Ancestry Drives Sales, Not Awareness Via Content Marketing

Ancestry 2For the past three years, Ancestry has used content to drive sales, writing and promoting blog posts like “Do You Have Royal Blood?” to encourage people to buy its product.

This strategy goes against conventional wisdom, in which banners are typically meant for driving sales and content to drive awareness.

“Every piece [of content] we create, we’re hoping to get a subscription or Ancestry DNA signup,” said Ancestry head of content marketing Steve Dalton.

Ancestry produces a steady stream of posts, anticipating some will be hits. Then it uses platforms like Outbrain, Taboola, Yahoo Gemini and Facebook to distribute them, making adjustments as needed.

When Dalton optimizes on Outbrain, for example, he’ll adjust the cost per click and add country-level targeting and daily caps.

A newer feature on Outbrain is the ability to optimize articles by publisher. If readers of a specific website only click on two of its four headlines, for example, Dalton can dial up the budget in the top-performing ones and scale back on the poor ones.

One reason that content recommendation modules are so efficient for Ancestry is because its posts tend to have high click-through rates and engagement, lowering the cost per click.

Although content marketing isn’t Ancestry’s most efficient channel, it generates high engagement. “The audience is much less qualified, so I don’t convert quite as many,” Dalton said. “But when they do, they stick around longer.”

His theory on why that is? “We try to create a hook in there, about ‘What kind of discoveries could I make?’ That makes the experience more personal than other landing pages.”

A two-year-old post about actress Vanessa Williams’ discoveries using the AncestryDNA kit, for example, continues to be a top performer because it highlights her surprising heritage.

Ancestry primarily creates the content itself, though this year it started working with other publishers, like LittleThings, to display Ancestry content on its site. Right now, it’s tough to make those relationships meet the company’s CPA goals.

“It tends to be expensive [to work with publishers],” Dalton said. “Publishers want to do things on a CPM basis, and the way we run our program, CPM doesn’t work for us.”

Alternative models where it works with publishers, like giving sites free articles authored by Ancestry, show greater promise.

Ancestry’s focus on direct response has revealed that what can be great for getting the word out about the Ancestry brand doesn’t always drive sales.

Earlier this year, The New York Times published an article that proved using Ancestry data that President Warren Harding had a child with his mistress.

Because it mentioned Ancestry, Dalton’s team seeded the article across its network, including on Outbrain, hoping the mention would drive sales.

“It had a fantastic click-through rate, but drove no conversion rates whatsoever,” Dalton said. “That was a surprising one.”

Because Ancestry looks not just at click-through rates, but sales, it was able to optimize accordingly when the post failed to perform from a direct-response perspective.

“Some posts will kill it in one channel, but not do as well in others,” Dalton reflected. That “highlights the needs for testing and trying different angles and different channels with all your pieces to see what sticks.”

While many brands are still tentative about making mobile investments, Ancestry spends heavily there. Conversions are lower, but so are the costs, making mobile a “huge share” of its content marketing ad spend, Dalton said.

As native advertising expands, Ancestry is being armed with more tools, targeting and wider coverage among publishers, all of which make content marketing more efficient and scaled for the company.

Dalton suspects other advertisers will join him in using content marketing for direct response soon enough.

“There are advertisers with awesome products that can tie a hard metric to [content marketing], and they just haven’t realized what that KPI is,” Dalton said. “If you pick a goal, you can definitely make native ads work.”

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1 Comment

  1. The article does not mention that Ancestry has angered many of its long time subscribers because of its change to New Ancestry, which is new format with reduced functionality and a color scheme many find very unpleasant. For months Ancestry users provided feedback, with almost no acknowledgement from the company, which further angered customers.

    Today Ancestry announced that it is discontinuing its Family Tree Maker software which enables users to sync and back up their online trees to their computers. Family Tree Maker, which has a number of other nice features customized reports and charts has been in use for over a decade. Discontinuing it is sure to further enrage customers.

    It almost seems as if Ancestry is trying to drive its customers away.