AdRoll Offering A Targeting Platform To Advertisers Says CEO Bell

AdrollAaron Bell is CEO of AdRoll, an online co-operative, advertising network. What’s been happening at AdRoll lately? Recession effects?

While we’ve dialed down some of our own costs (ahem – postponing the order for the office 72” plasma screen to showcase our world domination metrics), we’ve actually seen double-digit monthly growth despite the dour economic climate. This is likely because Adroll is focused on delivering tangible ROI for brands targeting hard to reach niche and enthusiast audiences.

In this economy, advertisers are looking for alternatives to premium ad buys. Adroll offers a cost effective way to access the same audiences available via premium buys by making sense of non-premium inventory. Our platform shines in its ability to “roll up” highly-targeted inventory found on niche sites and blogs. We determine the best placements for a brand by evaluating traditional metrics alongside peer recommendations we collect from publishers in the advertiser’s “in-crowd”. This data provides us with unique insights as to which sites are the most relevant and highly regarded within a niche, and allows us to make intelligent media recommendations that are richer than merely advertising across a vertical or keyword. In fact, we’ve seen a 3x greater click-through rate on campaigns run against the highest rated sites vs. a category at large.

Additionally, Adroll allows brands to extend beyond the banner, generating coverage and buzz on relevant niche sites and blogs through our promotion tools. We’ve recognized that many brands expend considerable energy compiling lists of blogs and contacts followed by reaching out to these sites with PR materials. Leveraging our recommendation technology, Adroll makes it easy and cost effective to pinpoint and communicate with sites and blogs appropriate for your brand.

How do you position AdRoll – as an ad network, vertical ad network(s)? What challenge is the company’s product solving?

With more inventory opening up and becoming consolidated through various means (exchanges, yield optimizers, etc.) the key problem for ad buyers is how to tap into this expansive pool and make use of it effectively. Today “non-premium” inventory represents 90% of available display inventory, but represents only 18% of the spend. Sure, a lot of this inventory is junk, but a lot of it is also high quality and attracts the most highly targeted audiences.

We like to think of our model as a “targeting platform.” Adroll excels at making sense of display advertising inventory by combining traditional quantitative metrics (eg. past performance, ad space placement and size, etc.) with qualitative judgments sourced from the peers in a site’s category. We’ve built the technology to make this scalable. Our holistic inventory recommendations have proven invaluable for advertisers who want to efficiently reach the right audience on the right sites. As an example, we’ve worked with a number of high end men’s fashion brands. We are a natural partner for them because they see that their advertising does best when it appears on the hippest fashion blogs. In contrast, their ads do not perform as well on sites categorized as “fashion” by a semantic engine or shown to an out-of-context user merely identified as in-demographic or a frequenter of fashion sites.

What’s your view on yield optimizers like PubMatic, Rubicon Project, AdMeld, YieldBuild, etc.? Are they partners or do you view them as a threat to AdRoll?

Everyone’s favorite can of worms these days. To the extent that yield optimizers evolve from outsourced publisher ad ops, and develop viable technology for advertisers, then these services are potential partners for us. If you optimize for publisher eCPM, and don’t consider the value and quality you’re delivering for advertisers, then you’re building something inherently unsustainable. Dollars will eventually fly to quality. It happened with eCPM-focused ad networks placing CPL/CPA ads a few years ago, and it will happen again. However, if they do evolve into real-time advertising marketplaces, then what makes them different from the established ad exchanges that already exist? At that point, the whole notion of “ad network optimization” is a bit of a red herring used to acquire inventory. That said, this optimization pitch resonates with publishers, even if the mechanics don’t entirely make sense.

Can any publisher participate? What is your target publisher market?

Yes, the idea is that any publisher can participate, but as with advertisers, we’re best suited for publishers who are focused on a niche or specific interest area. We provide a place for publishers to establish their identity and status in the online advertising ecosystem, and attract relevant advertisers by providing greater insight into their site’s audience. For example, AdExchanger could build a profile and establish its place as a top influential online advertising site and attract more advertising dollars.

Any publisher can join Adroll, establish their identity, and rate other publishers in their niche. We understand that the value of a publisher’s inventory can’t be captured purely based on number of clicks, traffic volume or cookie data. Thus, the rating process is designed to capture the qualitative aspects of what makes a site good for advertising.

And on the advertiser side, who’s a good fit and why?

Adroll helps advertisers who want to target specific niche and enthusiast audiences on the sites that their potential customers love. This tends to apply to smaller brands that sell niche products, but certainly can apply to larger brands as well. For example, we work directly with a natural foods startup that sells bake-at-home snack mixes, while we’re also working with a large agency on a campaign to announce Atkins’ new line of baking products.

In addition to advertising, we find many of our brands are interested in “grass roots” outreach. Since we’ve already established the best sites and blogs for the brand, we provide an ecosystem and easy to use communication tools that make this process scalable, transparent and effective.

What’s your view on ad exchanges?

Ad exchanges represent a sea change for the industry in that they create exciting opportunities for new types of businesses, and also render some existing business models obsolete.

Exchanges are interesting to us because our expertise is making sense of online advertising inventory and making it easy to buy. Our view is that the more sites we can access, the better job we can do providing the best bundles of niche sites for our advertisers. As such, ad exchanges represent a fantastic opportunity for us to apply our unique targeting methodology to larger pools of inventory and make it useful for advertisers. It’s not hard to create vanilla categories or channels of similar sites, but that doesn’t necessarily show you the best sites in those categories depending on your goals (e.g., most relevant to the category, best ad response rates within the category, etc.) That’s where Adroll excels.

AdRoll’s ability to offer audience targeting across the Long Tail would appear to be a good fit for an exchange – or plugging directly into buying platforms. Thoughts?

That’s exactly what we intend to do, and why the trend towards open exchanges is so exciting for us.

How do you manage brand safe experiences for advertisers? Do
brand awareness campaigns “work” on AdRoll or is it a DR opportunity only?

Our job is to scrutinize non-premium (e.g., medium to long tail) sites, and determine which sites represent the best opportunity for advertising, and which don’t. Because Adroll collects tens of thousands of “in-crowd” opinions on this inventory set, we have a unique view as to which sites are the most appropriate for brands. We also provide advertisers with transparency regarding the sites where they are seeing the most traction.

We work with advertisers who seek to strike a balance between brand awareness and response. We help brands target relevant sites that people trust, and in turn, this approach delivers great response. We believe these go hand in hand.

Any thoughts on how real-time bidding (RTB) and demand-side optimization may impact online advertising and AdRoll, in particular?

Real-time bidding allows us to get more sophisticated with our ad decisions, incorporating down to the URL and per user information into targeting. It will also allow us to optimize campaigns more efficiently.

Please explain AdRoll’s revenue model. Do you support text ads, standard display, rich media and/or video?

We keep a commission on the ad sales that run through our system. We also provide a set of free features: publisher profile/media kit, ad builder, and the communication tools that allow advertisers to interact with the site owners they advertise with.

In terms of formats, we currently focus on display ads including rich media and in banner video units.

Other than using AdRoll, of course, what recommendations would you have for publishers looking to grow a successful and profitable website?

Many small to medium size publishers have a targeted, valuable audience, but just don’t have enough visibility and scale to efficiently attract brand dollars. These publishers often turn to a remnant solution, where their inventory is sold relatively anonymously and primarily valued for the clicks received. We recommend publishers find ways to raise their profile by banding together with similar sites and advocating for domain and URL transparency for buyers wherever their inventory may be on the market.

Aside from that, the best thing publishers can do is to focus on their content and try to keep an advertiser’s goal in mind when laying out ad units. Now that the largest ad networks and ad servers are selling publisher’s inventory to the highest bidder, there’s less to be gained by meticulously optimizing a daisy chain or trying to swap through dozens of ad networks.

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  1. Varoujan Bedirian

    Wondering if a) availability of impression spot markets through Real-time Bidding and b) capability to layer these imps in real-time with most granular, user-level online data don’t supersede qualitative measures of optimization.

  2. Good points Varoujan. Our belief is not that RTB and cookie data aren’t useful. We simply believe that qualitative factors like the relevancy of a site, its quality, and reputation amongst it readers are also crucial variables in the effectiveness of an advertising campaign. These are fairly obvious statements in other marketing mediums. We also recognize that due to issues around cookie deletion, shared computers, etc (did we ever figure out how to reliably count a unique?) cookie data is simply a proxy for audiences. Given those short comings, we believe the environment where an ad is served should be considered, and has a strong bearing on the effectiveness of a campaign.