All publishers want to boost traffic to their sites, however as the industry evolves, both buyers and sellers are becoming acutely aware that not all traffic is good traffic. When Facebook announced in January that it would start “de-prioritizing” publisher and brand content, the publishing world saw one of the biggest sources of traffic disappear almost overnight. Although shocking, the reality is that it hasn’t disappeared entirely, it’s how publishers handle maintaining traffic that must change.
In the immediate wake of the announcement, there was a lot of soul-searching across the industry. Casey Newton, Silicon Valley editor at The Verge, summed this up on Twitter, saying: “So many publishers think they have audiences, when what they really have is traffic. I think we’re about to find out who has an audience.”
Elsewhere, Peter Houston in The Drum opined: “Newspaper and magazine operations that still have actual bona fide readers—people who value their publishing brands and return to their content regularly—will find them regardless of platform. Those who have profited from drive-by traffic are toast unless they shift their business models.”
What Facebook’s move has done is spark wider debate into the value of “traffic”. It has forced publishers to look deeper at their numbers, and refocus on creating engaged audiences that keep returning rather than simply trying to pass-off “drive-by” traffic as their audience. While traffic acquisition remains hugely important, the focus is now on deeper engagement with a smaller audience of super-users rather than a large number of single-visit users. This benefits everyone, from advertisers to readers, and the publishers themselves.
Think of it this way: engagement time is directly related to ad viewability. Viewable ads must have 50% of ad pixels on the screen for at least one second. There is a profound difference in value to advertisers purchasing inventory on a website with an ad viewable for one second compared with a site with an ad that’s in view for two minutes. The more engagement you can provide to advertisers, the more valuable your ads will be, resulting in better performance for both you and the advertiser.
So How do Publishers Increase Audience Engagement? Here are 3 things you should know:
1. Build Trust
Readers don’t become loyal simply because you write catchy headlines and have a good user experience. First-time readers turn into a loyal audience when they trust you to provide them with unique value. As a publisher, your role is to create content that meets the need and expectation of readers. When you do that well, they come back because they trust you; and you’ve created a personal relationship with them.
2. Get to Know Your Audience
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to building a loyal audience. You can only create unique and valuable content that maps to your evolving audience by really understanding who you are talking to. While this may seem obvious, a lot of content creators simply skip this part.
Try starting with your email list! There is a strong possibility that this list represents a sample of your whole audience, so reach out to them with a questionnaire. If you have clearly identified your readers, you can understand exactly what it is people want to read and make the content they want easily accessible to them. These two key things go a long way to helping deepen engagement.
Of course, audiences evolve and so it’s important to poll your readers on a regular basis to ensure you continue to connect with them.
3. Know Your Data
As a digital publisher, measuring, testing and optimizing provides you with an almost real-time view of how your content and campaigns are performing. Invest deeply in understanding your data as it will enable you to ensure that your content is working effectively. Set aside time to do this on a regular basis.
To ensure that you’re attracting a valuable audience, you may already pay close attention to dwell time (the amount of time that passes between a user arriving and leaving the site). However, you should be mindful that while a useful indicator, dwell time may not always be a good representation of reader engagement time (the amount of time that your content is actually seen while the user is active in that viewport). For example, readers may open your content in a new tab and leave that tab open for some time while actually viewing something else in a different tab. This may be counted as dwell time, so not all dwell time is what it seems.
Additionally, keeping track of navigational bounce rates and return rates will help you build a more solid picture of how engaged your audience is—this can be done using free tools like Google Analytics.
To help publishers monetize highly engaging content, Sovrn created Viewable Engagement Time Reload (VET Reload). VET Reload proactively understands when an ad is in view and then counts the amount of engagement time the ad receives. After 25-30 seconds, publishers have the ability to reload their ad unit, thereby legitimately increasing the amount of highly valuable, viewable and engaged inventory available to advertisers.
In summary, VET Reload enables publishers to sell inventory on their website based on user engagement rather than impressions alone and has resulted in around a 20% uplift in new premium inventory for many Sovrn publishers.
To find out more about VET, check out this blog or our Community article on Viewability and Engagement for better Optimization