The Telegraph is moving beyond clicks to convince marketers its ads work

The Telegraph is the latest publisher attempting to move beyond the click and reorient the selling of its ad campaigns against more granular performance metrics. It eventually plans to offer clients brand-uplift guarantees, as it already does with branded content campaigns, in an attempt to increase revenue from its existing inventory.

While previously the publisher would have shared metrics such as impressions and viewability with clients — as well as click-through rate — these don’t have much bearing on the value of the publisher’s journalism, The Telegraph said. It’s now sharing between seven and 10 metrics that it assumes are a proxy for the reader’s attention, including active dwell time, hover, scroll depth and predictive heat map analysis of ad creative. Over the next few months, it plans to reduce this number to a few key criteria that have the most significant impact on different types of advertisers’ campaign objectives.

“This challenges click-through rate as the ubiquitous measure in publishing,” said Karen Eccles, director of commercial innovation at The Telegraph. “Everyone has been forced to the bottom end of the funnel where they are judged on performance. Sometimes CTR is important, but it’s not the whole story and it can misrepresent or, even worse, it can encourage bad behavior from publishers and advertisers.”

Internally, The Telegraph has seen its own ad campaigns where CTR wouldn’t be the best measure for success. The publisher is one year into its subscription-first strategy. That means making the site more reader-friendly and increasing the reader’s time spent on the page. During the past year, it’s stripped out code, reduced page-ad ratio and page-load time all in the name of improving the reader experience. It found that ads for The Telegraph’s subscription product placed at the end of an article are four times more effective than ads in the top right handrail unit, highlighting how ad CTR doesn’t always reflect the relationship between reader and publisher.

Studies from trade bodies and analyst organizations, like The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising and Enders Analysis, have argued the importance of how quality environments lead to longer-term ad recall.

Currently, there are 34 campaigns The Telegraph has live where it will deliver this more granular reporting and any campaign costing over £15,000 ($19,400) is eligible. The Telegraph wants to keep the entry point low in order to generate enough useful examples to draw from, but Eccles said this has encouraged a few clients to increase their campaign budget to meet that threshold. For now, this won’t impact how the publisher’s inventory is being priced.

Eccles couldn’t share how much of The Telegraph’s total revenue is made up of display ad campaigns. With multiple pressures in the ad market — ad revenue funneled to a few tech giants like Facebook and Google, decreasing CPMs on audiences from Safari and Firefox browsers — display ad revenue was more than The Telegraph had anticipated in 2018, according to its recent financial reports. The Telegraph is less reliant on revenue coming from the open-market place than from programmatic direct, programmatic guaranteed and private marketplace deals.

“The ad market will still make up at least 50% of their revenue, so with a great sales team they’re working harder than ever to challenge our briefs and maximize volume coming in,” said Neil Tookey, head of print, out of home and audio investment at agency Essence.

The Telegraph has been working on offering more detailed reporting since spring. Since 2017. it’s been offering guarantees for branded content campaigns from its in-house agency, Spark, which has helped win more clients, increase campaign size and repeat business. The Telegraph has always managed to deliver on these guarantees, said Eccles.

Looking beyond proxy measures is on other publishers’ agendas.

“The world needs to look beyond traditional metrics. We are trying to push beyond what we see in the Google reports,” said Ryan Buckley, head of programmatic at Hearst Magazines UK, at an event in London this week by tech platform LiveRamp. “Of those clicks we send to a client’s site, what level of dwell time are we offering to that client versus a higher CTR performance campaign?”

Publishers like The Financial Times and The Economist spent time and money in using time as a proxy for attention, but these success measures struggled to move the needle beyond in the wider industry, and both publishers have scaled back these campaigns.

Mostly, getting the industry to adopt new ways of trading faces hurdles, despite the thirst for more granular targeting beyond CTR.

“There has to be a currency everyone understands as well as compliance across publishers,” said Lawrence Dodds, client director at agency Universal McCann. “Simplicity is key as long as it means that agencies aren’t having to spend additional time translating what success means.”

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