Readturn blog

Improving reader return rates.

Long-form in a information rich ad ecosystem

09 June 2015 | 2 min read

I’ve been thinking a lot about the publishing of high-quality long-form content online. Long form content doesn’t perform well in the current advertisement ecosystem. Advertisers reward number of ad units served. Viewing more than 50% of an ad unit for at least 1 second defines a valid ad impression. This low bar for content producers has lead to optimizing the number of ads served per content produced.

There are now a wide range of places to spend a digital marketing budget, forcing publisher to appeal to the ad spend. Publishers are compared against one another, while the produced content is entirely different in value. The only similarities may be their ability to display ads. Short-form junk content and well thought out long-form content are valued the same to an advertiser. The only thing that matters is how many ad impressions will be served. Forcing publishers to compete in a advertiser-centric ecosystem ignores the qualities that define high quality content.

Producing long-form content isn’t wise when considering the time and cost. Ads served on long-form pieces aren’t as valuable in comparison to the alternative. Unless the publisher sells-out to the advertiser, the mechanics behind longform content are less profitable. (This is an entire topic of its own.) Although long-form pieces have the potential to display an number of ads, unless the article is fully read, the ads are not necessarily viewed or consumed. This makes it more profitable to publish a higher number of low-cost posts, than to publish a smaller number of high quality posts.

Long-form articles maximize for time spent and quality of user. Currently, there is no system to allow an ad to be valued longer based on its time viewed. Instead, a 1 second glance and a 5 minute stare are valued the same. As a result, the time spent on an article is not a rewarded by the existing single ad-unit.

These advertiser economics incentivize for quantity. Online content producers profit by maximizing ads served per content produced. The existing advertisement model encourages publishers to optimize for traffic rather than quality. The more ads served for dollars spent to produce content is ideal.

Short-form content is optimal for content discovery platforms. The popularity of social networks and RSS feed readers simplify circulation. Readers can jump in and out of articles to maximize the content consumed, while minimizing the time spent. The discovery platforms above simplify the process progressing a user across a feed. The number of article’s viewed is proportional to the number of ads served.

Information rich ecosystems don’t match with the time needed to consume long-form content. The exploration mind state is not ideal for settling to read. Long-form content is discovered, skimmed, then forgotten. Either a clear way for valuing ads on long-form content needs to surface, or the long-form content needs to find a way to compete in this current ecosystem. One way or another, this is an interesting topic to think about.

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