Mobile Web Is Paramount For Small And Medium-Sized Publishers

DanielMeehanPadSquadNative app or mobile web? The debate continues – but the answer isn’t necessarily black-and-white.

“Big branded publishers need an app – but they also need a definitive mobile web strategy,” said Daniel Meehan, founder and CEO of PadSquad, a mobile publishing company that specializes in mobilizing content for its network of mid-tier independent publishers like music site This Is RnB, tech blog Gadget Review, Mom Trends and entertainment site Snakkle.

Founded in 2012, the NYC-based company, which has a headcount of 15, also maintains relationships with brand advertisers, acting as a kind of liaison between them and the publisher sites. PadSquad helps develop mobile-friendly ad creative and target it to the relevant sites it serves.

Its mobile software sits in a publisher’s content-management system and recognizes what device website visitors are using and where exactly they’re landing. Its code then stops the HTML from loading the publisher’s desktop templates and re-delivers the content and images in a layout designed for mobile devices.

“We control access based on the brand and their campaign goals,” said Meehan. However, PadSquad’s strategy for small and medium-sized publishers doesn’t necessarily work for the bigger guys.

“The Condé Nasts of the world would probably tell you that in many cases the traffic to their website is five or 10 times more than what they’re seeing on the native app side, which is why they’re starting to see how valuable a place the mobile web is to monetize their content,” Meehan said. “Even so, they need to have a native app in addition to mobile web.”

For the smaller guys, the script is likely flipped.

“In many cases, their mobile audience is bigger than that of the larger branded publishers, but they can’t demand that their users go to a native app, if they have one, because they get most of their traffic from organic search and social referrals,” he said. “The mobile web has become their main – or sometimes even their only – way to distribute their content and monetize it.”

Meehan chatted with AdExchanger.

AdExchanger: How are you positioned in the marketplace?

DANIEL MEEHAN: Some people think of us as responsive web design in a box for publishers, but we’re not actually a responsive-design company because we don’t ever touch the desktop. We adapt what someone already has for mobile.

What kind of clients do you have?

Our core target is on the publisher side, but not really your typical brand publisher. We’re not talking to, Hearst or ESPN and their portfolio of sites. We’re talking to the next tier down, the mid-tail or mid-torso of the Internet. A typical client would be an independently owned-and-operated website or blog or an independent media company company that has 15 or 20 digital properties.

Our business model is pretty straightforward: We offer a free software-as-a-service to our publishers.

How do you make money?

We power the user experience for every pageview across the hundreds of websites we work with and then we monetize those pageviews. We have an ad-supported model through our direct sales teams in New York and Chicago, who source deals with Fortune 500 and Fortune 100 brand advertisers like Verizon, Disney, Walgreens and others.

In many cases, agencies from some of the larger holding companies will buy media from us and then we work with their creative teams to create HTML5 rich media ads in-house on behalf of their clients. Once the creative is approved, we traffic and distribute it based on the target audiences across all of the websites that our software powers.

What kind sites are in your network?

It’s pretty broad. From a high level, we have women’s lifestyle sites, things like parenting and crafting, and men’s lifestyle sites. We power technology and gadget review sites and consumer electronics sites.

We’re also fairly broad from an audience perspective. In a way, we see ourselves as a master publisher with one tech stack and inventory pool that’s controlled by us. The content on the sites in our network drive unique audiences and we serve as the gatekeeper to it for the marketers that we work with.

How do you know it’s brand-safe?

We exclusively power our publishers’ sites, which is a pretty unique thing in our grey mobile and digital ecosystem, where a lot of business is being transacted programmatically and through [real-time bidding]. People access the same kind of inventory from numerous different vendors.

But with us, advertisers and agencies know that the property they’re advertising on is always going to be brand-safe. They know exactly where their media is running. It’s simple: Either we power a website using our software or we don’t. We’re not a black box that needs an advertiser to provide a whitelist of sites in order to work. We’re not using a secret algorithm to deliver the assets to our audience.

Speaking of audience, what’s the the size of yours?

According to comScore, our reach is about 34 million, but our internal data lists us closer to the high 40s. Just like in many cases, there’s a disconnect between internal and third-party numbers.

Mobile web vs. app – I’m sure you guys are thinking about that debate all the time.

We are, for sure. We see ourselves as the next evolution of digital media company. We focus on mobile because that’s where consumers are continually going to connect with content. We’re trying to replicate on the mobile web all of the good things you can do on a website from a publisher’s perspective. There’s been a pretty big gap there over the last few years and we’re trying to fill it.

What makes more sense for publishers, mobile web or native app – or are they not mutually exclusive?

Our publishers focus on the mobile web. That being said, I definitely think that large and even medium-sized publishers can and should have a native app presence. If you have a big enough brand identity, you can dictate how consumers move through your distribution system. You can get people to download your app, which also means you’ll then have a presence on their device’s home screen.

That said, in many ways, a bigger publishing company like Condé Nast, for example – and we know those guys because we sit on the IAB’s Tablet Advertising Committee with them – embodies the mobile problem facing all publishers. They have to spend so much time, effort, resources and money developing and maintaining their app – and on top of that, they need to promote it in a completely crowded ecosystem.

Can you share a real client example from your files?

Advertisers aren’t seeing value from a 320 by 50 mobile ad unit. There’s serious banner blindness going on and you can’t really position anything from a messaging perspective on something that small.

As a company, we’re tasked with taking content and making it more digestible on small screens. But we hang our hat on top-of-the-funnel brand awareness, not direct response. We’re not an app install-style solution.

A good example of that is the campaign we built for Macy’s, which won [Bronze at] the Smarties [in 2014]. It involved a cool, custom rich-media unit for tablet devices. Basically, we created a lookbook. We took images from a high-impact Macy’s photoshoot and replicated them in a way that worked for mobile.

Apple recently announced record revenue for its developers. It seems like that’ll spur more spend to drive more installs. Things seem to be going well now, but is there an app bubble and will it burst or at the very least plateau?

It’s hard to say, but if you look at the data, Nielsen found that people were using an average of 23 apps per month in 2011. By Q4 2013, that number hadn’t changed very much, increasing by only an app or two.

That speaks to the question: How many apps can a human actually use on a monthly basis? Even in the gaming space, you see game companies that have huge spikes and unbelievable runs over a couple of quarters or a year – and then there’s the fallout factor. People delete one game and move onto the next cool one that comes up. It’s somewhat of a vicious cycle. PadSquad has simply decided to attach ourselves to a different problem in the industry.

Google recently announced that it’s testing mobile-friendly tags. What are your thoughts?

More and more digital publishers are seeing their readers come to their content via mobile devices. Search referrals are a huge part of that.

We see Google announcing that they’re going to start labeling search results based on whether they’re mobile-friendly or not as a precursor to a future where that label will become part of their algorithm. When that happens, it could mean that content that performs better on mobile will be ranked better in the search results.

Search wouldn’t just be about metadata and SEO – it would be about mobile-friendliness, too.

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