When Google announced the AMP story format back in 2018, the goal was to create a new tappable, visual story experience similar to those seen on social media platforms, but one that publishers could host on their websites.

Fast forward two years and Google rebranded the format as Web Stories and allowed Discover to access it. Since then, Web Stories have spread to Google Search and Images.

While the format offers audiences a social media-like experience, publishers found their monetization options limited. They could monetize through direct ad sales and affiliate links, but their programmatic advertising options were limited to Google’s first party solutions. This was notable, given programmatic advertising’s increasing dominance of global digital ad spend over the years.

The situation changed this year, however, when global ad platform MGID announced in April that it had integrated Google Web Stories into its offerings, becoming the first third-party platform to do so.

At the time, MGID CEO Sergii Denysenko said: “In an age where quality of content and experience are becoming even more crucial for engaging with audiences, this is the perfect opportunity to diversify our offering. This is the latest in our continued efforts to deliver the very best experience to advertisers, publishers, and users alike, alongside new artificial intelligence tools and content analytics.”

To learn more about MGID’s support for Web Stories advertising — as well as hear a little more about how AI might push native adverts closer in nature to Story Ads — State of Digital Publishing (SODP) spoke with MGID’s Head of Publisher Acquisition (North America), Ryan Stewart. What follows is a lightly edited version of his answers.

Outside Google itself, MGID is the first third-party platform to integrate with Google Web Stories. How did this come about?

Right now, publishers need to utilize a range of monetization tactics to remain competitive, so it’s important for us to provide new ways for them to do so in a way that goes beyond selling ad space alone.

We chose to partner with Google on Web Stories because it provides mobile-first publishers with a unique, quality-rich way for brands to engage with consumers via their sites, without compromising the integrity of their content.

How do Story Ads differ from other forms of native advertising and what are the unique benefits of the format for publishers?

Story Ads offer visually-rich, tap-through stories – viewable in Google Search, Discover and Images – which engage users with visual narratives, animations and tappable interactions.

Uniquely, Story Ads also increase searchability for publishers and provide users with immersive, fast-loading, full-screen experiences.

In this way, they provide direct monetization opportunities for publishers, enabling them to launch single-page ads with the same visual and experiential quality users expect from non-advertising content, while helping them improve their search rankings, thus becoming more likely to find new visitors to their sites.

Is revenue generation the primary focus for MGID’s publisher solutions?

Revenue generation is crucial, but I encourage publishers not to make this a goal unto itself, if possible. Publishers can generate more long-term success if they invest in engagement on their sites, rather than focussing too heavily on short-term monetization.

Instead of CPM or RPM (revenue per thousand impressions), we focus on ARPU – average revenue per user. We ask publishers, when someone is visiting their site, what are they doing when they get there? Do visitors bounce quickly, or are they engaged? Once they’ve read an article, what are they doing?

If publishers can find ways to improve dwell times, they create a cycle of continuing monetization. If we can get publishers more pageviews, not only would we be helping them increase revenue through native advertising, but also all their display and their videos. It’s a long-term, holistic approach to monetization far more powerful than focusing on scoring just one click.

How is media fragmentation making monetization more challenging for publishers in 2023?

Although digital ad spend has shown a 56% increase since the beginning of the pandemic, the media landscape is in a state of almost constant flux.

The plethora of channels and formats are giving advertisers a surplus of choice over where to spend their money. What’s more, cookie deprecation means that those that can harvest large amounts of first-party data are more likely to receive ad spend.

One solution for publishers is to focus on creating quality-rich, contextually-relevant advertising, while building an engaged audience base who are more likely to revisit the site, share personal data and click on related products — rather than potentially driving them away with too many ads. Ultimately, publishers that focus on the quality of their offering, and of their partnerships, stand a much greater chance of standing out in the crowd.

Generative AI is a hot topic in publishing circles at the moment, how is MGID approaching the technology?

We have already incorporated AI tools into our offerings for both publishers and advertisers.

For publishers, we offer an AI-based algorithm, designed to match monetization and retention goals to ensure engagement in both the short- and long-term. For advertisers, we use an award-winning, AI-based matching algorithm, designed to only show engaged users — with high intention to interact — relevant ads through content that has value for them.

How do you think publishers will use the new generation of AI tools, and how do you predict this will change how advertisers interact with them?

I think the interaction between AI and native advertising could take us beyond the typical three-by-two widgets approach to ads on-site, where everything looks the same and users are more likely to blank content out.

We need to start breaking the native mold with AI, by using the technology to present larger-scale, interactive pieces, similar to what we are now creating via Story Ads. Furthermore, with cookies now truly being a thing of the past, I think AI tools could offer great potential as targeting alternatives, paired with contextual, to deliver the right pieces of content, to the right users, at the right time.

Given that integrating Google Web Stories is part of MGID’s efforts to diversify its range of solutions, what other offerings for publishers can we expect to see from MGID in the coming years?

I view my job as giving publishers what they want when it comes to monetization, but also providing what is best for them in the long term. While we will continue to improve our offering when it comes to providing high CPMs for publishers, I’d also like to focus more on ARPU.

I think there is huge potential in using tools like AI to support more targeted, relevant and engaging native content, with increased long-term benefits for publishers. Part of that is creating a more genuinely useful experience for users visiting a site.

While I don’t profess to be able to see into the future, I think engaging users in a more meaningful way will be crucial to the success of both publishers and advertisers in the years to come.