"Our main focus in 2018 is knowing our audience, making our websites intelligent, and knowing how—and what—to deliver to our online users," said Alessia Alaimo, digital media manager for Wick Communications.
To advance the goal of creating a "smarter" user experience, Wick joined the TownNews iQ program. The iQ program helps local media organizations improve the user experience (UX) and advertising performance on their web and mobile sites using sophisticated data management and behavioral targeting technologies. The program integrates directly with TownNews' flagship content management platform, BLOX CMS.
Following the iQ Ad Ops team's best practice recommendations for ad block placement, lazy loading and auto-refresh of advertisements, and ad size mapping, Wick has improved ad viewability and, by extension, CPMs. And by marshalling data to present users with more content they actually want to see, the Wick team has detected upticks in page views and other key engagement metrics such as time on site and returning visitors.
Personalization for a better user experience
The iQ program enables sites to tailor their content and layout for individual site users, resulting in higher engagement and time on site. Sophisticated predictive algorithms convert user "signals" like answering a poll question, clicking a keyword, saving an article, or browsing a specific section, into actionable audience segments.
Dynamic content blocks—blocks of targeted articles, videos, or other content—can then be used to make recommendations that are customized to each user based on their individual behavior profile. For example, one user may see sports highlights while another is presented with the day's stock market report.
"This 'just-in-time' presentation of relevant content allows us to engage our users in a meaningful way, increasing page views," Alaimo said.
The advantages of scale
The iQ program leverages TownNews' network of over 1,700 digital media partners. This scale enables sites of all sizes to take advantage of Google's DoubleClick for Publishers (DFP) Premium ad server—an industry leader and the most widely used ad server in the world.
"We considered joining Google DFP Premium on our own," Alaimo said. "But the value proposition versus cost didn't make sense outside the iQ program. Being on DFP Premium, through the iQ program, allows us to target users, by section or pages, and it definitely has higher CPMs."
Alaimo has also noticed an improvement in ad quality and relevance.
"Before iQ, we'd see really ridiculous ads. We got rid of those 'belly fat' ads—it's good not to see those anymore," Alaimo said. "Now, firsthand, I see ads from more popular, higher-quality brands. As a result, we've almost doubled our remnant ad revenue each month with iQ."
"We used to use many different programmatic companies. It was really complicated to set up and manage the advertising waterfall, ads above or below the fold, and CPM prices with vendors," Alaimo said. "We have a lot of other things to do, so not worrying about calls with our remnant vendors is 100% awesome. With iQ, it's so easy."
iQ program participants can also take advantage of DFP's responsive ad serving technology, size mapping. Sites store multiple ad sizes in one ad position and the iQ program does the behind-the-scenes work to call the right size ad for the desired viewport.
"We've seen a huge increase in impressions and available inventory because of the built-in flexibility of switching ad sizes. For example, swapping out a 300x250 on mobile to a 300x600 on desktop," Alaimo said. "We've seen 35% more available inventory from having that capability."
Balancing content and advertising
To expedite the transition of 17 of their sites to the iQ program, the Wick team opted to redesign around a set of precisely optimized templates.
"Following the iQ team's best practices gave us an opportunity to clean up the site design a bit—really balance out the whole page," Alaimo said. "Now we're taking full advantage of reveal ads, core ad units, the 'hamburger' navigation menu design, and more full-width blocks from left to right. One of our goals with the redesign was to provide more stories on top traffic pages like the home page."
To promote the new templates internally, Rick Rogers, TownNews vice president of sales, joined the Wick Digital team to present at Wick Communications' Annual Publisher Conference in April. Wick, a family-owned company, regularly brings together publishers and executives from their newspapers, magazines, specialty publications, and media sites in 10 states.
"It was great for us to relay information from the iQ Ad Ops team directly to the publishers. We could demonstrate how certain things affect our sites, especially with Google," Alaimo said. "There's been less push back from publishers and new implementations are much easier. We basically sold everyone on the elimination of intrusive ads and gave guidelines for things that are coming."
According to Alaimo, the benefits of partnering with TownNews go far beyond page views and CPMs.
"I like that there is a full Ad Ops team at TownNews to answer questions and assist us," Alaimo said. "And we definitely watch and pay attention to the video tutorials and best practice webinars. It's amazing to deal with first party data now and really understand who's on our sites. The iQ team has made life much easier for us!"
Cherry Wolf is a marketing specialist at TownNews.