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Why Hasn't Cross-device Portability Benefited Us?

Posted on Saturday, August 27, 2016 at 10:06 PM

A reader's question: Why aren't we seeing good bottom-line results?

By William Dunkerley

Q. I haven't seen any real benefit from pursuing the "cross-device portability" you've been writing about. We switched to responsive Web design two years ago, but at this point I can honestly say that we've seen no real benefit. I followed your series "Cross-device Portability Demands." You presented some interesting points. But from my business perspective as the publisher, the whole idea hasn't impacted our bottom line. My publication is a large business-to-business monthly. We still have a print edition, but we have more extensive content online. The print edition has grown smaller. But it still outperforms the online publication in advertising sales. Our advertisers are charged up over getting greater exposure online. It's hard, though, to convince them to pay the kind of rates we need to get for profitability. Something's wrong here somewhere. Why aren't we seeing good bottom-line results?

A. Congratulations, first of all, for adopting responsive Web design (RWD). It is an essential part of cross-device portability. No publication that expects to flourish over the next few years has any alternative. The reading habits of magazine audiences are dictating that. Readers are interested in accessing a magazine's content whether they're at work using an office desktop or on the go relying upon a smartphone. Cross-device portability is a distinct utility for these readers. It makes practical sense. A publication that doesn't offer this utility is bound to lose favor in the long run.

Your failure to see positive bottom-line results is not your failure alone. Many publishers are in the same boat as you. And the difficulty in achieving online revenue targets is not entirely the fault of the publishers themselves. The way our industry has been evolving presents significant new challenges for most publishers.

Let's look at the facts: If advertisers were getting good value from their online ads in your online publication, they'd be happy to pay commensurately higher rates. The key is that the advertising must produce a clearly perceived benefit for the advertiser.

But look at what publishers have been offering advertisers. There is a plethora of advertising formats that contribute little to the effectiveness of the advertisements. The banner ad is a prime example. I don't know who invented the first banner ad. Who with any insight into effective advertising techniques could have come up with it? I won't go into a long elaboration of why banner ads are poor performers. However, ask yourself this question: If the banner format is so great, why didn't it emerge as a mainstay in print advertising over the years? The reason: It's simply an ineffective format.

Then there's the matter of intrusive and annoying advertising. I'm talking about ad content that interferes with the reader's ease of consuming a magazine's content. Pop-up ads stand out as an example. Online readers have detested them for years. That's led to a market opportunity for companies that produce pop-up blockers. The net result is that advertisers lose exposure to readers who are blocking the ads, and those readers not blocking are experiencing annoyance from the unwanted intrusion.

And then there's the problem of ad content linked in from external URLs. It burdens readers with slow download times when attempting to access your content. Ads that autostart video and audio ad content are especially problematic. They can make visiting your site an unpleasant experience, one that can eventually reduce your traffic. Not only is that a disservice to your readers, but long term it reduces the potential exposure for the advertisers, too.

Admittedly, many advertisers actively seek these various problematic forms of advertising. I know that many publishers feel it seductive simply to accede to readers' wishes and give them what they want. Normally it's smart business to supply your customers with what they want.

There's one difference here: What they really want is better advertising results.

If you foresee that characteristics of the advertiser's request will work against achieving good results, it will benefit you to confront the issue.

I remember one print publisher who received an ad insertion from a foreign advertiser. It was both culturally and linguistically inappropriate for the magazine's audience.

The publisher could have just taken the money and run the ad. But there would have been negative consequences for the advertiser. Response would have been low, and the ad would have contributed to a negative image for the advertiser.

Instead, this publisher confronted the advertiser, offering advice and assistance to make the advertiser's insertion much more effective.

And I believe this lesson can be a key to greater success for online publications. If an advertiser comes to you requesting an insertion that will be counterproductive, confront the matter. Don't burden your readers with intrusive and annoying ads. Don't accept without comment ad formats that are clearly subpar.

In today's world of cross-device portability, the best ad format will be ads that comport fully with your responsive design. In other words, ads that will dynamically reconfigure themselves to fit the screen size and orientation on which they will be viewed.

That will result in giving your advertisers their money's worth, and it will allow you to set rates accordingly. I strongly recommend this path as you seek better bottom-line results.

William Dunkerley is principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, www.publishinghelp.com.

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