7 Conversion Rate Optimization Tips for Publishers

This is a guest post from Paras Chopra, founder of Visual Website Optimizer. Paras has been doing some interesting work with A/B testing and conversion rate optimization so I thought it would be good to get some tips for publishers from him. – Adam

Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) is perhaps the easiest method to increase revenue without pouring extra dollars into paid marketing campaigns. For readers who aren’t familiar with the terminology, CRO consists of moving around and changing different elements on a website to increase conversion rate (signups, downloads, engagement, sales, etc.). As the director of Visual Website Optimizer (A/B testing software) I have had the opportunity to observe hundreds of A/B tests by our (publisher) customers and analyze what works for them.

In this post I will detail conversion rate optimization tips for publishers and media sites. For general best practices for all websites you may want to check my post on conversion rate optimization tips for landing pages.

Define your conversion goals

For most publishers the conversion goal is usually a click on an advertisement. In other words ad revenue is what publishers aim to optimize. However, for a specific visitor on a specific page the aim is not just optimizing for immediate revenue. As a publisher you should instead optimize for lifetime ad revenue generated by a visitor. Granted it is harder to measure than Click Through Ratio (CTR) and other simpler metrics but lifetime ad revenue will definitely force you look at conversion rate optimization in a different light.

To increase lifetime ad revenue you essentially need to optimize for three specific goals:

  1. Increasing CTR on your content pages (so that visitors click on ads more often)
  2. Increasing visitor engagement on your pages (so that visitors browse more pages per session)
  3. Increasing content distribution (so that visitor shares your content on social channels)

I will outline how to optimize for each of these goals individually. Note that even though these are practices have been shown to work I recommend doing an A/B split test before implementing them directly.

Tips to increase CTR / clicks on advertisements

  • Ads in the sidebar don’t work – let’s face it, people have significant ad blindness. Made popular by blogs, ads in the sidebar get pathetically low CTRs. In fact, sidebars provide an easy filter for your readers to ignore practically everything contained in them. So you need to get creative with your site layout and ad placement. You should avoid placing ads at traditional locations such as header and sidebar.
  • Ads inside the content work best – you know why print advertising is still flourishing? Because magazine/newspaper readers have no option to ignore ads that are interspersed with actual stories / articles. Similarly, in the online world publishers that embed ads within content (say in the middle) get much higher CTRs. Of course you must ensure that it does not adversely impact the user experience (because you are optimizing for life time ad revenue, not just CTRs).
  • Use a mix of display ads and textual ads – having multiple display ads on a single page results in all of them competing for visitors’ attention. Instead, you should have multiple textual ads and a single display ad (which stands out on the page). Thanks to contextual advertising, text ads have become incredibly well-targeted to the content on the page. Moreover, by nature of being text-only such ads blend well in the article and actually catch visitor’s attention as they scan or read your content.

Tips to increase visitor engagement

New York Times - recommended article

  • It’s all about content recommendation – as soon as a visitor is done reading your content you should recommend other interesting articles on your site. It’s hard to get the recommendation process right – some sites fail to do it or others include too many links at random. Ideally you should present only one or two recommendations for the most relevant articles and the recommendation process should catch visitors’ attention. The New York Times slides in an article recommendation as soon as you are done reading a story (shown above). It’s a great way to make sure visitor notices it.
  • Don’t ask users to create an account just to comment – many publishers make the mistake of forcing a visitor to create an account to do even basic activities on site like rating an article or commenting. This is a serious hindrance to having visitors interact and engage with your site. The majority of the functionality of your site should not require a login (including buying a subscription!)

Tips to increase content distribution

Social Proof - Twitter and Facebook buttons

  • Prove to visitors that the content is worth sharing – nothing inspires a visitor to share a piece of content more than the proof that many others have found it helpful and shareworthy. You have to treat your content as something you are selling to visitors with the currency being their time and access to their friends / colleagues. You have to show social-proof to your readers which can be in the form of a widget displaying “1267 people liked it” or “900 people tweeted about it.” In fact, you can even have something as simple as an internal rating system that shows stats such as “96 people found this article helpful and would recommend it to their colleagues, would you? Yes / No.” People want to know that they are not alone in liking a piece of article and that it is OK to share it with their network.
  • Make it easy to share – you should try to remove all friction between your visitors and their social networks. There are plethora of widgets available that make it very easy to implement this functionality on a media site. However, be aware of the mistake that many media sites make in implementing social sharing. They tend to include many different social networks which does two things: a) adds to visual noise on page; b) confuses people and makes it hard for them to locate the social network of their choice. Instead you should research your target audience, see where they participate online and include just one or two large widgets for sharing. In many cases, especially with Facebook and Twitter, these widgets also double as “social-proof” because they show how many people have shared a particular piece of content.


To reiterate, as a publisher or media site you have three goals to optimize for:

  1. CTR
  2. Visitor Engagement
  3. Content Distribution

If you manage to optimize these three goals, you will see total ad revenues from the site increase steadily. Good luck!

Paras Chopra is the founder of Visual Website Optimizer, the World’s Easiest A/B Split and Multivariate Testing Software. Made for marketers who hate technical & integration issues, Visual Website Optimizer makes A/B testing dead-simple by providing an easy-to-use interface, WYSIWYG editor and tag-less integration. This means no messing with HTML or JavaScript code and that tests can be ready to run in less than 5 minutes.


  1. says

    Hi Adam,

    Well said! Outbrain is 100% focused on all of the things you mentioned and our publisher & brand clients are really starting to understand the value of placing interesting links at the bottom of article pages to help increase page views and generate revenue.

    On the advertising side, we’re finding that click through rates for editorial content and paid content are almost the same. This proves that users don’t care if the content is paid for or not, they just care if it is interesting.

    A great user experience + increased Page views and revenue = a win-win for everyone!

    VP, Marketing @Outbrain

  2. says

    Great article. Good idea to recommend other sections of the website to read at the end of each page. Also found the article sharing pointers helpful. Thanks

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