Trade Attention, Not Impressions.

For the better part of the decade, header bidding enabled tens of thousands of publishers to sell their ad impressions programmatically at the highest possible price. Any publisher who’s willing to go beyond Google can do so, thanks to open-source frameworks like Prebid and header bidding providers in the market. 

As you know, you can increase the ad revenue substantially just by moving from AdSense/Ad Manager to Header Bidding. Here’s a couple of case studies for reference. 

But it’s not the end. In fact, header bidding has never been a set-it-and-forget-it technique. 

Ad Ops engineers have to continually optimize the setup, ad loading time, page speed, placements, etc. to ensure the impressions are valuable and attract higher bids from the demand partners. It doesn’t matter whether you have the best header bidding partners or not, unless you don’t offer what buyers are looking for, you can’t reach the maximum potential. 

So, What Buyers Are Looking For?

Attention. Buyers are bidding to win an impression hoping to capture the attention of the user. What they do with attention isn’t a concern for publishers. Because advertisers will have their own campaign goals – awareness, product sales, etc. 

The best, as a publisher, you could do is to trade attention; not impressions. Publishers have been trying to replace impressions with attention. Because when the goal is to increase impressions (and so pageviews), publishers tend to focus on quantity. 

But when you want to focus on quality and reader engagement, you need a way to leverage attention/engagement to maximize ad revenue. Several premium publishers including Financial Times, The Economist came up with attention-based metrics and sold ads based on CPH (Cost per hour). 

We’re not in the business of selling clicks and impressions, despite it being what advertisers ask for. We’re in the business of selling engagement.

– Ashwin Sridhar, Global Head of Digital Products Revenue, The Economist.

Rather than having the number of impressions as the goal, they pitched advertisers the number of hours. For example, a campaign can have a goal of X hours within the next 2 months. And, it worked well for both sides. 

There are a few problems though. 

One, not all publishers can sell time-based ads to brands directly. Premium media companies have their in-house products and metrics to help them do it at scale for a handful of direct buyers. 

For instance, The Economist has a product named ‘TimeGuarantee’ for advertisers who want to buy “attention (or dwell time)” as the publisher calls it.  

Two, the majority of the programmatic buyers can’t run direct deals and buy ads based on CPH. So, they are looking to buy quality impressions (qCPM is now a metric in use). Quality impressions are the one that has the higher viewability, served in a brand-safe environment, delivered in an expected manner to the right audience. 

According to AdExchanger, Hearts & Science, Essence, Adlicious, and Adelaide (buy-side platform) are some of the agencies optimizing the campaign for qCPM. At the risk of oversimplifying, they are trying to buy attention via open marketplaces as well. 

Can You Sell Attention via Open Marketplaces?

Technically, there’s no way to measure whether the ad has the undivided attention of the user (unless they clicked it). Ad will be among many other elements on the page at any moment. 

But we can measure and therefore, guarantee that an ad has been exposed to an active user for long enough to consider the trade as an “attention”. That’s what we’ve been doing with our product AXT. 

Sidenote: The WSJ published a research conducted by Neurons Inc, a neuroscience research company, showing that it takes just 400 milliseconds for users to see and emotionally react to 67% of the ads. For desktop, it took 3 to 4 seconds to produce the same impact. 

Active Exposure Time (AXT) helps you to recreate valuable ad impressions (that have been exposed to an active user for a certain amount of time). Here’s how we do it

How AXT works? 

– When a page loads, header bidding happens and your user will be delivered an ad as usual. 

– As soon as the ad gets rendered to the user, AXT technology will start tracking viewability along with mouse movements, keyboard actions, focus events and touch events to measure how long the ad has been exposed to the active user.

– Once the threshold has been hit, a new auction will take place, resulting in a new ad. 

As long as you keep the users engaged with the content, you’ll be able to translate it into actual revenue. Wait. If we’re claiming that AXT is helping you to trade attention, we need to prove it with some data.

Ideally, eCPM, CTR, and ad viewability should increase and they did. We’ve pulled the data from our publishers recently to look at how AXT impacted eCPM, CTR, and viewability. See for yourself:

First Impressions Vs. AXT Impressions

eCPM increased by 212%, viewability by 364%, and CTR by 412%.

eCPM_ First Impressions Vs. AXT Impressions

As you know, average display ads CTR will be typically around 0.3% – 0.4%. When we implemented AXT, CTR increased substantially — creating a win-win situation for both publishers and advertisers. Forbes covered it in detail hereAnd, note that all the impressions delivered via AXT are viewed by an active user.

Whether we call it as ‘attention’ or ‘quality impression’, at the end of the day, publishers have the leverage/tool to help them focus on engaging readers without worrying about revenue. 

And, the best part is, this revenue is purely additive. Are you a publisher with long-form content? Do you focus on user engagement rather than page views? Then AXT is the right choice for you. 

Cover image source: Rawpixel.com 

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