Publishers Must Go Further To Capitalize On Engagement

The Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.

Today’s column is by Mark Cullinane, senior vice president and general manager of digital at Publishers Clearing House.

Advertisers know that engagement metrics matter most when establishing ROI on digital ad spend. But engagement metrics themselves are still relatively nascent.

Publishers have started to innovate and adopt new metrics that are based more on audience engagement and less on impressions and viewability.

However, if publishers are to truly prove the value of the audience attention they’re delivering, they haven’t gone far enough to drive and measure active engagement with their content.

Further – But Not Far Enough

A few years back, the Financial Times and The Economist made headlines with their shifts to “attention buy” models as options for their advertisers. The specifics of these new models varied, but in general, the two publications – and others that followed – allowed advertisers to buy ads using time-based metrics, such as cost per hour.

The idea was that advertisers would not pay for impressions delivered to readers who did not at least “actively” view a page for a specified amount of time. This “active viewing” behavior included scrolling up and down the page, scrolling a mouse over elements or typing on a keyboard.

This shift represents a vast improvement over legacy impression and click-based metrics. Time spent on content combined with scroll activity metrics, such as scroll initiation, scroll depth or scroll velocity, are helpful indicators that a reader is at least engaged to some extent with the content on a page.

However, there’s a ceiling to the utility of these measures. Time spent, scroll depth and other metrics are limited because they all indicate passive engagement of a reader in a lean-back state where, as with TV viewing, people are predisposed to tune out advertising.

Moving Toward Active Engagement

Online publishers today have the opportunity to deepen engagement on their sites and, in turn, use that engagement to demonstrate to advertisers the value of their audiences’ attention. But they need to create more opportunities for their users to demonstrate lean-forward, active engagement with content.

Publishers shouldn’t just be counting the minutes spent on their pages. They should also focus on promoting very specific actions that help them solidify a direct relationship with every user.

Lean-forward experiences that publishers can employ on their sites include registration opportunities or email opt-ins to receive bonus content or other benefits. The extent to which each tactic can be used will depend heavily on reader expectations and the level of value that publications can provide in exchange.

These experiences needn’t be time-consuming or require readers to provide personal details. Almost any publisher can give its readers the opportunity to show active engagement in an article by inserting simple rating options at the end of the content. (“Did you like this article? Select thumbs-up or thumbs-down.”) These very simple additions give publishers both valuable feedback on content and active engagement measures with which to woo advertisers.

Regardless of which tactics make sense for a particular publisher, the end game remains the same: Building deep engagement with an audience is crucial for driving meaningful performance for advertisers.

Without a doubt, engagement is the new currency in media. Publishers that want to lead this sea change in the eyes of advertisers need to look beyond surface engagement metrics and double-down where it really matters: with active, lean-forward user experiences.

Follow Publishers Clearing House (@pchdotcom) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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