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Top priorities for digital publishers in 2023

Where will publishers be focusing their efforts over the next twelve months? What metrics will be guiding them and what tech choices will they face? John Barnes looks ahead…

By John Barnes

Top priorities for digital publishers in 2023

In Roman mythology, Janus, the god of beginnings and transitions was seen as one who both looked back and forward which is why he is usually depicted as having two faces, and why the month of January, which transitions one year into another is named after him.

In both looking backwards and forwards, it is important at the start of a new year to recognise genuinely new and emerging trends, as opposed to those that have taken longer to emerge or disappear.

Top of this list would be the death of the third-party cookie which seems to have been a serial saga with no end, but Google is currently set to phase out third-party cookies in Chrome by 2024. Originally scheduled for 2023, it has been pushed back on numerous occasions, primarily because Google says it wants marketers to have more time to adjust their advertising approach and test out new, less intrusive targeted advertising technologies.

Whilst the switch will drive a profound shift from platform-controlled unknown user data to publisher controlled known customer data, it is long awaited and 2023 should see most publishers dispense with their reliance on third party cookies. Consequently, third party cookie tracking will no longer fuel ad campaigns and in this new world, content will become the fuel to drive first-party data collection, which drives advertising, subscriptions, e-commerce, and content engagement by customers.

The continued diversification of revenue to multi-stream models with less dependence on advertising is another long-to-disappear trend, but one which will finally morph into more sophisticated solutions in 2023, as will the continued focus on first party data, registration, and paywalls.

So, if these are trends from last year that will continue into this new year, what are the new trends that will be priorities for media owners in 2023?

Subscriptions: the stop rate evolves into the paywall visibility rate

The importance of stop rates (see my article in the Jan/Feb 2020 issue) for registration and paywall activity has been well covered in this publication over the last few years. The stop rate is the percentage of all digital users who are “stopped” by a subscription prompt, a wall, or a meter limit. It is calculated by dividing the number of users stopped by a meter or paywall in each month over the number of unique visitors during that period and is a key metric for calculating potential conversion rates.

Whilst a focus on conversion rates for subscriptions is an important metric to measure, it doesn’t consider the value of user engagement before the paywall is reached and, some argue, is a metric better suited to ecommerce than paid media, where the user typically becomes more engaged over a longer period before finally converting into a paid subscriber. This, in essence, is why the stop rate is becoming a limited measurement.

Conventional subscription marketing logic suggests that to increase subscriptions, the amount of premium content produced needs to be increased. Whilst it is never a bad move to increase the production of quality content, this assumption puts much greater onus on output rather than visibility. By optimising the visibility of premium content already published on the site, paywall visibility is increased and in turn conversions will improve.

Simple techniques for doing this include the promotion of premium content through embedded links in other on-site articles, highlighting more premium content in existing newsletters and recommending premium content to users.

An excellent article on deep dives into this subject. A surprising observation is that a significant number of users visiting premium content, experience low paywall visibility. This is largely driven by meter and access rules, along with different UX approaches, but it is essential, as the article argues, to find the best balance for your audience. For some, this might involve a hard strategy of 100% visibility, like the FT, but for most, it will be a lower percentage of between 60–80% particularly if advertising revenue is also in the mix.

As more media owners are now fine tuning their subscription strategies, paywall visibility and the importance of increasing the visibility of premium content and visits to it, will become an important new focus for media owners. More progressive media owners are building analytics dashboards to measure this and for many, it will become a must-have KPI in 2023.

Events: truly blended events and 365 community engagement

The pandemic and the various lockdowns had a devastating impact on face-to-face events for nearly 20 months. During 2022, face-to-face events bounced back strongly, but some of the advantages gained from the huge transition to virtual events in 2020-21 were lost, making event organisers think more strategically about how the hybrid model may work in the future.

Most media owners have experimented with emerging hybrid, or blended, event platforms, either using such platforms to replace face-to-face or more significantly running a virtual and physical event in sync. Some event platform providers are now extolling the value of hybrid events, where the physical and virtual events do not happen at the same time and are planned over a longer period.

Top of the list of concerns for conference and seminar organisers is the reduction in both attendees and leads. As events return to physical venues, the limitations of space, the implications of sustainability as well as the reduction in significant engagement data, like leads, watch time and downloads, are highlighting flaws in the model which were less visible pre-Covid.

These digital marketing and digital engagement KPIs have been well known to media owners for some time, but with the accelerated adoption of virtual technologies, and more importantly, the value sponsors and exhibitors have placed upon them, savvy media owners are now seriously considering how to deliver content and audience engagement all year round and not just in the days and weeks before and after the physical event.

At last year’s Association of Exhibition Organisers (AEO) conference, there was much discussion around the statistic that in the future, nearly a quarter of large event revenues will be delivered by digital engagement.

As with many digital revenue opportunities, data is at the heart of this trend, and using this engagement data, combined with strong content programmes and a series of activities over a twelve month period will become a more established feature of media events in 2023.

Data: first party data and the importance of the CDP

First party data is another subject which has been well covered in this publication (see my article on the March/April 2022 issue). It will continue to be key to media owners’ digital focus in 2023 but as with trends that take longer to emerge and evolve, the focus will shift in 2023 to contextual segmentation and using zero party (data willingly given by users such as demographics when registering), first party (data collected by the media owner through interactions with content and services) and, increasingly, second party data (data provided by commercial partners to enrich existing profiles such as key accounts) to fine tune revenue models and boost yields.

In the adtech world, third party data profiles were typically stored on a data management platform or DMP. But many media owners are now investing in Customer Data platforms or CDPs.

Both platforms handle first-party data, second-party data and third-party data. Both CDPs and DMPs collect the same types of data, but what they target differs. DMPs primarily pursue third-party data (cookies and segmented customer IDs) and then store that data for a short time. CDPs focus on structured, semi-structured, and unstructured first-party data.

A CDP stores this data over long periods of time so that in-depth, accurate customer profiles can be built and customer relationships nurtured. And, as a CDP can share and draw data with any system, it is becoming a critical link between first party user segments and advertising platforms such as Google Ad Manager (GAM), which can utilise these first party profiles to target adverting more effectively using either behaviour, demographics, or a mixture of both. CDPs also make data available for other key strategic functions such as revenue development, content optimisation and business intelligence modelling.

The next year will see more investment in CDPs by media owners. Most have invested in other key pieces such as CRM, paywall technologies and experience management platforms, but the CDP completes the stack and in effect joins up the dots by creating a persistent, unified customer database, which provides media owners with the actionable data required for on demand and real time use.

Commercial: digital advertising will become more attention driven in 2023

It has been common knowledge for some years that the CPM model is flawed, not least because it has driven down price, but also because it focuses on volume, rather than the quality of interaction and the correct targeting of the desired user target.

Attention has for some time been of interest to media owners looking to drive up yields and results for commercial partners. Attention can be confused with engagement. Whilst engagement is an important metric, as it is a critical first step in the conversion process, it focuses much more on the end user and interaction with the site and its content, rather than on attention given to advertising or other revenue generating products such as native content.

Despite this acknowledgement, impressions and viewability are still the key metrics used by most advertisers. Many of the measurements currently used are clearly not sophisticated enough, for instance an ad-placement viewability threshold of just one second and 50% in view. Recent research from Integral, Cadreon and IPG Media Lab re-enforces this view, illustrating that simply being in view does not impact ad recall.

It has been acknowledged for some time that the longer the time in view, the higher the recall. Research commissioned as long ago as 2017 by the FT in conjunction with Millward Brown showed that adverts in view for five seconds or longer had 79% better ad recall, 55% better brand familiarity and 58% more brand consideration. It was this data that helped develop its successful Cost per Hour (CPH) model, which has also been successfully adopted by a handful of other media owners since.

So, why is attention still not mainstream? The answer is simply because there were too few tools available to help measure and demonstrate it, but there is now a plethora of them mostly using AI. There is also talk of an industry standard being formalised in 2023, so it looks likely that 2023 will be the breakthrough year for attention.

This article was first published in InPublishing magazine. If you would like to be added to the free mailing list to receive the magazine, please register here.