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Lessons From 2020: What Does the Future Hold for Publishers and Ad Revenue?

Lessons From 2020: What Does the Future Hold for Publishers and Ad Revenue?

2020 has turned out to be quite an unpredictable year. The global economy is experiencing a slowdown due to the pandemic. Several industries, including digital advertising, are going through a difficult period. Ad budgets shrank, which means revenue for publishers has taken a hit. With the year having entered the last quarter, it is important to draw lessons from what has gone by and develop strategies for the future.

Here we present some valuable lessons for publishers from 2020:

Leveraging programmatic can help publishers mitigate challenges.

While the entire advertising industry was reeling under losses, publishers found a savior in the form of programmatic advertising. Throughout the first half of 2020, a significant part of the global population stayed at home and as a result, the consumption of digital content went up. Social media browsing saw an increase of 21 percent while consumption of news saw a 36 percent raise. Programmatic advertising enabled publishers to make the most of these shifts in audience behavior by delivering according to the scale of demand. Even though there were some budget cuts, audience numbers for quality content went up, and programmatic delivered on its USP by efficiently monetizing at scale. Programmatic helped publishers cut back on potential losses by keeping bidding efficiency high, so that publishers can squeeze out every bit of value from their content. Those publishers who are not on the programmatic bandwagon yet, are now making plans to get on board.

Search advertising is much more resilient than display advertising.

While the spending on traditional advertising saw a sharp fall of 51 percent, the ad spend for paid search advertising saw a smaller decline of 30 percent. Across the board, search advertising proved to be highly resilient even in the face of the crises. Ad networks with access to search budgets delivered to traditional display inventory have been a secret revenue hack that helped publishers weather the storm better than expected.

This squeeze on budgets has also come around the same time as a global squeeze on free-flowing user data that ad networks can use for targeting. Search ads use intent funneling based on keywords and are highly effective for delivering relevant ads without cookies. With the performance shown by search and context-driven ads at an all-time high, advertisers maintained their outlays for these parts of the digital pie.

Contextual is a must-have in every ad-stack.

In an unpredictable online ecosystem, brand safety is key to maintaining company reputation. With disinformation and fake news around political commentary as well as health and fitness at an all-time, brand safety has become even more important for advertisers who are growing increasingly nervous about the right way to deploy their digital budgets.

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To deliver on brand safety, ad publishers and advertisers have always relied on contextual advertising. With the content-based targeting opportunities that contextual provides, publishers have been able to offer brand-safe spaces where premium advertising dollars can find reach through relevant ads. In short, 2020 has brought contextual back into focus. As we go into the end of the year, brands are expected to spend more on contextual ads, and publishers should look to leverage contextual ads alongside their content to diversify their sources of ad revenue and safeguard future growth.


The crisis-prone first half of 2020 has led to quite a few revelations in the advertising industry. Connecting the dots has helped us understand that publishers need to hit the sweet spot in their revenue mix, by making the most of programmatic, contextual tech, and search demand. In doing so, ad publishers will be able to make the best out of available opportunities as we head into 2021, which publishers and advertisers are hoping will be a year of recovery.

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