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The Goals

  • Develop a data-driven approach to ad innovation
  • Improve ad performance for advertisers
  • Deliver a user-friendly ad experience across all devices

The Approach

  • Built an internal data platform to analyze creative elements and ad performance
  • Created a set of new high-performing, user-focused ad units
  • Leveraged DFP’s native solution to test and optimize creative elements for boosting engagement

The Results

  • 12% lift in CTR
  • 39% increase in video completion rates
  • 52% longer time in the user’s view than standard IAB ad units

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Published October 2017

With more than 110 million unique monthly visitors, USA TODAY NETWORK is one of the country’s top 20 digital companies. Owned by Gannett, Inc., it includes USA TODAY and 109 local publications in the U.S. and Guam.

Put users first and the rest will follow

To keep both their loyal reader base and advertisers happy, USA TODAY NETWORK needs to deliver a high-quality experience across all devices. And this experience applies not only to their articles, but also to the ads that appear across their sites. Jeff Burkett, Vice President of Ad Innovations at USA TODAY NETWORK shares, “a lot of digital advertising products were created without considering the user’s experience. We believe you must lead with the user, which in turn delivers greater results for the marketer.”

Digging deep into data

With that in mind, earlier this year the company took a data-driven approach to designing a new set of custom ad units that would deliver a high-performing, user-focused ad experience. To better understand what worked best for both users and advertisers, Burkett’s team spent a year analyzing ad performance from over 10,000 ad creatives served through DoubleClick for Publishers (DFP) and Moat Analytics.

A lot of digital advertising products were created without considering the user’s experience. We believe you must lead with the user, which in turn delivers greater results for the marketer.

Jeff Burkett, Vice President of Ad Innovations at USA TODAY NETWORK

They collected this data in a centralized data platform called “Grandstand,” where a team of data scientists analyzed it to identify performance trends. The team discovered some surprising yet valuable insights, such as simpler, more concise ads perform better; overly animated ads decrease performance; and ad color doesn’t affect performance.

Paramount ad units

Armed with these findings, USA TODAY NETWORK designed and launched the “Paramount” ad suite — five custom ad units designed to maximize advertiser ROI while maintaining a high-quality user experience across any device.

The “Paramount” units leverage DFP’s native offering to test and optimize multiple creative elements. At first, Paramount had four or five customizable components, including headlines and calls to action. Now they offer a variety of modification levers, including support for video, image and carousel functionality, so that ads can look quite different while using the same format. “Advertisers provide us the basic elements and we're able to take the individual pieces and drag and drop them in,” Burkett explains. “The ads are easily produced, and we can add on customizations in the review process.”

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Double-digit improvements in performance

USA TODAY NETWORK is also taking a data-driven approach to optimizing performance by running A/B tests with Paramount and non-Paramount ad units. Burkett shares, “it's very different when you have data to prove why a particular design should be followed. That's a much better conversation to have with an advertiser, and they're going be much more likely to follow your recommendations.”

Dozens of advertisers have tried the Paramount units since they launched in July 2017 and more are testing them every month. Overall, Paramount units are seeing a 12% lift in click-through rates and 39% higher video completion rate compared to traditional video units. They also stay in the user’s view for up to 52% longer than standard IAB ad units.

Planning for the future is paramount

USA TODAY NETWORK knows that speed is the key to their next big push to improve performance and the user experience. To that end, they just launched a mobile website built on the Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) framework. The next step is to apply the AMP framework to the Paramount ad units themselves to make the ads load faster and perform better. “Speed is a big part of these ad units and it’s what drives the way that we built them. We were invested in AMP very early on and have continued to do everything that we can to improve our site and ad speed. AMP Ads are definitely core to our strategy,” concludes Burkett.

About USA TODAY NETWORK

USA TODAY NETWORK, part of Gannett Co, Inc. (NYSE: GCI), is the largest local-to-national media organization in the country, powered by our award-winning newsrooms and marketing solutions business. With deep roots in local communities spanning the U.S. with more than 100 brands, plus USA TODAY, we engage more than 110 million people every month through a diverse portfolio of multi-platform content offerings and experiences. For more information, visit www.gannett.com.

About DoubleClick for Publishers

DoubleClick for Publishers is a complete ad revenue engine that helps publishers capture the full value of every impression across demand sources and channels. Seamless integration with DoubleClick Ad Exchange provides instant connection to millions of quality advertisers, while the natively integrated sales management platform streamlines operations for maximized sales at minimized costs.

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