Publishers’ New Lifeblood in the Age of Programmatic Ad Buying

Publishers’ New Lifeblood in the Age of Programmatic Ad Buying

By: Katie Risch

There’s something rotten in online publishing. I’m no Shakespeare, but we’re an industry under siege.

The rise of programmatic ad buying is devaluing and commoditizing our lifeblood (our owned and operated inventory). As a result, some people are compromising user experience by piling on more ads and artificially inflating traffic numbers — hoping to boost their financial performances. In the process, they’re straining relations with two important stakeholders: the site visitors and the advertisers who pay to reach them.

Introducing the new lifeblood of publishing: audience data.

You know how visitors get to your sites, spend time there, read and share content, click on ads, and interact with brands? It’s already in your arsenal, and advertisers will pay for it — you just need to activate it. The end result? Higher CPMs for inventory on both owned and operated sites, a keen understanding of your site audience, and more profitable partnerships with advertisers. Here’s how to get started:

  1. Use a data management platform.

DMPs help aggregate, store, and analyze first-party audience and campaign data, giving you a more complete picture of the people who visit your site.

In a 2015 Econsultancy survey, senior marketers cited both centralized control and standardization of existing first-party data — as well as personalization across channels — as major benefits of using DMPs. The technology makes it easier to access user data from third parties so you know how audiences behave on your sites and other sites.

So while competitors are claiming they reach middle-aged men, you can present where these men live, their interests, what ads converted for them on the site, and what ads were successful when retargeted. Use the DMP to demonstrate the prominence of first-party data over third-party data. That’s something advertisers can’t buy anywhere else.

  1. Reach audiences outside of your site.

A DMP allows you to understand and dissect your audience. With such valuable knowledge, you can increase the value of your data by finding those (or similar) customers on other sites. Through a demand-side platform (DSP), you can offer more inventory to your advertisers by buying ad impressions on their behalf across other sites.

You’ll go from a typical transactional vendor to a strategic powerhouse. Find audiences even if they leave your site, and create look-alike segments.

If a marketer spends $100,000 with a publisher to target new moms, there’s likely a finite audience on the publisher’s site. To justify a budget increase, the publisher could show that it can also reach more new moms on any site and device. It’s a value proposition that’s hard to turn down.

  1. Team up with similar publishers.

Another way to get the most value from your data is to join forces with like-minded publisher peers, and form a coalition ad marketplace. This way, you can present a huge audience pool that will meet the requirements of virtually any RFP. You’ll be able to share data with your publisher partners and create a larger audience segment than what you currently have.

You won’t dilute your audience and inventory quality as long as your group maintains certain standards. Consider open ad marketplaces — they don’t discriminate publishers and tend to homogenize impressions, which is a problem when lower-standard, long-tail publishers join the mix and lower the value of brand-name publishers. An open platform can cast a wider net of advertisers, but this can attract questionable marketers who only want cheap inventories.

Yes, our current business model is at risk, but that doesn’t mean publishers should be sacrificing user experience — and doing so will only hurt them in the long run. It’s time for publishers to shift their focus to audience data to drive their businesses into the future.


katie rKatie Risch is the senior vice president of publisher development for Centro. Katie leads the company’s strategic relationships with more than 10,000 publisher partners. She has helped publishers integrate Centro’s technology solutions to drive revenue and grow their business.

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