Site speed and user experience drive performance: Washington Post’s Zeus and Vice’s redesign

Sortable Ad Monetization

In what is becoming a common refrain among large publishers, Forbes reports that the rollout of a new internally developed ad tech product Zeus by The Washington Post has increased site performance considerably.

Zeus is a new way of loading ads on The Post's pages in order to promote speed. Positioned as the the web's fastest advertising technology, it functions by loading ads as needed, and in anticipation of scrolling by the Post's visitors.

The tech also analyzes the size of the ad selected to be served, and can veto the creative if it is deemed to be too large for the current visitor and page conditions. Zeus delivers content based on how the user is experiencing The Post's site. said Jarrod Dicker, head of ad product and technology for The Post.

Vice's redesign has made similar choices regarding site speed. As they updated legacy systems, trimmed slow vendors (like The Post), and eliminated intrusive ad formats and units, Vice found that they increased the amount of time the average visitor spent on the site, and doubled the viewable time for the ads that they kept on site.

As with the Washington Post, Vice invested in their internal tech stack to make these choices and changes ” decisions that across the industry increasingly seem to be how large publishers are dealing with marketplace pressures.

In Vice's case, these improvements mean that they can iterate much more quickly as a publisher to further tweak the site. Washington Post also noted that the speed of the site with Zeus implemented has led to a 100% increase in viewability ” an increase very much in line with the improvements seen by Vice.

The advantages of this tech are obvious from the publisher's perspective: better user experience through faster page loading, higher viewability metrics that feedback to advertisers, and a decreased demand in bandwidth as heavier ads are trimmed from being delivered.

What isn't clear from this technology is how it affects revenue. By blocking some ads from being served, or eliminating some formats altogether, this necessarily means that the revenue that would have been available from those impressions is now lost. The argument could be made that in time the revenue of the site will compensate and rebound as users and advertisers recognize that the quality of the site has improved, but this is not clear without some commitment to the strategy over time to see what the long term effects and outcomes are.

Common ad industry sentiment is that The Washington Post and Vice are both leaders in publisher advertising strategies ” both are willing to make tough choices to drive better performance. The interesting question is then: why aren't more publishers doing the same thing?

When there is hard, quantifiable data that a focus on user experience pays off and provides an appreciable return on investment, then there will be a shift to adopting similar lean and speed-focused strategies. Up until that point, it will only be sites like The Washington Post and Vice, that are willing to take that jump, that will be taking advantage of a user-focused web experience.

Zeus appears to be a great way to keep ad quality accountably high, as there is no room for interpretation ” the ad either meets the requirements or it doesn't. Similarly, Vice's efforts to design a site focused on speed and experience have shown a huge improvement in metrics like time on page, load times, and viewability.

What isn't clear is how publishers without the bankroll of Mr. Bezos, or the brand strength of Vice will be able to successfully adapt to a change in revenue strategy and see the same benefits.

Sortable is focused on providing tools for publishers to improve user experience and revenue. We work with our clients to do everything from implementing header bidding to optimizing and testing page layouts. We're here to help publishers manage their advertising operations.