Content Heads Off-Site: Leveraging Audience Extension for Publisher Marketing Efforts

You Have the Programmatic Power

Not terribly long ago, audience extension seemed like more of a pipe dream than a reality for publishers. Though retargeting has been around since the early days of http cookies, it’s only in the last five years or so that the technology has caught up with its promise, enabling publishers of all sorts and sizes (as well as advertisers and technology providers) to reap the rewards.

So now that publishers are making audience extension work for their advertisers, why not also put that technology to work for internal initiatives? Pubs are already using on-site inventory and data targeting for their own marketing—think house ads and native content, for example. It’s easy to imagine pubs pushing house ads and content through existing programmatic pipes and across third-party digital properties, not just their own.

In that sense, there’s an opportunity for ad ops to use the technology already at their disposal to discover and target users via the same audience extension strategies they’re using for their advertisers. Ad ops is in a position here to become a marketing powerhouse, using audience extension not just as means of generating revenue, but also for building their own user base and strengthening the publisher’s brand.


From Retargeting to Extension

You can trace the concept of using audience extension for publisher marketing initiatives back to publishers’ desire to retarget house ads across their own properties. One example: Take a general news site that has several content categories or verticals. If a user visits the sports section, they’re added to a sports user segment. If that user later visits the arts and entertainment section, they can be retargeted with sports-related content.

Obviously retargeting is a major tactic for shopping sites, which will follow the user around the web, serving an ad for the TV or gaming console they were just browsing for. If shopping sites can do that, why not everyone else? A media company (news site or other) could increase site engagement by bumping up page views and delivering more personalized experiences.

From working with advertisers, ad ops teams understand it’s not enough to just drop in an ad, spend a certain amount of money and expect results. But by pushing internal content and marketing efforts beyond their own properties, they’ll have to figure out how to optimize for their best interests. Targeting for time of day or geo is part of that, as well as creative.

OAO Audience

Think Like an Advertiser…

Publishers turning to audience extension as a content marketing solution requires them to think more like agencies. It’s a mind shift of sorts, but it can be managed incrementally.

If you’re a publisher starting from a position of already running house ads on your site, it’s not too much of a stretch to run existing ads through buying platforms. If the results are positive – e.g. , and you want to continue with those efforts by spending more money, you’ll want to optimize on both audience segments and creative.

If you have a sales initiative, you might want several different versions of the creative, which would probably be different from the creative you’d use for branding themes. You’ll have to decide whether you have the resources to handle that in-house or to contract with a creative firm. Similarly, when it comes to optimizing on audience segments, you’ll want to consider factors like time of day, geotargeting, browser type and operating system, and you’ll have to decide whether you have the in-house ad ops resources to target and reach your audiences effectively or whether to outsource to an ad ops shop.

From an ad ops standpoint, pubs will have to consider the performance of audience segments, and factors like whether to create new audience segments based on particular demand. Let’s go back to the example of your sports news page. Is the New York-based user you’re trying to reach a Mets fan or a Yankees fan? If the World Series is coming up, is your baseball segment delivering suitable results (driving users back to your baseball content, or perhaps to your site’s store, where you can sell them World Series merchandise), or do you want to create a new World Series segment? These are all questions you can answer both with first-party data and with third-party data you can layer in, on your own or with an ad ops partner.

Just as agencies and advertisers do, it is essential to understand where your audience currently resides in your funnel. You would not serve the same message to a user who has never been to your site before as you would to a user who has been there frequently up until last month. Differentiating your strategies and messaging between prospecting, acquisition and retention can lead to increased efficiency in your efforts.

… But Remember You’re a Publisher

One important difference between publishers and advertisers, when it comes to a strategy like audience extension, is that there aren’t a ton of pubs that can make an “experimental” buy without great consideration. The key for the budget-conscious, small-to-midsize pub is to start small.

If that smaller pub is already working with a programmatic player, it can ask that vendor for pixels, drop them on content, create segments, get started with the targeting, send the vendor the creative, execute a small buy and look closely at the metrics. Once the pub does that, they can accelerate spend or simply sit on these insights they didn’t have before, with the knowledge they can do it again at a later date. Depending on how it performs, the pub can either outsource or hire to suit the need.

For the publisher, you can partner with a media buying system to execute the buy itself, but your advantage is your deep knowledge of your own audience. The analytics may come back saying your marketing campaign did really well on, say, Thursday through Saturday between 6 p.m. and midnight. When you know your audience, you can understand why that uptick makes sense and start to move spend around accordingly.

A publisher with a DMP relationship can further mobilize its knowledge of its audience. You know your audience likes baseball, but your DMP is telling you your audience scores highly against third party segments for truck enthusiasts. Why not use that DMP functionality to create a blended first-party/third-party segment of truck enthusiasts who haven’t yet been to your site? Now you can reach them on the exchanges and acquire new, repeated, and loyal users.

What about the users that might have been? You know your content, and you know the search terms that are driving readers to it. The old wisdom is to invest in SEO and SEM efforts to capture as many of these users as possible, but you can go further. Content consumers who have searched for terms relevant to your content but did not end up clicking through to your site can be found on the exchanges as well. Get the right creative in front of them and bring them home to your content.

Running marketing via audience extension, a publisher is in an interesting position of behaving kind of like an advertiser, even though there are some significant differences. Not every pub has a lot of budget to throw around—but on the upside, they have rich audience insights. It makes sense that pubs would eventually want to start using their own audiences to extend their own reach.

Where to Start

We bet your minds are extended with ideas now, but you probably have a simple question on top of all this: Where do I start?

Sponsored content may be a good place to start because spend on extension can be built into the campaign budget. Additionally, you could leverage social media and content marketing platforms to drive traffic to your creative. It’s an easy argument that directly buying media on third-party sites based on extension could prove more effective than leveraging other channels because there is far more control over targeting and frequency.

Good experiences with leveraging extension on sponsored content should fuel ambition—if it works on the sponsored stuff, why not the unsponsored? This could be a smart path toward enabling lookalike marketing to build unique traffic, which in turn can be good for revenue—and a lot safer than sourcing potentially bot-heavy traffic.

Ops has shown its fortitude in the programmatic sphere and audience extension in particular. Spread the wealth across departments, because you’re marketing squad could great benefit from smart targeting.