By Shez Iqbal, Head of UK & Ireland publishers at Sublime Skinz
Why is being a publisher like a game of pinball? Because each wave of technological change sends both the way content is managed and monetised into a spin.
Take, for instance, the ascent of mobile. As the popularity of the medium altered user behaviour — prompting swift adoption of mobile-friendly sites and apps — advertisers also began to demand a greater variety of mobile-specific formats.
It’s not over yet; in 2016, a suite of changes hit digital media such as Google’s decision to penalise interstitials, a proposed new ad portfolio from the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB), and a sharp increase in ad blocking on mobile. As a result, the digital publisher landscape is set to transform again this year — but this is no bad thing.
Progress is what drives the industry forward and as these developments evolve, it will become clear the opportunities they offer are exactly what publishers need to enhance the mobile experience and realise the channel’s full advertising potential.
So, what are the key mobile innovations publishers need to know about if they’re to succeed in 2017, and avoid going into a spin?
Moving away from disruptive formats
In many ways, the overall switch from desktop to mobile has been effective, with Google choosing to remove it’s ‘mobile-friendly’ label from sites because 85% are now deemed to meet its criteria for the medium – but one aspect isn’t quite there yet: advertising.
Some publishers assumed because attention-grabbing formats, like interstitials, worked well on desktop, they would perform in the same way on mobile. But as an industry we are now well aware that simply transferring these types of ads to mobile can end in failure.
Consequently, as of the 10th January 2017, pages with large ads which make content inaccessible for mobile users will receive a much lower Google ranking. Yet this is no great loss: not only will avoiding intrusive formats be better for audience retention, it will also help publishers ensure better advertising results by focusing their efforts elsewhere — our own studies have found that interstitials produce 60% fewer site visits and clicks than other ad types.
User-focused advertising guidelines
Similarly, the IAB has suggested an overhaul of its Standard Ad Unit Portfolio, which puts the user experience first by exclusively featuring formats that easily adapt to different screens and align with its LEAN standards (Light file size, Encrypted, Ad Choices-enabled, and Non-invasive).
The proposal includes several major changes intended to improve advertising quality. All 12 of the units (reduced from 33) will be built in HTML5 and able to accommodate aspect ratio ad sizes, meaning no matter which device ads are served to they will appear in the right dimensions. There will also be a heavy focus on data saving, with auto expansion banned, outstream video due to require user initiation, and auto-play video only permitted if a Wi-Fi connection is present, and content can be paused and is initially muted. What’s more, a number of interruptive formats are set to disappear completely, including pop-ups and billboards.
Although this might sound like a clamp down on digital diversity, it’s actually the best thing that could happen to advertising — especially on mobile. Instead of irritating ads that eat into users’ mobile data plans and drive them to install blockers, they will be presented with lightweight, flexible ad units capable of adapting to multiple screens.
For publishers, the benefits of enriched mobile advertising will be twofold: a better online experience will encourage more users to consume their content, which will in turn increase its advertising appeal and revenue.
A new era of ad formats
While a short adjustment period will be essential to meet these guidelines, a new crop of ad formats is emerging that will make the transition easier, particularly within the video sphere.
Mobile video is big business and investment in building better, more appropriate ads has subsequently risen.
For example, Facebook and YouTube, favoured platforms for many publishers, have both created micro-video ads designed to ensure ad length reflects mobile consumers’ tendency to ‘snack’ on content by keeping disturbance to a minimum. YouTube has released six-second ‘Bumper Ads’ it describes as “little haikus of video ads” and Facebook is experimenting with 15-second ads during Live broadcasts that only appear after five minutes of streaming.
There have also been developments in advertising technology, such as the parallax or swipe effects, which forms the basis of Sublime Skinz’ latest mobile-specific format, M-SKINZ. The approach works by placing banner ads at the top and bottom of the page, but sending the ad behind the page content whenever users are actively consuming it (reading or scrolling). In this way, ads are visible and engaging, but do not come between users and the content they have come to see.
Furthermore, the format also observes the need for clear user initiation by giving individuals the opportunity to decide whether they want to interact with ads. Videos or large panels will not appear until users actively swipe the editorial content to reveal the engaging ads it contains – a mechanism created to guard against inadvertent clicks and keep users happy.
Life inside the pinball machine may be unpredictable, but that’s what makes digital media inspiring and relevant. Each change drives publishers to embrace new innovations and better meet user requirements – and on mobile, a focus on improving advertising quality is always essential. As technology develops, so does what users and advertisers want, which means the need to meet new guidelines, discontinue destructive formats, and adopt advanced new ads is what publishers need to make sure user traffic and ad revenues keep flowing.