The Web portals may be losing ad market share to social networks and other emerging media, but they still represent the bulk of online display ad spending. A new report from investment firm Broadpoint AmTech looks at how the traditional portals Yahoo, AOL and MSN -- as well as new kid on the block, YouTube -- stack up in selling their most valuable real estate, the home page.
Based on tracking over the last few months, the study found Yahoo is still a key stop for brand advertisers, MSN had the dubious distinction of having highest share of direct-response ads, and YouTube's home page has emerged as a big promotional billboard for media and other companies. With its overhaul under CEO Tim Armstrong underway, AOL gets credit for being the most adventurous of the traditional portals in embracing non-standard ad formats. (Does that include the six new logos?)
Here are the key findings on how the portals compare:
Yahoo: Other than YouTube, it had the highest percentage of home page ads that we classified as purely for branding purposes, at about 33%. In addition to YouTube, it also had the lowest proportion of ads deemed mainly direct-response driven, at about 40%. Yahoo had the highest share of autos and food and beverage advertisers and the second-highest of CPG advertisers, after YouTube.
AOL: Deemed the most "creative" of the three old-line portals based on its willingness to use, with non-standard, expandable rich media units making up almost 23% of the total home page ads. While this approach may endear AOL to Madison Avenue, the report points out that AOL's out-of-the-box approach may not win out, since some users find the newer ads intrusive.
YouTube: The new star of the portal world has brand advertisers lining up to land on the video hub's home screen -- er, page. Media and telecom companies accounted for almost half of the home page ads encountered on YouTube -- more than twice the percentage for the next largest site, AOL.
Advertisers were mainly movie and TV studios promoting new releases in the day(s) directly preceding their premieres. "The fact that these ads are date-sensitive is a big win for YouTube, as it can charge a premium for specific guaranteed placements," noted Broadpoint analyst Ben Schachter.
MSN: The low-rent district among the four sites. About 57% of the MSN home page ads encountered in the first quarter were direct-response based, the highest percentage of the four sites that we analyzed. It also had the lowest proportion of branding-focused ads, at 21%, suggesting that it is not well-positioned for some premium brand advertisers.
Looking at industry categories overall, telecom and media advertisers were the biggest players, accounting for a combined 27% of home page buys, followed by financial services at 14%. When it came to display ad units on the home page, the report found that nearly all (93%) used some type of rich media, with 57% in standard sizes and using primarily Flash. It also highlighted the growing popularity of larger formats -- 28% were expandable or oversized ads.
Broadpoint plans to update the report on portal home page advertising on a quarterly basis.