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Publishers Need to be Mobile Ready – Whether They Like It or Not: Q&A with Phil Barrett, SVP & GM, Purch

Publishers don’t have an easy ride; and with so much to navigate in a constantly changing digital environment, the challenges they face become greater and more pronounced. How can publishers win in a world where Facebook and mobile apps seem to rule the roost? ExchangeWire speak with Phil Barrett (pictured below), SVP & GM, Purch, about where publishers should place their focus to achieve success in the long term.

ExchangeWire: How should publishers approach their relationships with walled gardens, such as Facebook? Are they working for or against publishers?

With approximately 40% of mobile app time spent on Facebook, publishers must access that audience, but they need to do so cautiously and strategically. While Facebook is certainly an effective vehicle to help drive users to publishers’ sites, becoming too reliant on a third party for traffic can be risky – just look at what happened to Buzzfeed when Facebook changed their algorithm.

In quantifying ROI within these walled gardens, publishers must figure out how to make their business model and revenue lines fit into Facebook’s platform and then compare it against the right metrics. For example, at Purch, we separately analyse our mobile and desktop engagement results. We’ve found that comparing results from Facebook Instant Articles to Google AMP and mobile web, for instance, helps us make informed decisions on where to invest in each platform.

Publishers should recognise the value in the Facebook Network as it provides decent monetisation, generally speaking, but the real ROI will come from Audience Acquisition (ex: lead generation, email signups) and Direct (native and affiliate) within FIA. That’s where publishers will see the long-term value from walled gardens.

Has Facebook Instant Articles driven a positive benefit for publishers? What does success look like?

Facebook Instant Articles has driven a positive benefit for publishers in terms of traffic, but for ROI, it’s a trickier narrative. Publishers complain that walled gardens like FIA pose problems with monetisation because articles live on a siloed platform rather than on the publisher site itself. Success is being able to turn this onset of extra traffic into lifetime value. We’ve found that the more helpful our content proves to be to our audiences, the more likely they are to reward us with a second visit – and, ultimately, with their long-term loyalty.

Are publishers mobile-ready? How can they ensure they are maximising their mobile return?
Phil Barrett, SVP & GM, Purch

Phil Barrett, SVP & GM, Purch

Mobile is quickly overtaking desktop, so publishers need to be mobile ready, whether they like it or not. One way publishers can maximise their mobile return is through a mobile app. According to the 2016 US Mobile App report from comScore, 60% of total digital time is now spent in mobile apps, which further validates why publishers need to have an app strategy. Apps establish customer trust by providing a high-value product or service that helps accomplish a task, be it reading an expert review, comparing two products, or pulling up the latest coupon. Not only do apps provide the context users are looking for, they also create a natural bridge between activities and commerce – i.e., being helpful while still potentially resulting in a sale. We’re building shopper services that are centred around creating high-utility apps that serve the user through the entire purchase funnel, from research to shopping cart. By integrating content and commerce within a closed-loop app, we’re serving customer’s needs while also monetising during the right mobile moment. This is just one example of how publishers can navigate the roadmap.

Should publishers be shifting focus from desktop to mobile? Is that where the opportunity lies?

The short answer is a resounding “yes”! For the past two years, the number of mobile web users has exceeded desktop use, representing a huge opportunity for publishers to reach mobile users. The ability for direct action on mobile engages users in a way that desktop can’t – think ‘click to call’ or ‘click to map’ options on store websites, which translates into a highly personal experience. Given that people are on-the-go and use mobile to pay bills, check email, and surf Facebook, it’s imperative that publishers reach consumers where they are.

Beyond that, is in-app monetisation the answer, or does mobile web drive value for publishers?

Whether it’s in-app monetisation or mobile web use in general, the value for publishers really comes from having quality content and understanding the consumer. Publishers must balance content with ads that are non-intrusive, personalised and helpful to consumers, because this will encourage a repeat user – and there are much greater monetisation opportunities down the road once the relationship and loyalty have been established. Understanding mobile content consumption helps publishers create a more complete image of the consumer and allows them to serve a user on multiple platforms (desktop, social, in-app, web targeting, and more). In this sense, it’s not about in-app or mobile web, but is about reaching consumers on multiple platforms and providing them with a helpful service that keeps them coming back.

How can publishers win with social media platforms more generally?

Of course, the first steps to winning with social media platforms are keeping a close eye on trends and investing in technologies to act on the most helpful ones (watch for chatbots and voice interfaces!), but that’s not the kicker. Publishers can really win by driving a unique value proposition.

Publishers aren’t going to be successful by blindly adding ads, affiliate links, and buy buttons to their articles on social. It’s more important to consider users’ needs and how you can best service and reach them… and then determine the monetisation strategy. Publishers should be thinking about how to seamlessly and contextually insert themselves in conversations that are already happening on social – and do so in a nonintrusive way. They should use social to discover user needs before they arise, and should interact with their audiences via social, whether it’s commenting on social posts, promptly responding to questions, or looking at what users are liking and sharing. This deepens the relationship with the consumer and creates long-term loyalty. That’s the real win.

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