CEO Frind Says Selling Your Site’s Data Will Reduce Your Site’s CPMs

Markus Frind is CEO of, an online dating site. The background is fairly well-known about Plenty of Fish (Inc. Magazine, 2009) – free dating site that has taken off with huge traffic and interest – and all built and serviced by one guy – you. Have things changed? Hire anyone?

MF: I don’t want to do everything myself. With over 100 million monthly visitors and 2.5 Billion monthly pageviews it gets complicated. We’ve hired a few people for customer service and to build out our advertising efforts. What are your thoughts about display advertising these days? Does it work?

Everyone is using the wrong metrics these days. What does CPM really mean in terms of business? I think a far better metric that we use is monetization per pixel. If a 728*90 ad has the same CTR and CPM as a ad a fraction of the size why would you ever use bigger ad formats?

The future of online advertising is not with bigger ad formats, or even existing ones. If you advertise on Facebook you will see 3 of their ad units fit in an existing skyscraper unit. But, on exchanges and elsewhere, you can buy their skyscraper cheaper than you can an individual ad!

A month or so ago, you launched a new self serve ad platform on Plenty of Fish. Why?

Existing ad exchanges, ad networks and others couldn’t effectively monetize our traffic, we have over 100 variables on each user such as age, gender, income, profession, where they like to vacation, if they prefer to eat out or in, if they are shy, etc. But, no platform could make use of this data. Our new system lets advertisers big and small target their audience down to a zip code level.

Any plans to leverage your new system across non-POF properties? Such as white-labeling or even creating an ad network?

Right now, our system relies on having a lot of information on each user such as age and gender. The vast majority of sites have inferred data or no data at all. This makes it very hard for us to white label our system outside of the dating/social networking space.

How do you sell inventory for Plenty of Fish? Are exchanges helpful or still a work in progress?

Ad exchanges simply can’t compete with our self service ad platform. Most companies in the advertising space are frantically trying to get more information about their users such as age, gender etc. We are swamped with so much information we don’t know what to do with it.

How much creative flexibility is there for the advertiser?

There is actually quite a bit of flexibility – the image as well as text can be customized. While it may not seem like a lot of room compared to the standard IAB units, there is a great variance in CTR between them as a result of minute changes. Ads with higher CTRs don’t always have the highest conversion. More so, on a site like ours the creative flexibility lies in being able to hyper target certain demographics and change your creative accordingly. The ad you show different demographics shouldn’t be the same. Single mothers and single fathers may both be your target, but they react and interact very differently with an ad.

Do you ever buy advertising? Any recommendations you would make to online marketers given your extensive experience on the sell-side?

I buy a lot of ads and I sell a lot of ads. Clicks mean absolutely nothing, if you are doing a major buy in 2 weeks take one week to get a baseline for your traffic, the moment you turn on those ads measure what delta from the baseline you have and measure what happens after you stop advertising. Yes view throughs are useful but measuring viralness of an ad spend is far far more powerful. If you are selling ads remember that no one is looking to waste money, no matter if you are selling CPM, CPA, or CPC everyone is backing it out to some number and seeing if they have positive ROI, if its positive they will spend more.

Are data exchanges such as BlueKai and eXelate a part of your revenue model? What do you think of data exchanges?

Definitely not. If you give out data, others will use that data to target ads. The end result is CPM’s on your site go down because the users have previously been exposed to these highly targeted ads on other sites. Moreover, the incremental revenue these exchanges offer is minimal compared to what the targeting information is worth when retained by us.

If you had to pick one or two key trends you see coming in the next 12-24 months in online advertising, what would they be?

Accountability and real measurement. If your ad buys are large you will know right away if you have positive ROI or not. In the case of a dating site, it’s by how many people sign-up. When I do an ad buy, I ignore all other metrics except what the delta in sign-ups are.

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  1. Timely article as Plenty of Fish made me think about re-targeting rules and best practice a few days back.

    “Someone” on their imac “next to me” at the coffee shop had a big “Plenty Of Fish User, come back” re-targeting message on their screen.

    1)Did they want that on their screen in public? What if that was on a presentation on a projector in a workplace?
    2)Should we maybe look at IP targeting in these cases that say “Only if IP address matches that of when logged in – serve this”
    3)What if it was his wife/girlfriend using that PC at home – would that advert not create some questions that may not want to be raised? He went to all that trouble of setting up a fake hotmail address to hide his activity; only to be foiled by re-targeting.

    I know that these cases would be rare, but; with those sort of numbers – they become more commonplace, therefore great case-studies for people on “The Hill” to feed to the press about what happens when people get ‘cookies’.

  2. Overall I think the article is very interesting.

    I think when it comes to reselling data reducing on-site CPMs, it does feel, however, that Markus should be charging more for his data. The data exchange concept is still very young but I think it is of paramount importance to the future success of all advertising.

    Putting privacy concerns to one side for now (controversial, I know, but that is best left for a separate discussion), irrelevant untargeted advertising is what gives advertising and advertisers a bad name. Any adverts about gardening products are effectively wasted on me (I have no garden), car insurance adverts currently fall on deaf ears (I have 10 months to go before I need to renew) and let’s not get started on all the female products that persist in taking up time that causes me to resent the channel they are advertised on.

    I appreciate Amazon’s ability to tell me what it thinks I might like and I wish this could be applied across the board as then advertising becomes less of an evil necessity and more of a service that people will come to appreciate.

    We are currently a long way from this but it is exciting that the building blocks for this vision of the future are slowly starting to become available.