"The Sell Sider" is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.
Today's column is written by Alon Rosenthal, CEO and founder of WhizzCo.
In the last few years, content recommendation has been the subject of serious criticism related to the quality of the ads and content served.
In the content recommendation box, it often feels like we’re being shown too many click-baity articles about former child stars and much less content from top brands, which begs the question: Where are the brands? Are ad quality concerns keeping them away?
Many publishers initially added organic content recommendations to recirculate their content and increase time spent on-site. Under-article, well-below-the-fold ad placements were considered undesirable, and publishers offered them up at a low cost.
The early content-recommendation vendors bought up these inexpensive placements and displayed sponsored content recommendations that looked similar to the organic ones.
Over time, content recirculation was largely replaced by the advertiser willing to pay the highest price, and all too often those ads included content about child stars or diseases we hope never to have.
The pressure on publishers has been well-documented as print ad dollars became digital dimes. Add to that the uncertainty of COVID-19 and the newer challenges brought on by Apple and government regulation focused on user privacy. Given all that, I understand why publishers might be open to running lower-quality content recommendation ads.
That said, GeoEdge research shows that low-quality ad creative is one of the major issues that publishers feel they need to address, cited by 52% of surveyed publishers. According to WhizzCo’s internal research, over half of the publishers we recently surveyed are willing to forego ad revenue, some even more than 25%, to attract higher-quality advertisers.
So how can we recalibrate content recommendation to regain the trust of marketers and users while ensuring that publishers are optimizing their revenue opportunities?
Recirculate original content
The best place to begin is for publishers to go back to the initial content recommendation implementation – content recirculation. The recirculation of older but contextually relevant content has a proven track record of increasing user engagement and time spent on-site and creating more monetization opportunities. For publishers with multiple sites, content recirculation is also an opportunity to expose users to their other domains.
Years ago, Dow Jones first trialed content recirculation units on its own publications MarketWatch, Mansion Global, Realtor.com and parts of The Wall Street Journal. Digiday reported data showing that Dow Jones achieved a content recirculation click-through rate of 1.04%, which is much higher than most content recommendation ads.
We’ve all seen content recommendation ads for medications that appeared randomly below articles about sports or travel. What if that same medication ad had appeared in a more contextually relevant article about related healthcare issues?
There are relevant content marketing opportunities for all of the products and services which are being marketed via content recommendation vendors. And like the aforementioned example shows, an ad that would be highly irrelevant after or next to one article can be a top-performing ad next to more related content. I’ve personally seen that happen many times. But we as an industry have to do a better job of filtering ads that are so irrelevant they negatively impact the user’s experience.
Another content recommendation tactic that improves the user’s on-site experience while also increasing publisher revenue is intent-based targeting. With the end of the cookie coming, publishers are turning to other, privacy-friendly targeting tactics to add value to their advertisers’ campaigns and their bottom line. That’s why intent-based targeting is gaining traction with publishers and marketers looking to improve performance.
Whether showing car-related ads to the visitor who searched for an article about best SUVs or recommending articles based on the user’s in-site behavior, intent-based targeting enables publishers to effectively target visitors with relevant ads without invading their privacy.
By categorizing content according to a range of intent classifiers, publishers can have editorial content ready for a broad range of marketing opportunities. This, in turn, will increase revenue as better targeted, higher-paying content recommendation ads will be featured next to this content. According to internal research, over one-third of publishers surveyed either added ad-friendly editorial content or made editorial policy changes to this end.
Truth be told, I’m a fan of SpongeBob SquarePants, but we should leave the chum to Plankton’s Chum Bucket restaurant. Intent-based targeting, intelligent filtering and content recirculation are just three methods available today for content recommendation platforms and publishers to work together to raise user experience, time on site, and overall quality of ads. In turn, we will see more and more of the major brands advertising via content recommendations, with even higher-quality content, higher engagement and higher benefit for all.