Display advertising solutions

Step 1: The new homepage. Homepages get more traffic than any other single page on a news site. Typically, they provide a convenient digest of the newest posts on a site, which is a convenience to users. But this benefit to users creates a problem for advertisers and content providers who depend upon advertising revenue from display advertising. Here’s why:

Depending on the level of SEO, 15 to 35 percent of users enter a news site at the homepage, then exit. This provides relatively few pixels on this single Web page to monetize an entire site. If homepages were redesigned to compel users to view more pages to meet their information needs, then sites would have more opportunities to generate revenue. To do so, homepages must be converted from digests to tables of contents.

Digests and tables of contents both provide a window into a site’s news content. But tables of contents do not discourage further exploration, while digests unnecessarily reduce reviewing of inside pages. For instance, a book’s table of contents doesn’t stop you from reading. Neither does the table of contents of a news magazine — some, like Esquire’s, encourage you to read more.

Story pages, rather than homepages, are the key to monetizing a news site. These inside pages have fewer elements than homepages, so they can provide a more effective environment for advertising by allowing for larger ads and fewer distracting elements.

Our solution was inspired by this New York Times prototype. However, the New York Times prototype is more a digest than a table of contents, because its well-crafted headlines and summaries may satisfy an enduser, and provide fewer reasons for further exploration of the site.

In contrast, our solution merely offers a “taste” of a site’s news content, using fewer words to entice endusers, rather than satisfying them with a summary. It also differs in these other, important respects:

Our solution is based on a multi-block grid, which provides the flexibility to increase the amount of space devoted to a headline to signal its importance and reflect editorial news judgment. It also allows photos to be cropped and scaled for maximum impact and legibility, rather than forcing them into pre-determined holes.

We’ve eliminated ineffective leaderboards and skyscrapers, and replaced them “Deals of the day” at the bottom of the page which are part of our solutions for small businesses. Unlike leaderboards and skyscrapers which often annoy and distract users while rarely provide meaningful information, these deals offer a true benefit to users. This is an example of “advertising as information.”

These advertising messages also differ from conventional ads because they don’t compete visually with each other, nor do they detract from the overall, pleasing appearance of the page.


Click here for larger view of homepage.

Step 2: The new story page. Changing the homepage to force more views of story pages is the first part of our two-part strategy to increase revenue from display advertising. The second part is changing the story page to provide a more effective environment for advertising messages. This will produce better results for advertisers and motivate advertisers to spend more on online advertising. Here’s our strategy:

  • Dramatically increase the size of the ad to 480 pixels by 480 pixels.
  • Reduce the amount of clutter to create a more attractive environment for the ad.
  • Limit ads to one per screen to increase impact.

This solution looks more like the The New Yorker in print than any news site online, but we think that’s a good thing. It’s based on this prototype for the Daily Record.

While most online execs might blanch at the notion of one ad per page, the fact is that most sites can’t sell all the ad positions currently available, so why not run the paid ads bigger? As long as the table-of-contents-style homepage creates more pageviews, more advertising opportunities will be created to offset any losses.

But more important, if one big ad per screen delivers better results for advertisers, then advertisers will be willing to spend more with the sites willing to offer the more effective format.

And finally, what if that big ad provided more than a brand message, but an experience? What if that ad “came alive” onMouseOver, just like a photo in Harry Potter’s newspaper, The Daily Prophet?

To take full advantage of the Web, advertisers must build true interactive experiences within their ads, with the means to capture the attention, preferences and contact info of potential customers. These ads will no longer need to shout and annoy users, because their message is the only ad message on the screen. Instead, these ads will “rest quietly” next to the editorial content, and only “come alive” when users opt in for the advertising experience, thus providing a better reading experience as well.

Read more about the prototyping process and how the team worked through the issues. (SND Update)