NEW YORK – You might say that declining ad revenue is becoming a typical part of the business; if you feel like you are constantly trying to find new ways to build both revenue and traffic on your domains while increasing the number of channels and ad networks you rely on, you’re far from alone. Publisher revenues are being squeezed across the board, and while sometimes you might even feel that the more web traffic you build, the less it pays out – you’re probably correct in that assessment.
So I’m going to share with you the latest issues I’m battling as a digital publisher so that you can look at your own domains and web sites to potentially get ahead of the curve as much as possible.
Back in November, Google began working on something called its “Brand Safety Initiative” which there is very little official discussion about right now – and for good reason. I do not believe there is even a page anywhere on their site that details it as of yet – probably because they’re treading extremely carefully on how much information they formally release about it as it directly affects publisher revenue – and publishers are hurting badly – so badly that Google has its own ‘we’re going to help you stay alive’ PR campaign running. So Google’s parent company needs to be extremely careful about this as any blow-back on it could be devastatingly costly and cause massive litigation in the event any mistakes are made which could be construed as actual damages.
Here’s what I have learned so far.
First and foremost, the quality of your web traffic is being measured more than ever. This is like the old “Smart pricing” on steroids. Smart pricing was the process where Google would try to decipher the likelihood of your clicks turning into sales for their customers running ads on their network. If your ads lead to ‘on-topic’ high quality traffic from users who stick around on the target site, who likely have interest and ‘buyer intent’ for their advertising customers’ products and services, and/or check-out purchases and buy on the advertisers sites, this could significantly raise your sites inventory score and quality factors; yet if they immediately hit the back button after clicking an ad, something like that would lower it, sometimes to pennies.
What’s this mean? The higher the quality of traffic you provide, the higher your CPCs will pay, effectively raising your RPM. As you could imagine, a site with lots of traffic and high CPCs will earn immensely more than one with lower CPCs, even if overall traffic remains high, or even higher. Quality is the key. For large sites this is basically the difference between growth and death. This also puts publishers in a position to care less about the clicks, and more about the quality of the traffic their delivering or they will only be chasing their tail till the end of time. And Google is doing this per page, not per site. So you will see sections or categories of some sites with high CPMs while some sections of the same site much lower.
Takeaway: Make sure your acquiring and delivering quality traffic on your sites.
Second, Google also needs to evaluate whether or not your content violates an ever-changing list of objectionable material which has been very problematic for them over recent years such as violations of their Terms of Service including piracy, fraud, the promoting of extremist views or hate speech, etc. This has likely cost Google hundreds of millions of dollars over time and this is unsustainable, even for Google. So this new Brand Safety Initiative needs to work hard and fast to decipher, understand and then deliver ads based on many factors, more factors than ever. What’s this mean? Your ads could be paying even less than before and they are likely loading slower. If your ads are loading even a half-second slower than they were prior to 2018, this could be costing you big money if you run a large site.
Takeaway: Ensure your sites are running as fast as technically possible.
Are you even authorized to sell or place ads on this site? (Ads.txt)
Finally, if you have not yet added an ads.txt file on your sites, do it now. Ads.txt is a file that is placed on your site that is associated with the Authorized Digital Sellers project, which was created by the Interactive Advertising Bureau to “create more transparency” in the business of buying and selling ads online and basically discloses your publisher IDs in your ads.txt text file which declares the companies you specifically authorize to sell your digital inventory. Although it has been released as a “recommendation” and not a requirement, the bad news is that if you do not have one, advertisers, and likely the best and largest buyers, will be opting out of your inventory and sites.
Use of ads.txt is not mandatory, but is highly recommended. The ads.txt file can help you protect your brand from counterfeit inventory.
Takeaway: This is a major contradiction that is industry wide.
Most ad networks currently have a very similar recommended message such as the one above but while networks are ‘recommending‘ publishers use an ads.txt file, assuring it is not mandatory, large advertisers are opting-out of inventory on sites which do not use them. In fact, they’ve probably been opting out of inventory for months. This means less revenue for those who do not use it, and lower bids for appearing on those pages as there is less demand. It’s like the final nail in your coffin; when revenues are already down, this drives them even lower.
So if you are wondering where all this money is going, the answer is elsewhere, to other sites, i.e. not yours.
Forget optional; you have to implement ads.txt now.