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Digital Publishing - Load the Ads Up! How much is too much?

Recently I was consulting with a client on, how much advertising is too much, for their digital publications. The "too much" problem arises for the print medium, but not near as much as the digital. The print medium makes it easier because there are a limited number of pages to fill. Publishers have to weigh more carefully their content value against their ad revenue. What's more, ad revenue in the print medium is greater than digital.

The web has made it more tempting for publishers to load the ads up. Content almost becomes a commodity in order to sell more ads. But the content value diminishes as ads begin to monopolize the space. Back to our client, they sent us a new page mock-up, and I couldn't see the content from the ads. The ads dominated the content so much that my sense of the content's value was diminished.

How much is too much? Are there solid principles to follow? Advertising is nice because it does help publishers reduce their subscriber fees, but it is too often overdone. Quality content is the key to balancing your content-to-ad ratio not quantity. I really like what Mary Hier said over at Recruitment Advisor:

"Solid journalism... will not only keep readers coming back and subscribers subscribing, but it will also give you the numbers needed to encourage advertisers."

Overduing your advertising can reduce your audience, which naturally reduces content value, then your advertisers will start dropping. It is a much safer bet to really focus on your content, especially in the digital world.

Here are three principles you can follow to make sure your content and ad value remain high on your website.

  1. The content-to-ad ratio needs needs to lean heavier to content.
    Sites that have a 60/40 content-to-ad ratio are much more enjoyable, especially if I am paying for the publication.
  2. Know your audience.
    Pick advertisers based on your customer not just because there are paying advertisers. Going through the exercise of really understanding your audience through analytics, customer feedback, and surveys will help you pick relevant advertisers. The side-effect is increased ad-engagement, happier readers and advertisers.
  3. Independent layout review.
    A quick and dirty way for independent feedback is to get a friend, outside your company, to ask some people who use your site what they think. Or with a little time and investment you can setup a survey in-house or on the website iteslf to identify what people like or don't. Click here to learn how to setup good user interface surveys.

Publishers need to ask themselves more often, "What do our customers value?" The answer to that question is the solution to increased revenue. Oh, and I highly doubt the answer is more ads.


Nick Johnson

Nick Johnson, CEO & Founder of Sabramedia, has more than twelve years in the web development and software business, and has spent the last few years talking with newspaper and digital media professionals around the world. Nick provides a knowledgeable perspective on web related topics for the newspaper and media industry. Sabramedia makes the Pigeon Paywall and Subscription Managment plugin and Pigeon Archive service.

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