Commentary

'Where's The Chase, And How Do I Cut To It?'

Here is what online publishers (of any size) can do to sell more display advertising than those they compete with. First, eliminate all ad unit placements below the fold -- or keep them, but use them strictly for bonus impressions to drive down the effective CPMs of deals you are trying to close.

The bottom of the page view is garbage in the eyes of those who buy your inventory, so why ask your sellers to sell it? Just dump it. Your sell-through will increase immediately for your paid impressions above the fold, where advertisers like to see their ads, and your salespeople won't spend another second defending impressions versus selling them. Once you do this -- and I mean do this with no exceptions -- share your new strategy with advertisers, and then ask them to consider how many of their paid impressions will appear below the fold, on sites you directly compete with.

Second, formally audit your internal numbers. Many of you are not measured by comCcore or Nielsen,  and all of you share issues with how those companies report Web site metrics. So use a third-party auditing service to instantly increase your credibility. The process includes scrubbing your internal numbers of double unique counts, non-human page views, international traffic, and what I think is the most dishonorable aspect of internal numbers, the inclusion of page views generated by your own organization and the ad agencies you call on.

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All of these numbers should get backed out of the internal metrics you present, regardless of how minimal they may be. And then stop, as best you can, from serving paid ad impressions onto these types of page views. Especially the page views you and your ad agency counterparts generate. Why should an advertiser pay for one single impression generated by the company that sold it, or the one that gets paid to buy it?

Now take this promise not to double-dip or serve paid ads irresponsibly, along with a physically printed audit statement verifying your internal site metrics, out into the market. And while you're there, ask your advertisers if your competitors have made the same promises, and have they presented their audit?

Finally, stop freaking out. Times as bad as these are when you can become great. Actively look to upgrade your talent and processes so you become easier to work with, while getting better at delivering what gets sold. The inclination is to upgrade sales talent, but my advice is to look inside first. Your operations team may need more head count or a tune-up. Too many publishers new to online fail to understand the revenue implications of a sub-par inside sales force and/or internal processes, so they don't invest in them. This is an ideal time to focus on your insides so revenue flows more simply once it's delivered to your front door.

We talk in circles about social media. We discuss Twitter in tweets, apps versus widgets. We talk about where the business is going or where we have gone awry. But we rarely talk about what business we are in. We're in the "we sell ads business," no matter how many different ways we keep inventing to describe it. Publishers who increase the bare basic value of the ads they sell this year will sell more of them than those who don't.

The title of this column is a quote from a television character who shared this line with a colleague while both were working at a convenience store. Feel free to post a guess as to who said this, along with further specific and actionable suggestions on how to do what it is we do, better.

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9 comments about "'Where's The Chase, And How Do I Cut To It?' ".
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  1. Nick Drew from Microsoft Advertising, February 5, 2009 at 10:51 a.m.

    Chris Griffin, Family Guy!

    Where do I go to collect my prize ham? :c)

  2. Bill Caspare from OggiFinogi, INC, February 5, 2009 at 11:10 a.m.

    Nice piece Ari, one metric I would include are ad abandonments. Not all ad impressions served are viewed from a pub page. Sometimes an ad loads slowly and often a viewer is long gone by the time the ad does load on the page. We're seeing abandonment issues ranging from 10-40% in some instances for rich media campaigns.
    To take note from you article perhaps this disclosure, as with below the fold, will not only provide advertisers a clear view of their ad spend with regards to ROI but will make publishers stand out against the competition.

  3. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, February 5, 2009 at 11:30 a.m.

    Bill, that is just a great suggestion.

    Nick, your prize is in the mail. I have a Family Guy addiction I believe is shared by many :)

  4. Mike Szczechura from James, Stevens & Daniels, February 5, 2009 at 11:35 a.m.

    your comment ... we're in the "we sell ads business", reminded me of a piece of advice that the CFO of the company where I was first promoted to ad sales management said... "you're managing a business first... you just happen to be in the business of ad sales". It's no more complicated than that...

  5. MASN MASN from Agency Project Management & Process Consultancy, February 5, 2009 at 12:36 p.m.

    Ari, I applaud your aggressive improvement approach. I agree that ads below the fold are problematic, but not sure I would dump them - perhaps change the rate structure. Some of us read to to the bottom, like Nick, who took you up on your TV character challenge.

    I strongly agree with you that this is a good time to focus on internal operations. Going into this mess the overall ecosystem of agencies/clients/publishers was messy at best. We are interdependent and need to align for success.

    In my blog, I have covered some of the ways agencies can help align and improve the ecosystem by embracing value-based compensation. Imagine the benefit if agencies, publishers and clients acknowledged and aligned around the fact that we're all in the, "we sell ads business,".

    http://pm2pm.blogspot.com/2009/01/advertising-agency-compensation.html

  6. Andy Jacobson from Cars.com, February 5, 2009 at 12:45 p.m.

    Good article, Ari. I have a couple of challenges with you assertions, however. First is that research shows that ads that appear below the fold DO make an impact. If this is the case, shouldn't advertisers want to utilize them to maximize their influence on users' behavior? Secondly, we have had several advertisers recently ask us for more (or different) ad units, located lower on our content pages. The rationale is that for sites with high engagement with content (and longer editorial), pages with ads only above the fold are missing an opportunity to influence the customer as they interact with content further down the page. Out of sight, out of mind.

    Given these facts, should we all provide advertisers ad placements that appeal to their perceptions or ones that have the greatest impact on brand and direct response and product sales metrics?

  7. Michelle Ritter, February 5, 2009 at 12:47 p.m.

    You're article was quite interesting and one of the few that I've read to very end. Although, sometimes I skip to the last paragraph and read the conclusion of an article that gets too "fluffy". The point here is, a well-written article will take the reader "below the fold". Based on that information, another approach may be to compare click through rates on your above the fold vs. below the fold ads and discount your impression rate accordingly. If the writing is interesting, readers are more likely to view the latter than the former.

  8. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, February 5, 2009 at 2:10 p.m.

    Michelle and Andy, I am not suggesting readers don't follow an article to the bottom of the page view, but a Leaderboard at the very bottom for example, is garbage in the eyes of many buyers.

    So in your cases, don't dump these ad placements but rather, use them strictly as $0 cost bonus impressions. You all have an unsold inventory issue and this helps alleviate that problem while providing greater value to the clients who buy from you. Make sense?

  9. Richard Bennett from ImServices Group Ltd, February 6, 2009 at 1:22 p.m.

    Ari,

    Well written!

    I represent one of those auditing companies and am heavily involved with this. I agree that one of the biggest problems facing publishers is that they do not fully understand their own measurements, particularly audience estimates derived from web or ad server logs. Today, few companies know how to apply the new IAB audience measurement standard, which is out for public comment. That standard provides guidance on how a company can adjust web log counts (for things like cookie deletion rates) to estimate audience. Using this new standard, a publisher should be able to derive an audience estimate which would be comparable to the metrics published by the well known research companies.

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