One of the big rules of online advertising as I understand it is that you count success to a great extent based on how many people click through to your site. It's really the basis of how people get paid by Google for Google AdSense. If you get click-throughs you get paid and advertisers pay Google based on this number, but a new study has found that there is value in people simply seeing the ads, so long as the person is fully engaged with the content and there is some contextual relationship between the content and the ads.
Hasn't This Always Been So?
When I read this, my first thought was this is always how newspapers and magazines have sold ads. There's no clicking through in print. You simply have an ad right there with the content and there's no way of knowing whether anyone glanced at it or paid attention to it, but if enough people (or the right people) bought the publication it could command high ad rates. John Blossom, president of Shore Communications, Inc and author of the book Content Nation, says this research shows there can be a similar dynamic online (which only makes sense).
"This research confirms that contextual search ads can be a valuable opportunity for building brands when those ads appear next to content that is helping people to solve problems through search. In such a moment of immediate gratification for a highly targeted interest, it's only natural that marketers would want to take advantage of these fleeting but highly valuable contexts to build brand value."
Blossom adds, "What better endorsement could an advertiser have than being associated with a need well met by content?"
Search Counts as Content
And that's an important point because ads shouldn't necessarily be delivered in a vacuum with no context. Google certainly understands this. That's the whole methodology behind Ad Words, delivering a strip of unobtrusive ads that could have some relationship to your search.
But if it works for search, why not for other content? Blossom points out that search itself is content and publishers need to take advantage of context to provide more meaning to readers. "Search engines offer significant competition for providing the type of content that engages audiences at this level. Publishers need to think more carefully about how the functionality of their content meets an audience's needs - and how to help marketers relate to their audiences more effectively through contextual advertising in publications that mix both traditional editorial content and functional content."
How Do You Measure Success Without Clicks?
If people aren't clicking through though, what metric can you use for measuring success? Blossom says there is new metric called 'Engagement Time' that is gaining increasing importance for marketers. "Engagement time is one of the latest sought-after metrics in online media, underscoring the hope of publishers that they can justify premium ad rates based on the amount and depth of time that people spend with content that provides relevant context for ads," Blossom says.
It's hard to know if publishers will get away with this or if this research is just wishful thinking on the part of those who commissioned it and online publishers who are looking for a way to make more money online, but if it's true that you can measure success by the amount of time a person spends looking at content, then it could change the way we measure success online, and could in a way bring the publishing business full circle.