I was recently asked to lead a session “What New Page Designs and New Ad Units Mean for Ad Ops” at Admonsters Publisher Forum held in San Diego this past August. When I was hashing out topics with the organizers, we quickly identified a topic that hit quite close to home: how to manage your ad ops team through a complicated redesign. I’m with Gawker Media, and you may be aware that we just went through exactly that in March of last year—so intense of an overhaul, in fact, that is has spawned a bet between our founder Nick Denton and Media mogul Rex Sorgatz, as well a heated feud with Fox News.
All controversies aside, we actually survived the redesign from an operations standpoint and we were able to round up some great takeaways and learnings from the experience. I was happy to share them because, hey- every one of our member publishers either has gone through it recently or will within the next few years. If your site stays the same after ten years, then we have a whole slew of other issues on our hands!
We quickly realized that the presentation would be even more valuable if we brought in a co-presenter from a different company who went through a similar overhaul to compare and contrast our points. A little bit of a different approach from the usual Admonsters group presentations, but we thought this format would set the floor for a more conversational forum than simply one person presenting a Powerpoint. Enter: Lucas Black with AOL. He was an integral part of AOL’s Project Devil and the new ad unit that was implemented along with that.
We opened up with “before and after” shots of how both Gawker pages changed as well as AOL’s (We used Gizmodo and Engadget – probably the only time those two sites have hung out together peacefully!). We then presented a few of the less-than-ecstatic feedback we got from our commenters right after the redesign to hammer home the point that there will be backlash, like it or not. My personal favorite was “My god, does the redesign suck. Why won’t anyone at Gawker listen to literally everyone and change it? God it sucks so bad.”
It’s very important when undertaking a redesign to plan ahead and communicate properly with all departments involved. No matter how far ahead you think you’re planning, it probably isn’t far enough. The tech team can help with full beta testing before setting hard sizes and spec rules. You also need to take into account the order of priority in which the planning originated – is the site reconfiguration coming because of the necessity of new ad units or vice versa?
Perhaps the most difficult area to coordinate is with Sales—at any given moment in time there are campaigns being RFP’d, pitched, waiting on going live, or already running. Once the launch date is set, it’s time to, unfortunately, turn all those campaigns upside down and ask for new sizes, reallocations, makegoods, and re-forecasts. Figure out who is best for your organization to facilitate these conversations – we found they went best when coming directly from the Ops team than the sales person initially. Make sure your trafficking teams are ramped up and ready for this; because with even one pushback it can double the resources needed. Keep in mind takeover dates- it is advisable to not run any the first day or two of launch to allow for bugs.
It’s not all nerve-wracking changes, though – a redesign can mean new content sections available to sell and the chance for sales to offer their clients new and different products. Also, click rates for those campaigns running through the change will be through the roof.
Even though a traffic dip is expected, Ops can do its part to help ensure traffic stays up. When traffic stays up, it means less makegoods, and don’t we all love less makegoods. Ensure that all traffic sources are working properly- referrals, search, and behavorial targeting. Work with 3rd party vendors to make sure all rich media types and tags will continue to work seamlessly. Consider how and if the mobile site will be changing over at the same time, and work with data providers to make sure reporting and data collection will be uninterrupted.
When you are introducing a new ad unit- as AOL did- there are another set of factors to take into consideration. First of all, the scalability of the solution. Does the page enable the resizing and moving of content? This is necessary and determines whether you need to have manual layout changes or are able to go with a more dynamic serving ability. Consider the impact of the design- AOL had considered a 400 pixel-width unit but ended up going with a 300 width in order to minimize the impact to the page layout.
As for forecasting and pricing, try to prevent a huge blow to the existing bookings by creating dynamic sizing of the unit (e.g., a single ad slot could serve either old or new size). Set the prices accordingly to encourage the new unit.
Both AOL and Gawker had to consider many minute aspects in our redesigns and implementation of new ad units. When the site changes, the process changes, and it helps to celebrate “little wins” and be open and welcoming to the change. You will have bugs, you will have to troubleshoot, and you will probably have a night of banging your head on your desk at 9pm- I can’t promise that won’t happen. But you can implement ways to minimize the stress that your team endures by making a simple checklist and reminding yourself of the factors that we were able to reflect upon.