How Core Web Vitals Affect Publisher Monetization Strategies
Ryan Rakover, May 25, 2021
Ryan Rakover, May 25, 2021
Google’s latest page experience update, Core Web Vitals (CWV), is coming, and it will affect publishers’ monetization strategies in significant ways. It’s set to roll out in phases beginning in June 2021.
The CWV update is designed to improve user experience. While no one is quite sure how heavy the impact will be for publishers, this is one of the few times the search giant has been so transparent about an algorithm update. It stands to reason that Google’s openness means it wants publishers to pay attention if they want to benefit.
Over the past few years, Google has made a number of updates to its algorithms, many of which are focused on improving user experience. We’ve previously seen this with Google prioritizing mobile-friendliness, for example. According to Google, CWVs will build on user experience signals with “a set of metrics related to speed, responsiveness and visual stability, to help site owners measure user experience on the web.”
Publishers live and die by their monetization efforts. In some cases, publishers have sacrificed user experience to chase revenue-centric metrics. Now, every publisher will need to rethink their monetization strategy and ensure that they balance revenue with user experience. In the end, providing a better user experience will result in users wanting to revisit sites, increased page time, and increased traffic from search results.
Three new search signals will help determine a page’s page experience score. These metrics will influence search rankings and ‘rich results,’ which appear at the top of search results.
Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): This metric is about loading performance. It measures how long a page’s main content takes to load.
Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): This metric measures the visual stability of pages but evaluating unexpected layout shifts. Layout shifts can be caused by dynamic content, such as ads with different sizes.
First Input Delay (FID): This metric measures interactivity by calculating the time between a user’s first interaction with a page to when the browser starts processing that interaction.
Ad placements and sizes can have a tremendous bearing on the user experience, so publishers should carefully consider where and how ads appear. This is especially true for mobile sites which have increased scroll depth and are viewed by users who scroll much quicker than those on desktops.
Cumulative Layout Shift will cause the most issues for publishers but addressing CLS issues is actually straightforward. Shifts are often the result of programmatic auctions serving ads with different heights. This variation causes page elements to shift around, placing users on a different section of the page than where they were before the ad loaded. In the past, publishers have tried to increase their revenues by allowing ads with different sizes to be returned in the same ad slot. Moving forward, publishers can combat CLS by reserving the maximum ad height possible and setting the refresh logic to continue to serve ads of the same height to that user.
Sticky ads ‘stick’ to a user’s screen as they scroll up or down a page and can be placed in the header, footer, or sidebar. There are two main benefits to using sticky ads. First, in terms of CLS, sticky ads won’t cause layout shifts. Second, the ad remains in view at all times, exposing users to the ad regardless of their scroll behavior or device type. That translates to a more significant impact for advertisers and increased CPMs for publishers. Publishers can refresh ads every 30 seconds to further increase revenue.
Since users have a very low tolerance for slow-loading pages, publishers must take every step they can to speed up load times. Ads are big culprits that slow down the overall page load time, but this can be mitigated by lazy loading ads that are not in view. It’s important to note that if an ad loads above the fold, it should not be lazy loaded as that will negatively impact CLS scores. However, publishers should set ads on other sections of the page to lazy load, triggered when users are within 500 pixels of the viewport. The result will be quicker, smoother loading pages, and a better user experience.
Google standards dictate that a publisher’s ad density should not exceed 30%. Their research shows a higher percentage negatively affects the user experience. Ad density can be calculated by adding up the height of all ads and dividing that by the height of the viewport. Google recommends either spacing ads further apart or reducing ad size to meet its standard.
Google is not implementing these signal updates to make life more difficult for publishers. There’s no reason to view this as an assault on monetization efforts. The company is doing it to bring about a better user experience which, in turn, will benefit publishers who make the necessary changes.
By taking advantage of different ad types, and how and when ads appear on the page, publishers can continue to earn significant ad revenues while cultivating better relationships with users by prioritizing their on-site experience. Publishers that invest in improving their page experiences will gain an edge over the competition and create a winning situation for themselves and site visitors.
There are many additional steps outside of monetization efforts that publishers should take to improve their Core Web Vitals scores. Many of them are technical in nature but no less critical when it comes to improving user experience and scoring well with the new metrics. In this follow-up post, we’ve broken down the site elements that are most likely to impact scores and provided details about resolving them. If you want to learn more or would like an in-depth audit of your website, please reach out to us.
Ryan Rakover is the head of our Trust and Safety efforts at Total Media. One of the things Ryan enjoys the most in his role as a Publisher’s strategic partner is the challenge of bringing policy from a place of rules and standards to delivering solutions to clients to improve their client’s bottom line. Find Ryan on LinkedIn or reach him by email at ryan(at)totalmediasolutions(dot)com.