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Ad-Fill Rates: Why Less is More

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By Greg Pritchard, SVP of International Development, GumGum

The Scandinavians are often said to be the kings and queens of minimalism – something embedded into the minds of the public by everyone’s favourite flat-pack furniture store, Ikea.

But the ‘less is more’ approach that Ikea espouses offers lessons beyond the interior design world. Publishers and advertisers in particular can learn a lot from the modernist ideals of simplicity and minimalism when it comes to the ad-fill rates on their websites.

To understand why, you just need to consider how packed the internet has become with ads – the majority of which users couldn’t care less about. Publishers are getting to a stage where they have exhausted most of the real estate on their sites with every possible ad. It’s no longer just an issue of quality, but that the quantity has just become overwhelming.

Understandably, audiences are becoming increasingly frustrated. Many users practically flinch whenever a new page loads because they expect some banner, pop-up or retargeted product to interrupt their time online.

In a recent poll, 30 per cent of respondents said they find traditional banner ads distracting and will actively avoid sites that interfere with the content. It’s little wonder so many are being driven to install ad blockers on their smartphones.

With so many people tuning out marketing messages on their favourite websites, publishers risk seriously undermining their relationship with audiences. What good is a 100 per cent fill rate if nobody wants to actually see the ads being served?

Rather than reaching for short-term revenue by maximising fill rates, publishers should be appealing to bigger audiences over the long term by reducing the number of ads. If readers only see one or two ads per page compared to 10, those select few placements may make more of an impact, especially if they are smartly targeted.

To some, this approach may seem entirely counter-productive. The need to compete with the likes of Google and Facebook for ad dollars means many publishers are forced to maximise the available inventory on their digital platforms. However, lowering fill rates doesn’t mean they will have to sacrifice revenue. In fact, a minimalist approach could even lead to more revenue in the long term.

Sites that don’t bombard their readers with ads ultimately end up building a better user experience (UX) and the potential for higher viewability. If users are more likely to come back to a site that respects UX, then the publisher may be able to treat its scarcer ads as premium offerings that could command far higher rates.

Additionally, publishers could focus more on investing in other areas outside of the traditional ad experience that bring value to the consumer, such as native or subscription perks.

Many consumers agree that advertising is a necessary part of continuing to get free news. But, the more our industry opts for serving overwhelming volumes of ads, the more this positive sentiment will be undermined. Today’s saturated digital ad ecosystem is increasingly turning people off and the industry needs to urgently address how it can create a healthier ad market in the future.

Achieving this doesn’t have to be as complex as trying to construct flat-packed furniture. Instead of chasing short-term bucks by maximising fill rates, publishers must build ad experiences that put the user first and embrace a less is more mentality to advertising. Then they’ll really start getting their money’s worth.

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