Publishers, Stop Prioritizing Monetization Over User Experience

Alexander Azarov, CEO & Founder, Clickio

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

Today’s column is written by Alexander Azarov, CEO and founder of Clickio

After this exclusive first look for subscribers, the story will be published in full on this afternoon.

Premium publishers are some of the least compliant with Google’s Core Web Vitals (CWVs). 

Although they’ve made rapid improvements to site performance since CWV metrics became a Google search ranking factor in June 2021, many still aren’t up to scratch.

In fact, analysis from Chrome’s user experience report and Similar Web’s global traffic data reveals high-end publishers have consistently performed below average over the past 18 months. This is because their complex monetization setups, although good for generating revenue, often degrade the user experience.

The result is bad advertising outcomes, such as accidental clicks and low engagement.

Publishers struggling to balance user experience with profit can’t rely on quick fixes. They’ll need long-term solutions that simplify and strengthen their ad stack at its core.

Not enough progress to date

Compliance averages for user experience metrics changed fast following the activation of CWVs, shifting from 19% last year to 30% in October 2021. The top 1,000 sites climbed from 4% to 26% – but this isn’t far enough.

There’s only one metric where all publishers currently excel: first input delay (FID). FID measures how quickly pages respond to user interactions, with the target being 100 milliseconds or less. It has a steady compliance rate of over 80% since May 2020.

But that still leaves two metrics in need of improvement.

  • Largest contentful paint (LCP): This measures whether sites can load their biggest element within 2.5 seconds. Less than half (44%) of global publishers and 37% of the top 1,000 sites can do so. Still, this marks an improvement of six percentage points from 2020.
  • Cumulative layout shift (CLS): By quantifying the visual stability of a web page, this metric helps to minimize errant text and images. Top-tier sites have made better progress here than with LCP. Compliance has risen from 25% to 67% following CWV adoption.

Complex monetization frameworks hurt experience

High-tier publishers have multiple advantages, including large user bases that attract greater ad spend. With this revenue stream, they can invest in advanced setups that go beyond the limitations of platforms such as AdSense. As a result, premium publishers can leverage auto-refreshes, multi-size implementations and dynamic ad insertion.

These enhancements, however, make publishers more prone to user-experience problems. Dynamic insertion, for example, ensures the number and position of ad slots match the length of the content. But this can cause other page elements to shift if not done correctly, affecting CLS. Additionally, while auto-refreshes enable publishers to continuously switch between ads, if resizing isn’t properly managed, ads can pop up in unexpected places.

Disrupted ad delivery is bad news for LCP and sustained advertising revenue. Publishers’ instinct is to act fast and minimize the negative impacts to CWV ratings and the user experience, all while maintaining ad delivery. But hasty steps aren’t always effective.

A new ad stack

To optimize both speed and layout stability, publishers must reconfigure their ad stack, cutting complexity. This involves multiple steps.

Better ad integration

Ad delivery mechanisms need to be closely intertwined with site architecture, so that space for advertising is reserved with – or immediately after – page content. Ideally, this uses in-line JavaScript instead of JavaScript that is loaded as a separate file.

Differentiated viewport logic

Prevent discrepancies in ad sizing by allowing ad space to be resized only below the fold. This way, publishers can reduce layout shifts while improving viewability.

Embed backup plans

Not every ad can be instantly adapted to fit pre-set spaces. Compromises – such as allowing smaller ads to render and float in bigger spaces – must sometimes be made. Having a backup plan ensures ads are still delivered without impacting key metrics.

Stay open to evolution

Using FID, LCP and CLS, publishers can use A/B testing to assess how vendors impact monetization and user experience. Achieving high CWV compliance also frees publishers from the restrictions of accelerated mobile pages (AMP).

Compliant non-AMP pages will now get the same benefits as AMP pages, offering publishers more flexibility and greater performance.

Although marrying monetization and user needs isn’t easy for premium publishers, taking a holistic approach means there’s no need for a trade-off. There are multiple ways publishers can adjust their site architecture without starting from scratch or interrupting content access and ad delivery.

There’s no reason to hesitate when complying with CWVs. As the desktop rollout looms, publishers must get serious about these metrics to avoid keeping advertisers waiting and losing ground to competitors.

Follow Clickio (@ClickioGlobal) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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