Looking ahead to 2018: give publishers the data they need to thrive

Sortable Ad Ops

As the new year approaches fast, we're thinking about what trends will surface in 2018. In this instalment, Ashly Knox, our Head of Sales Engineering, shares his thoughts on the plight of publishers.

One of the coolest parts of my job as Head of Sales Engineering at Sortable is that I get to speak with a wide spectrum of publishers. A lot of that time is discussing reporting, primarily related to revenue aggregation and how to thread that to other facets of a publisher's business.  Some publishers are focused on very granular yield optimizations, some are looking to explore problems much broader in scope. Regardless of need, every blue-sky publisher request sparks 10 other related ideas. As you can imagine, the use cases are endless.

The alarming trend I've noticed, however, is that these utopian reporting requests from publishers are actually pretty fundamental to their business. Digital publishing is a complex industry as it is, but with dozens of ad tech companies and countless reporting and analytics options available, the industry still hasn't come up with answers to very basic questions.

The plight of the publisher in 2017 is that it has become increasingly complex to find answers to essential questions.

I've heard a lot of variations of I wish I had a breakdown of advertiser interest/performance by inventory.  Think about how rudimentary that sounds.  You're transacting millions of impressions for thousands of dollars without a real idea of who you're selling to or why they're buying? Shit.

Here's another: We don't know how our content and editorial choices impact revenue.  Oh no.

Or I wish I had an easy way to understand how much money we made yesterday. (facepalm emoji)

When I describe my job and what Sortable does to friends and family not familiar with the industry, I have to preface everything with it's way more complicated than you can ever imagine.

I really don't think it needs to be this hard.

If you have a direct deal with an advertiser, everything is straightforward: you know who you're selling to, what they want, how much they're paying, and what their KPIs are. With programmatic, much of this becomes obfuscated in the convoluted mess that the online advertising landscape has become. A lot  of this has to do with the ecosystem being developed to serve advertisers over publishers, although publishers have certainly contributed to the chaos by adopting short-term strategies that do little to alleviate longer-term concerns. (I'll dig into what makes this so difficult in a future post.  For now I'd like to focus on what could happen if these questions could be answered.)

If a publisher could normalize disparate sources of revenue across very specific facets of their business, they could start to unlock answers to critical questions.

With better insights and transparency, publishers could move advertisers up-funnel from open auction to private marketplace or preferred deals ” or even direct relationships. Imagine knowing not only which advertisers were winning impressions on your site, but their bidding patterns mapped across traffic source and marketing campaigns? Imagine easily tracking which advertisers have strong interest but low performance. Those advertisers should go to the top of any lead list.

With a faster and more accurate grasp of revenue, publishers can isolate trends more quickly and better hold partners and vendors accountable for performance.  

With a better handle on how different content and marketing decisions impact revenue, publishers can better quantify their choices and feel empowered to make decisions with more certainty. Knowing that the session RPM of users arriving to your site via email newsletter is three times the session RPM of your  search traffic adds clarity and confidence to marketing strategies.

Publishers have every right to want this level of understanding and control. Unfortunately for them, it's not easy to achieve a holistic view of their business. But helping them find these insights into their business is a challenge we're willing to take on, and access to meaningful data is becoming table stakes in an environment that skews against publishers.

I'm not sure we have it all figured out, but we're working on it, and we're confident that cracking the code for actionable data would have a tremendous ripple effect and benefit the entire ecosystem.

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.