Responsive Websites Are Great for Users, but How Are the Ad Dollars Being Affected?

Seamlessly running campaigns is key

Since so many consumers hop from smartphone to desktop to tablet and back again multiple times a day, Web publishers have rushed to embrace responsive design: a technology that automatically resizes content to fit any screen.

The responsive movement has been a win for users, who increasingly want to consume content on multiple devices. It also has yielded a welcome by-product: better mobile advertising opportunities. Inherently, responsive sites place mobile ads front and center, rather than relegating them to the sidelines.

With mobile traffic rapidly growing, monetizing that mobile audience is increasingly important. And publishers see this as a prime time to rethink their sites. That’s true for CNN, which is rolling out a responsive redesign in November. Marisa Gallagher, vp and executive creative director at CNN Digital, said that both advertising and enhancing the user experience were at play: “It’s part and parcel when you’re building any experience to ensure the ad or the revenue implications are considered.”

Expect to see more publishers pushing responsive redesigns. A survey by the digital ad network Undertone found that 53 percent of publisher respondents (among a limited sample size of 34 publishers) are looking to go responsive in the next year. And 68 percent of publishers (among a larger sample of 69 respondents) believe responsive design will boost CPMs for mobile and tablet ads.

“Responsive can unlock a ton of value for publishers, creating something that allows marketers to promote messages across their site regardless of where the user accesses it from,” said Eric Franchi, co-founder of Undertone.

The Boston Globe plans to roll out a responsive redesign of the ad-supported in January. Monetizing the site’s mobile audience (about 30 percent of its total traffic) was a big part of the decision, said Jeff Moriarty, vp of digital products at the Globe. “We’re building the site from the mobile up, and during that process, thinking about where the ads go on mobile not as an afterthought but as an integrated part of the plan,” he said. Moriarty also noted that responsive design forces publishers to employ simpler site layouts, which gives the ads a better chance of standing out.

Adam Shlachter, svp, media at DigitasLBi, echoed that point. But he also stressed that more publishers need to adopt responsive design before its full potential can be realized for advertisers.

Mashable claims it has seen a performance payoff since going responsive late last year but declined to provide specific numbers. More than 90 percent of the publisher’s ad campaigns are now run seamlessly across mobile and desktop, said Robyn Peterson, the company’s CTO.

Hearst Digital chief sales officer Geoff Schiller, however, maintained the responsive trend is more about users than dollars (Harper’s Bazaar’s site relaunches next month, joining Town and Country and Road and Track). “Obviously from a monetization perspective, everything else in this virtuous circle comes because we bring the value of our audience, the value of our content and the value of that experience,” he said.