2018 will be the year publishers stop treating visitors this way...

2018 will be the year publishers stop treating visitors this way...

Digital publishers and online content creators are always adapting. Few industries have more moving parts than the publishing space, yet the rewards of a $70 billion dollar ad industry, with 20% year over year growth, provides more than enough incentive to roll with the punches as the industry shifts.

One of the top places that publishers have gathered recently to discuss and share data around these trends is Pubtelligence — a publisher-only event hosted at Google offices. At the most recent Pubtelligence at Google’s offices in San Francisco, one of the hot topics for the coming year was artificial intelligence, data science, and the prospect of treating all visitors differently.

Publishers are behind marketers when it comes to data

Mark Zuckerberg recently made a pretty strong statement about how Facebook delivers new experiences to users…

…At any given point in time, there isn’t just one version of Facebook running, there are probably 10,000. – Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook

Just 5 years ago, even if that kind of data could have been collected, the machine learning technologies and data science processes required to support this kind of initiative simply weren’t ready.

This is why data science and A.I. are becoming hot topics for publishers. The conversation publishers were having at Pubtelligence centered around how these technologies could actually help publishers deliver visitors experiences in the mold of a major platform like Facebook; which is constantly testing and adapting according to user behavior.

An asymmetry of data between marketers and publishers

The data that is driving things like personalization and adaptation is rapidly growing in the advertising and programmatic spaces, but not in the publishing arena. One look at the Google Doubleclick RTB protocol will give you an idea of just how far behind publishers are behind advertisers.

This is where the problem lies. Publishers are at a disadvantage vs. advertisers. Advertisers act on much more information about visitors than publishers do.

If I’m selling a car and I know that the engine is bad, but the buyer doesn’t know this, there is an asymmetry of data. In this case, this asymmetry favors me because I have more information.

Aside from altering things like bid prices, publishers could be using this information to alter the way their website treats visitors to account for things like time of day to influence visitor behaviors (since UX is directly correlated to revenue).

What data will matter most to publishers?

This is best defined in two categories. There is data the publisher can affect; basically, everything on the page, and things they cannot affect; all the attributes of the visitor.

This is ultimately the goal of things like data science and A.I. for publishers. To be able to understand signals in the data and to make adjustments to different variables in real-time to improve outcomes.

The key problem discussed at Pubtelligence was around how publishers can actually influence visitor behavior in a meaningful way. Experts agreed that testing was the only way publishers could know how visitors on their site react to specific changes.

The problem with most forms of testing is that it includes a “losers’ dilemma”. This essentially means that publishers will test variables and will ultimately implement the variable that the highest percentage of visitors prefer.

Unfortunately, all the users that preferred different variables are stuck with the one the majority preferred. The ideal scenario is that everyone is delivered the variable that best fits them. This is how the experts defined the role of artificial intelligence in digital publishing.

The final conclusion was that data will help publishers connect to their audience in a more meaningful way. This means treating all visitors differently. The challenge in 2018 will be how they use this data to do it.

More About Pubtelligence hosted at Google

Pubtelligence is an event designed for publishers held at Google offices. It is free to attend and has no outside sponsors; albeit the support of Google and Ezoic. It is a single-day event with an agenda designed to help provide unprecedented access to data and online publishing experts.

The next Pubtelligence event is scheduled for February 8, 2018 and will be held at Google’s New York offices. Due to the events success, the event has been able to attract some of the industry's brightest minds to speak and network. This has led the Pubtelligence team to expand their seat cap. Last event, over 1,000 applications were received for only 100 total seats.

Pubtelligence is currently accepting event applications for the February event at Google in New York and is finalizing plans for an event later this year in London.

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