Ad Wars 2011: The Publisher Empire Strikes Back
Intent is Timing
When you mention the word intent in online advertising circles the first thought is invariably Search. Of course Search has thrived as a destination site for intent but intent is not generated in Search. Intent is generated many other places and is moved to Search.
Most of all for advertisers, Search is a “right time” signal. It is easy to forget that only a few short years ago outside of seasonality and other established high-level market patterns we had little-to-no idea of when people were in market for certain items and even less of a clue about where they were in consideration lifecycles. The ability to get relevant messages in front of people at the very moment they are open to receiving communications is the paradigm shift that is Search Advertising.
Intent is Context
Search was not built alone. Search was built on the back of publishers. In return they got AdSense. Bum deal. Publishers have been left the scraps of the intent feast occurring every second on the web. You can argue that they haven’t cared about it until lately… and you would be right. Still, Pubs are the only other channel with the ability to capture intent and make it actionable in realtime. In fact, I argue Publisher side intent is more valuable because it contains one of the two pillars of optimization that Search does not – context.
Paid Search has collected 2 million advertisers clamoring for Intent data while Pubs are the ones literally hosting the intent party with no bridge for them to cross. Intent arrives at websites with every landing. Intent is generated by content and content is being generated to create intent. Visitors leave breadcrumb after breadcrumb of their intent yet intent bounces off Publishers at astounding rates. The Google>Site>Google click stream is all too familiar. Understanding timing and context publishers can build an endcap.
Relevance is Realtime
Among those that have been working in the realtime web the past few years there is little doubt realtime intent data is the key to unlocking higher media value for publishers. The measly CPM valuations we see today exist because pre-digital business models are being used. The CPMs of Paid Search – a purely digital price model - are often in the $200-$400 range and sometimes higher. Proof enough that the realtime value of media is an order of magnitude greater than the way it is being valuated now. Digital Publishers might as well take a Remington 870 and unload it at their feet with every I/O, Network Deal or RTB bid request.
Maybe the most important aspect of Search’s high CPMs is that those figures are generated based on performance. Search is an ROI driven channel. Lucky for Publishers, performance (at the hands of DSPs) is the only buying that has been growing in Display over the past few years. Even better for Pubs it has been growing on the back of crap third party data. Rule 1 on the buy side is the direct ratio of data quality to success – hence spend. Who just happens to be sitting on the best data? Publishers!
The Data Advantage
The data that Publishers can capture has numerous advantages over third party data:
Privacy: Publisher data is first party. There is a highly implicit understanding between site visitors and the sites they visit that their visit data will be used to help deliver a more relevant experience to the visitor either in-session or on the next visit. The FTC has already addressed first party data as not being part of the Do Not Track legislation.
Realtime: A handful of smart Publishers have been using real-time rules based content delivery for many years to improve their business results. Still, this thinking is just beginning to gain traction and the much bigger prize of using realtime publisher data to improve advertiser driven monetization is now real.
Context: There are some huge contextual advantages to Pub side data. One simple example (of many) is session depth. Any advertiser will tell you knowing the session depth that the ad is being served has tremendous implications to performance and thus value.
Audience: For many publishers about half the visits on any given day have been to the site before. This thick slice segment responds differently than new visitors. Registration, historical and trending data on visitors can be extremely useful to deliver relevance.
Two Sided Markets Not Four Sided Markets
All this data means little if Publishers involve themselves in markets that are created by and controlled by Advertisers because they will never see the true value of their media. In fact, that data value will continue to be scrapped off their sites unless they take active steps to prevent it. The time for being a lazy is over.
Paid Search and offline channels have shown that Advertisers will live with Publishers setting the rules as long as those rules can generate positive ROI. Advertisers are a smart and scrappy bunch when it comes to optimization. If publishers can pass along intelligent media advertisers can and will do the rest of the heavy ROI lifting as already shown with dynamic creative, landing page optimization and the like.
The answer is for Publishers to wrap their media with data. Advertisers are already paying for crap data. Often the crap data costs more than the media so just adding high quality data will increase the value of their media significantly and help advertisers. Of course this makes media valuation more difficult than the current options of leaving it up to advertisers to decide upon or pulling a number out of thin air but this will become more automated and more intelligent and realtime. It also opens up real partnership opportunities between advertisers and publishers based on the business intelligence that can be gleaned from the data exhausts. I have no doubt this is where we are headed.
May the Force be With You
2011 will usher in the decade of data that has been building over the past 5 years. There will be sea change in almost every industry as business strategy and decisions revolve more and more around data collection, data mining and actionable data. The outputs of efficiency, intelligence and relevance will cause a power to shift in virtually every vertical to those that can separate the signal from the noise. However the truly titanic shifts in power will be to those businesses that own the best data. In online advertising there can be no argument it is the Publisher.