The Boston Globe on Making Responsive Design Work for Advertisers and Readers
Vice President, Digital Products
The Boston Globe
In September 2011, The Boston Globe’s website was among the first to launch as a responsively designed site. The responsive design enabled the Globe’s content to adjust to any screen size automatically. eMarketer’s Tobi Elkin spoke to Jeff Moriarty, vice president of digital products, about the reasons behind the move and the advice he'd offer other publishers contemplating incorporating responsive design into their sites.
eMarketer: What was the motivation for The Globe’s shift to responsive web design?
Moriarty: We did a lot of research into what people wanted from us, and what they wanted was a familiar design that replicated a newspaper reading experience. We had a short window in which to launch and wanted to reach as many users as possible. Believing in the future of mobile, we went down the path of building BostonGlobe.com as our responsive website.
eMarketer: What role did advertising play in making this shift?
Moriarty: The Globe site was intended to be a subscription site first and an advertising product second, so it was somewhat unique from that perspective. This really allowed us to do a lot of the responsive web work because the advertising part of it is pretty complicated. We used ad units that could easily move from one part of the page to the other, and then could easily fit on different screen sizes. We relied on the 300 x 250 banner unit, which kind of floated around the page depending on the size of the screen.
“We used ad units that could easily move from one part of the page to the other, and then could easily fit on different screen sizes.”
We also started to do an experiment with some responsive ads that adapted themselves to the screen size that users were on. The units resized, removed information or added information depending on the size of the screen. Those ads could go on tablets and mobile devices.
eMarketer: How does responsive design force you to think differently about advertising?
Moriarty: A couple of years ago that was a much harder conversation to have because everyone was pretty locked into standard IAB ad units and there wasn’t any discussion about other types of units. Native solutions and sponsored content actually lend themselves more to responsive design than traditional ad units.
“While it’s very early days for the concept of responsive advertising, I do know that a lot of publishers are moving in this direction.
There’s no real standard for a responsive ad unit yet, although we have tried some things. We ran a JetBlue campaign on BostonGlobe.com over a year ago that involved a responsive ad, so we’ve seen advertisers are interested in experimenting with it. While it’s very early days for the concept of responsive advertising, I do know that a lot of publishers are moving in this direction.
eMarketer: How has the move to responsive web design impacted ad performance and the way the ad sales team sells inventory?
Moriarty: I think we have seen that the ads perform well on BostonGlobe.com and for now the advertisers are fine with the ads sort of moving across to different parts of the page, depending on the screen size. In particular, the 300 x 250 unit works across a lot of different screen sizes. The 300 x 250 units are like the workhorse for all screen sizes right now. The advertiser response to that has been pretty good.
The conversation with advertisers has been a positive one from the beginning, and I think sponsored stories and native advertising in general lend themselves very well to a responsive site. [But] I wouldn’t say that the team is selling responsive ads right now. Our sales team is selling a single audience across all devices and they’re not focused on selling a technology.
“Once you get to a large-scale site and you have to think about responsive images or responsive video units, it’s definitely a major investment in technology and expertise.”
eMarketer: What would you advise other publishers that are considering a move to responsive design?
Moriarty: Make sure that you have the infrastructure to support a responsive site in the right way. There are some really easy ways to do responsive web design and they can work on a certain level, but once you get to a large-scale site and you have to think about responsive images or responsive video units, it’s definitely a major investment in technology and expertise.
Responsive does require more testing. Publishers have to look at how things are working across different devices at the same time. It also requires them to think about the payload and making sure that they’re not pushing too much to mobile users and degrading their experience.