience inside of a mobile browsing experience. We expect this to be a hot topic in 2017; as more and more leading publishers begin to explore these tools inside their mobile experience for users.
3.) Looking at landing pages differently
This is a drum we’ve been beating for a while on this blog but it just now seems to be getting a lot of global attention. Looking at individual landing pages, measuring their UX metrics, and quantifying the total session earnings from those pages, will become a more widely accepted way of intelligently evaluating content.
We dive deep into how to look at your landing pages and their session earnings here.
The gist of the concept is this: how much a page on your site earns from ads is less important than the total session earnings generated from users who land on certain landing pages. The reason for this is that some pages may earn more but have high bounce rates, other pages may earn less, but have high pageviews per visit; allowing them to ultimately provide greater total session earning.
Understanding which initial pages that users land on that produce the greatest amount of total session revenue will provide you a better idea of which content is your best content.
4.) EPMV and Total Session Earnings
This trend sort of dovetails off of the previous one nicely. Total session earnings are something that more and more publishers are looking at closely (this is also known as EPMV — or earnings per thousand visitors).
This is becoming more and more popular among publishers and ad ops professionals because it is a metric designed to give sites a truth north on their ad revenue. CPM’s, RPM”s, and similar metrics are meant for advertisers and can ultimately be difficult to marry together with changing variables. Publishers are now beginning to look at these metrics alongside EPMV to determine if changes to their ad configurations are truly resulting in greater revenue per visitor; as other metrics can often be misleading.
You can read more about how to calculate and utilize EPMV here. We expect it to be more widely discussed in 2017.
5.) UX metrics will matter more than ever
With the rise of things like ad blocking — and changes in Google ad policy — the industry is waking up to the fact the user experience (UX) cannot be ignored. We’ve known for a while that UX has a pretty profound effect on advertising revenue; however, this is now bleeding over into some major industry changes.
With the development of things like the Coalition for Better Ads, we expect there be a much stronger push from the ad industry to make ads more friendly to users. This isn’t actually the best approach to this problem, but as a publisher, you need to be aware of the core issue here. Your UX metrics are very important and your ads effect these.
Optimizing elements of your site specifically for UX can help protect you against potential future issues and will likely make you more money at the same time.
Navigating The Ad Space & Fighting Spam
This section is really dedicated to some of the major digital advertising trends related to Google policy, ad blocking, and spammer trends that publishers should familiarize themselves within 2017. There are some major changes on this front going on as we speak and failing to fully understand them could leave you at a disadvantage.
6.) Fake Content, Fake Ads, and Stolen Property
In case you missed it, Google and Facebook both recently put procedures in place to extinguish the growth of fake news sites. While this is going to be extremely difficult for both platforms to actually police, we are seeing the foundations of a crackdown on fake content on the web.
This actually extends even further; as there are also these elements that we would call fake ads. These are basically ads for something in particular — that once clicked — take the user to someplace else that is completely unrelated.
Both fakes ads and fake content are a pain point for the major players in this space. We expect more and more policy to go into effect soon that will be designed to cut back on these practices.
However, there is one practice that is already fairly similar to this that may be affecting you right now. It’s known as scraped content and includes the practice of an unscrupulous character essentially copy/pasting a reputable publishers content onto their own site.
While often times this results in a little to no impact to the publisher, it can sometimes have a very damaging effect. Given enough time and the right efforts, these fraudsters could actually outrank the original content in SERP’s. Not to mention the fundamental part of how someone has outright stolen your content.
Many publishers don’t know that you can actually have this fraudulent content removed from the internet by using something called a DMAC takedown.
This kind of spammy behavior is on the rise, so we recommend publishers keep an eye out for these fraudsters by throwing excerpts from recent posts into Google to see if any other sites show up. If they do, perform a DMAC takedown to shut them down.
7.) Google policy will likely evolve even further
In 2016, we saw Google change its longstanding limit of ads on a page for both AdSense and Ad Exchange users. This means sites are no longer limited to how many ads they can show; however, great power comes with great responsibility.
We expect that Google will be providing some greater clarity and perhaps even an evolved policy on this later in 2017. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind to keep yourself safe here is to not have more than 50% of the pixels on your site be from ads.
Essentially, you can probably avoid any major future issues with quality by not overloading your pages with ads while keeping ads and content balanced at least a 50/50 pixel split.
8.) Bottom of the barrel native ads will come to an end
Let’s be honest, we’ve all seen them before. Racey and scandalous native ads are as prevalent as they’ve ever been. And, the truth is they are getting lots of clicks; however, they are also violating Google policy in many cases. We believe that there will be much tighter restrictions coming for those using native ads in 2017.
Many don’t know this, but Google’s ad policy actually doesn’t just say you can’t display nudity on your site, it extends that into certain suggestive images as well, and many native ads violate these criteria (we talk more about this here).
Google aside, there is also a very serious question about branding, credibility, and user experience when it comes to these ads as well. People often feel deceived by native ads or view them as unscrupulous, and this can be damaging for a website that wants to pride itself on credibility.
Additionally, users can also feel nervous when visiting certain sites with native ads on them. Some ads are certainly NSFW (not safe for work) and quickly cause visitors from a professional environment to leave abruptly.
This issue is truly coming to a head as more and more major publishers are recognizing the impact of native ads on their reputation. We expect 2017 to be a year in which bottom of the barrel native ads take a big hit.
9.) The industry will continue to adjust to ad blocking
More and more people are becoming aware of just how ad blockers make their money, and this has led the ad industry and users to quietly begin a revolt.
Ad blockers essentially shake-down advertisers, give them rules and then will let their ads pass through their system. Google and other major ad providers have quickly shut this down by making such deals with these ad blockers against their policy.
However, ad blocking is a response to a major issue that we talked about above. Ads have gotten too annoying for many users. Things like auto-play video and giant sticky ads have caused users to say enough.
The response to this has been the development of organizations and new standards that will attempt to find ad configurations that can be deemed adequate for users. This may take a while but we expect that an industry focus on UX will help stifle the growth of ad blockers.
Industry Shifts & Security Changes
This section is really dedicated to security issues that all publishers should be aware of and major industry shifts that could benefit or hurt certain publishers. These digital advertising trends are things that publishers should continue to keep their eyes on in 2017.
10.) Avoid the latest hacking trends
In the last 18 months, I’ve seen nearly a dozen sites hacked, taken down, or de-indexed in Google in the exact same way. A bad guy gets in, stays under the radar, and eventually starts redirecting a small portion of traffic to the URL of a malware site (the ones that say “you’ve been infected download this software”). The publisher usually doesn’t notice for a little bit, and often times this is too late.
The worse case scenario for these problems is to be de-indexed in Google (completely taken out of their search results). If you fix the problem, you can be reinstated, but recovery is not always easy.
These hacks are relatively easy to prevent. The number one cause of these kinds of break-ins is outdated CMS systems. When WordPress, Joomla, or someone else releases a security update in their latest version, they are essentially advertising to hackers a vulnerability. Once they discover what it is, they pick away at sites with those CMS systems to discover who hasn’t upgraded yet.
Long story short, upgrade your CMS when security updates are released. Additionally, it may be worth investing in a monitoring service as well if you are overly concerned about this (or have been bit before). If you are a sole site operator this is a good idea.
11.) Programmatic advertising will surge in 2017
As we’ve seen over and over again, programmatic advertising rates are on a linear increase YoY. You can see just how dramatic this has been by looking at The Ad Revenue Index.
The development of technology and leveraging of data has allowed programmatic to become more effective than ever before. It is making less and less sense each passing year to be spending lots of money of direct sales teams.
More and more large publishing operations are realizing that the profit benefit of many direct deals is offset by salaries, expensive lunches, and more.
One of the biggest digital advertising trends we expect to continue in 2017 is the continued surge of programmatic advertising as direct ad buying and selling decreases.
12.) You will start to hear more about server to server bidding
While many publishers still aren’t familiar with the predecessor to server to server bidding, header bidding, this new form of bidding is being hailed by some ad ops professionals as the next big thing in adtech.
The truth is that it’s actually the exact same premise as header bidding; except the bid happens on a server rather than the site. The aim of this technology is to ultimately reduce ad latency and increase pageload speed.
Many publishers refused to implement header bidding out of fear that it would slow down their site. These same publishers may now consider something like server to server bidding.
But, the truth is that this technology is a temporary Palm Pilot in the wave of innovation that this industry is experiencing. It is not the final evolution of ad inventory bidding and will likely be replaced in the near future. It’s also fair to mention that this becomes even less of an issue if a site is simultaneously implementing something like AMP.
Ultimately, sites just want the best prices for their ad inventory and don’t want to sacrifice any element of their site to get it. That’s why we are fans of ad mediation. You’ll hear about server to server bidding a lot in 2017, but it is only a temporary change in this advertising technology and not a necessity for most sites.
Wrapping up digital advertising trends in 2017
There will likely be a lot of other digital advertising trends that emerge in 2017. The ones above are the clearest and easiest to predict. Most of them offer some ideas around what you can do with this information to improve your site.
We strongly recommend our Podcast, The Publisher Lab, as a way of staying on top of all of these trends. We hope that 2017 will be a prosperous year for you and your website(s).