4 Essential Publisher Revenue Optimization Strategies

Brian Blondy, September 10, 2019

Your website is the center of your online publishing business. As a digital publisher, your site functions as the most powerful platform for delivering your content to visitors, which by association, enables you to earn revenue from every impression on your website. 

Despite efforts made to cover all of the bases, we often see publishers experience a sudden dip or even an unexpected deductions or stoppage in revenue. Many companies also come to us after they have been blocked by a demand partner. When a revenue stoppage occurs many presume that they were acting in complete compliance, as they were not aware of the intricacies of the policies.  

When we see these dips occur, we immediately discuss all of the potential reasons why the revenue is slowing and then chart out a plan together for reversing the trend before it is too late.

Unfortunately, not every publisher has a partner like us at hand to advise them about what to do when things may have already gone awry.  In our experience, solutions for optimizing a website and its ad units are not universal. What might work for one site may not work as effectively for yours. 

To address this, we decided to do a deep dive into 4 highly effective ways you can optimize your website for earning maximum yield and overall ad compliance for your website’s visitors.  We hope that this post can assist you to avoid any future surprises which may arise.

To simplify the structure, we divided the content into four sections, each of which covers a vital aspect of what we believe will enable you to gain the knowledge for earning consistent and uninterrupted revenue going forward.

Click on any of the links to skip forward to a particular section.

After reading this article, we believe that you will gain valuable recommendations for your monetization strategy and the ability to begin implementing a website revenue optimization plan for maintaining and insulating your monthly revenue going forward. 


Ad Inventory Revenue Optimization

Understand that it’s not you, it’s just the wrong time of the year

The summer months are an optimal time to assess what is working and what isn’t. Since the second half of Q3 is upon us and the traditionally strong Q4 is just around the corner, we recommend that you get ready for what is coming. 

A significant benefit of Q4 is that advertisers tend to increase their spend around major commercial events such as:

  • Thanksgiving (US)
  • Black Friday
  • Christmas

Interestingly, brands traditionally spend less in the first month of the quarter and more in the last month of a quarter. The aforementioned Q4 holidays all fall at the end of their respective months (November, December). 

According to a blog post on Sortable, “Overall, CPMs increase steadily through Q3, with a significant jump in Q4…Even with low campaign spend in July and August, Q3 out-performs Q2 as CPMs jump in September. As each quarter ends, it’s reasonable to see a drop in CPMs in the weeks leading up to and starting a new quarter. These dips are the result of advertisers’ depleted budgets, which directly impacts CPMs and fill rates.”

Google Ads recently launched a new feature for search and display campaigns called Smart Bidding which enables advertisers boosted control over seasonality adjustments.

The feature using machine learning to automatically set bids at auction to improve Google Ads campaign performance. You can read more about the feature here and learn how to implement the adjustments here.


More ads and bigger ad sizes = More revenue?

The Case for Not Doing the Obvious

You may think that having prominently sized ad units on your website look beautiful alongside your content.  In reality, that huge billboard might not be the best size for achieving optimal monetization on your site despite the high CPMs it may be earning each month.

Generally speaking, AdSense recommends to publishers to limit themselves to only placing three ad units per single web page. We often see publishers adding more than the recommended limit in the hopes of generating more revenue per impression. 

Populating a web page with too many ads will have a negative consequence on the user experience and will potentially affect the following metrics on the webpage:

  • Bounce rate
  • eCPM
  • RPM

To put things into context about how even successful ads could be changing your bottom line, here’s a cautionary tale to consider.

A webpage containing a group of successful ads, each earning high CPMs which results in a high RPM or eCPM. But, this same webpage may be earning less revenue than other pages due to the fact that in comparing it to other pages which possess lower CPMs, those latter pages may end up bringing longer user sessions overall and more overall pageviews by the user, which as a result yields more revenue aggregated per session in general in comparison.

Drilling down, having too many ads on a specific webpage can cause the following negative metrics to rise across your website:

  • Slow load time on a webpage
  • Decreased viewability percentages
  • Lowered number per avg. pageviews per session
  • Increased bounce rate
  • Shortened avg. session duration

In particular, page bounces are a very problematic consequence of too many ads because a bounce rate increase ends up producing:

  • Decreased click-through rates
  • Stagnated campaign performance

The combination of all of these factors could create a scenario where advertisers are bidding less on your ad placements in programmatic exchanges, which means less revenue in general.


Choosing the Most Effective Ad Sizes

What are the most effective ad formats and the most profitable ad sizes for your website?

In our opinion, there is no correct answer for everyone.

First, you need to determine the most appropriate ad slot locations on your pages, as well as defining which areas you want to sell at a premium rate and which ad slots can be considered secondary units available for lower market prices.

Your monetization strategy will most likely be a combination of direct selling and programmatic advertising. For the sake of this content, we will focus on programmatic channels, specifically, Google AdSense or Google Ad Manager (which now features the product formerly known as Google Ad Exchange).

When selling your ad units programmatically, you must keep in mind the platform policies of monetizing your content through the various platforms.

Each platform allows a specific ratio of ad units placed on your pages vs the amount of content neighboring around it. Google, for example, requires over 50% content to be featured on any monetized page. (Note: One must take note of ad placement policies of each platform, which will determine the success of your monetization strategy.)

Your goal should be to not only have effective ads that look fantastic on your website but also to consider the need to find the overlap between which of these ads can be optimally placed within your page layout that net the highest CPMs – providing the optimal marriage between the two for yielding the highest return.


A/B Testing Ad Units

We recommend publishers to experiment with a variety of ad unit sizes, as well as checking various demand sources (SSPs), to concretely understand which ad size in which location will yield the highest return. 

Through A/B testing, a publisher can uncover valuable conclusions about the behavior of their ad units through data sourced in the experiment, rather than relying solely on intuition to make better business decisions about the ad units for revenue optimization. 

In our experience, A/B testing ad units is a highly effective way to judge the value of an ad unit, and as a result, this advanced knowledge can drastically increase ad revenue. 

The beginning point in any A/B test is to define the goal or hypothesis that you wish to prove. After that you should measure the page and session RPMs, instead of the ad RPM of the ad unit, to gain the ability to quantify how much ad revenue you are missing out on by running one ad over another for a particular placement on a webpage.

Effective A/B Testing Can Positively Benefit:

  • Earnings Per 1000 Visitors (EPMV) / Session revenue (Earnings / 1,000 visitors = EPMV)
  • Page eCPM
  • Increased ad revenue

Which Ad Sizes are the Most Profitable for Publishers?

Desktop

The following ad sizes have proven to be most effective for monetization:

728×90Leaderboard – Offers a publisher many options for arranging its placement.

300×250Medium Rectangle – This size dimension is the most common display ad unit due to its shape (medium rectangle), and its placement due to its rectangular shape. This ad size is ideal for a sidebar or placed within the content.

160×600Wide Skyscraper – This ad unit tends to have more ad inventory available from advertisers, which can increase earnings when both text and image ads are enabled. Best if used along with sidebars of webpages since it features unmatched viewability to users.

300×600Half-Page – Offers prominent ad placement for advertisers seeking to make a big impression. This ad unit provides high CPMs and creates a clean layout on the page that encourages minimalism on the page and offers a clear exposure opportunity.

Mobile 

320×50-100

  • Most profitable ad unit when it is placed at least 50% higher than the fold break

Video Placements

According to a recently published report from the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), digital video ad spend continues to expand, with advertisers reporting that they expect to pay, on average, $18 million in 2019, an increase of $5 million compared to 2018.

eMarketer said that programmatic video ad spends are expected to reach $30 billion in 2019, a staggering amount, which accounts for nearly 50% of all US programmatic digital display ad spending.

Video content is a highly effective method for both engaging website visitors as well as providing the ever-growing pool of advertisers a means for running video programmatic advertising campaigns.

We find that video monetization is increasingly proving to be the best way to increase their current revenue stream by opening a website up to receiving significantly higher CPMs as compared to standard display advertising.

Video’s higher CPMs are the result of advertiser willingness to pay premium prices for reaching and targeting interested, specific, and engaged audiences.

Key Benefits Monetizing Video with Total Media    

  • Engaging content and a quality video library that keeps users on site.
  • Content optimization – Presenting the most popular content in the most visible manner creates the environment for more engaged visitors for consuming the video content. As a result, more ads can be placed within the content of the page.
  • Built-in monetization support with higher CPM’s – In-Stream unit with high-quality pre-roll and mid-roll inventory.
  • Pre-roll & several mid-rolls per video.
  • Content optimization affects eCPM and increases it. 
  • Targets demand, according to geos, player sizes, domains/apps targeting, and browsers.
  • Direct campaigns with video advertisers – buying more traffic according to campaign KPI’s and benchmarks. 
  • Video creates multiple high-quality monetization opportunities in a single placement.
  • Video header bidding built-in for unified revenue optimization. 
  • Seamless integration with Google Ad Manager.

Our Video Monetization Formats  

We also provide instream demand, when the publisher already has a video player and seeks to expand their monetization yield via our video marketplace.  Outstream units are also part of our monetization formats. 



An example of OutStream Video Monetization (InRead / In-Article).

Looking to 2020, we confidently expect continued growth for video monetization and the format to become an essential opportunity for publishers to benefit from in their monetization stack.

For more information about video monetization, click here.


Programmatic Revenue Optimization

What Are You Doing to Make More Revenue?

The programmatic industry has fundamentally changed the way publishers and advertisers interact with each other and how they buy and sell premium media online.

In the not-so-distant past, publishers and advertisers used to communicate directly and negotiated placements and CPM for premium ad placements amongst themselves.

Even more recently, if an advertiser wanted to buy premium media through programmatic direct, the only traffic that was available to purchase from the SSP was the leftover remnant traffic. 

Today, programmatic is changing the transaction for the better, not only because of the emergence of the efficiency of the deal but also because more premium ad inventory is available to be purchased programmatically.

Here’s what you can do.

Exchange Bidding Dynamic Allocation (EBDA)

EBDA is a feature within Google Ad Manager (GAM) where exchanges and SSPs can bid on a publishers’ inventory, in addition to what is available from the Google Ad Manager’s Ad Exchange (formerly DoubleClick AdX), all within a unified auction inside the platform.

EBDA gives control to publishers to approve and onboard partners within GAM to access their inventory programmatically. The result is a unified auction on a much more level playing field, with the publisher sitting in the driving seat.

  • The single timely monthly payment for all of your revenue earned.
  • Exchange Bidding is tested and proven to increase yield by up to 35%.

By using EBDA, the entire flow for the publisher takes place within Google’s infrastructure, with Google handling the auction, reporting, billing, and payments.

This integrated approach creates a substantial financial and operational benefit to publishers since they need not wait for payments from each of their demand partners every month. 

In the not so distant past, publishers would have to wait or chase monthly earnings from advertisers. Today, Google delivers revenue payments straight to publishers every month.

Preferred Deals

Preferred Deals allow individual publishers to negotiate fixed-price, first-look deals with advertisers. The CPM is generally higher than regular programmatic and on par with direct sales because advertisers are seeking impressions based on the specific data available or gathered by the advertiser previously.

Preferred deals are direct agreements between publishers and advertisers where generally advertisers approach the publishers about specific ad sizes, placements, and audiences, and the two parties negotiate an accurate fixed price for the impressions amongst themselves.

Whereas once advertisers would send publishers an ad tag which would link to the allocated ad placement, now the entire execution runs programmatically through DSPs and SSPs (e.g., Google Ad Manager & Display & Video 360), where a deal ID get things moving along to create a preferred deal.

With preferred deals, the CPM is generally higher than through a regular programmatic transaction, and on par with direct sales due to the fact, advertisers are seeking impressions based on the specific data available or data gathered by the advertiser through previous campaigns they managed.

Private Auctions

Private auctions are programmatic deals that allow publishers to create a higher-priority auction available only to white-listed buyers of their choice for specific inventory the publisher desires to make available.

Google Ad Manager Logo

One such SSP allowing private auctions is Google Ad Manager, which delivers the best results for publishers.

Any advertiser interested in participating in a private auction is recommended to use a premium DSP such as Display & Video 360.

Within the private auction, publishers establish a specific floor price with the chosen advertisers and let this small group of buyers compete in an exclusive, private programmatic marketplace auction.

The floor price, in general, is higher than that of the open marketplace, so the buyers can pick and choose the premium impressions that they would like to bid on based on specific known parameters beforehand.

Direct Sales / Exclusive Deals

Build relationships with advertisers to secure quarterly or yearly agreements to fill ad placements on a set CPM rate for filled ad placements.

Pricing Optimization

Your website should always be seeking new ways to increase yield from website inventory.  Programmatic teams should utilize proven revenue optimization strategies for squeezing additional improvement from every ad unit consistently.

You should see improvement in your monthly revenue by experimenting with various pricing revenue optimization strategies.  Your website should always be aiming to increase its revenue. Here is what you can do.

First Price Strategies and Rules

Unified pricing rules enable publishers to control the pricing of their inventory across all indirect demand sources from a single location (Inventory > Pricing Rules) within Google Ad Manager.

Inside Google Ad Manager, publishers can set pricing rules for all indirect demand sources to compete in a single-stage auction with consistent rules and pricing across all channels.

  • Open Auction via Authorized Buyers (formerly known as Ad Exchange).
  • Private Auctions (both optimized and non-optimized).
  • First Look demand.
  • Third-Party exchanges that participate in Exchange Bidding.
  • Non-guaranteed line item types Price Priority, Network, and Bulk (currently in Beta).

Effective Floor Pricing Strategies to Consider

  • Lower floor rates from the beginning of the month (when demand is lower).
  • Increase the floor rate near the end of the month (when demand is higher).
  • Since Google has embraced header bidding in Google Ad Manager 360, a good strategy would be to set a lower floor price to allow more bidders and buyers to bid on the inventory – lowering the floor price will increase the fill rate.
  • Revenue sharing can work effectively with video while setting a floor price if the publisher wants the demand to bid from a specific floor price and higher. 
  • Floor prices might change during the month and need the attention of the publisher. Changing the floor prices according to the demand bid, will lead to better monetization with higher performance. 

Revenue Share Pricing Deals

Set revenue sharing pricing deals with a minimum CPM rate. Doing this will ensure the market will determine the price by auction.

  • Ideal for remnant inventory


Maintaining Compliance to Policy Standards for Publishers

Putting Your Best Foot Forward

Publishers have many things to consider regarding the focus and relevance of the content on their websites.  

  • What was the core intention of the published content? 
  • How did my site enrich the user experience? 
  • Is my content easy to locate on the website?  

When it comes to maintaining compliance of Google’s monetization guidelines, remaining cognizant of Google’s best practices can deliver a professional, utility-driven website experience for users. 

One such Google recommendation to note for publishers relates to the content. Google is specific in defining its rules for monetizing content and what it describes as sensical and nonsensical content.  

“As stated in our programme policies, (one) may not show Google ads on pages or apps with little or no value and excessive advertising to the user…includes pages or apps with nonsensical content such as automatically-generated content without manual review or curation.”

What does this content policy explanation mean for publishers? When we analyze the value a website provides, it is essential to think about the user experience. By going through this exercise, it is possible to consider the many different ways a publisher can engage and interest a visitor.

The user experience should be at the core of everything your website aims to provide.

  • How does our website spark user interest? 
  • How does our content provide value to the user? 

By analyzing your website and its content, you are conducting an essential exercise to confirm that the actual written content on your site has a focused theme and overall consistency tightly aligned to the original intent/purpose of how/why the user is visiting the website in the first place. 

If you can address these questions by analyzing your site’s layout, the amount of useful content and the general ease-of-use accessibility for the user, then you are laser-focused on the core reasons why you will keep your compliant safe from experiencing future policy violations.

Remaining policy safe/compliant is not just a quarterly check that you should undertake. 

Instead, it must be in your company’s mission statement and expressed in all areas of your website regularly.  This initiative requires careful stewardship on every level throughout your company to be maintained on a consistent schedule. 

In our experience, publishers who heed close attention to their site’s content curation and overall content presentation demonstrate that the user experience is central, paramount and value-driven not just Google, but more importantly, built and purposed for the benefit of its audiences. 

Something to consider about Ads.txt

Google AdSense announced in early 2019 that it would be making ads.txt mandatory for all of its users. According to the protocol, publishers are required to place the ads.txt in each domain.

As of now, the company has also started issuing warnings to the user in the form of notifications in AdSense Dashboard, which alerts them that their earnings might be at risk if they don’t fix the ads.txt file issues.

Acquiring a depth of understanding about AdSense is a valuable skill to possess in this business. We always recommend (and recommend to all of our publisher partners) the fundamentals of the terms of AdSense policy. 

If you have any questions, you can reach out to us here.

Google’s Ad Recommendations for Chrome

Google is making a concerted push to motivate publishers to revamp the advertising experience on their site in a way that benefits the end-users. Website owners are recommended to cease using the following types of ad units:

Desktop

  • Pop-up ads
  • Pre-stitial with a countdown (No full-page ads/ Transition/ Maavaron) on a user’s first entrance to the site
  • Large sticky ads
  • Auto-play video ads with sound (Outstream)

Mobile

  • Pop-up ads
  • Pre-stitial ads
  • Auto-play video ads with sound
  • Post-stitial with a countdown (No full-page ads/ Transition/ Maavaron) when a user decided to leave the site.
  • Ad density is higher than 30%
  • Flashing animated ads
  • Large sticky ads
  • Full-screen scroll over ads

We recommend to all of our publishers to review their site status in Google’s  Ad Experience Report, a tool that allows publishers to check and evaluate if Chrome has identified any ad violations occurring on the site. 

Next Steps – Putting Everything into a Revenue Optimization Plan

We hope that this comprehensive overview about how you can optimize your revenue will allow you to consider all of the different ways you can earn more revenue per impression and run a smooth, efficient operation that remains policy-compliant going forward.

While at first, it may feel like taking a deep dive into the unknown with so many complicated and time-consuming revenue optimization strategies to consider, you should press forward with a critical evaluation to potentially implement each one by one and aim to do whatever you can to improve your monthly revenue.

Your website should strive to be an efficient money-making machine and always be growing and evolving to changes in the industry that occur.

Regardless of the size of your website or your current CPM rate, we can assist you in implementing all of the optimizations as mentioned earlier solutions onto your site and then offering unmatched optimization management services.

Areas which we can actively assist your website to make more revenue:

Ideally, this post has presented and assisted you to acquire a deeper awareness of the array of optimization methods available for increasing your revenue earnings from your traffic.

We hope that we have empowered you with valuable information which may make your website’s revenue potential more viable than it is today.

To get where you want to be, we’re here to assist you and show you the way to reaching your monetization goals.

Brian Blondy is the Marketing Manager at Total Media.  You can contact Brian by email at [email protected] or on LinkedIn