|For premium publishers, the key to sustainable growth lies in how well they can monetise their audience through advertisers or direct reader revenue. Increasingly, this involves targeting narrower slices of the audience with specific content and advertising.
For all the talk about audience targeting, however, execution is lagging. A recent study by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism found that most news sites don't feature ads targeted to consumers based on their online behaviour.
Recent research by comScore found that behavioral targeting campaigns reached the intended audience only 36 percent of the time on average. Campaigns with a single demographic variable fared better, averaging 70 percent, although introducing a second variable dropped the average hit rate to 48 percent.
How can publishers improve their audience targeting capabilities, either for advertisers or to improve their own content offerings? Here are three ways to look a bit differently at audience targeting.
Find a new slice
Can you define a unique segment of your audience that appeals to premium brands or enables you to deliver customized content? NPR, for example, is using geolocation data to deliver localized feeds from affiliate websites on NPR.org.
"The localization experiment is really part of a wider effort to identify ways in which we can deepen our digital partnership with stations," Bob Kempf, GM of NPR's Digital Services division, told Poynter. "Assumed in that is the goal of deepening engagement and ultimately growing audience both locally and nationally."
In the B2B sector, segmenting web traffic by company is gaining appeal among marketers and publishers alike. Tech publisher IDG, for example, recently introduced a new advertising and lead-generation program that allows advertisers to target users who visit IDG's media properties and IDG TechNetwork sites from Forbes 2000 companies. The Target Account 360 (TA360) program lets media buyers deliver ads based on corporate IP addresses as employees visit IDG sites.
Visitors exposed to an ad on IDG website will be served retargeted ad impressions across the IDG TechNetwork of more than 480 sites. IDG is guaranteeing 688 leads from the list of target companies for each three-month campaign.
The program gives marketers a way to "surround and sustain a presence with tech prospects at many of the world's most prestigious companies," Charles Lee, an IDG SVP, said in a statement.
A word of caution: Don't go overboard selling segmentation. Advertisers still need scale for targeting programs to be effective. The narrower the slice, the smaller the available audience.
Get the audience to target you
Instead of putting up hard paywalls or registration barriers, consider using rewards and other exclusive perks to visitors in exchange for information. You can then use this data to create more robust audience profiles for delivering customized content or selling targeted advertising programs.
The value for visitors is they start to feel more like a member of a community than a passive reader, because their efforts are more participatory, and they receive something back for their contributions.
The UK's Guardian, which has been aggressively moving to an "open journalism" model, is taking this approach as it explores new ways "to turn its consumers from readers into a resource," writes the London School of Economics' Charlie Beckett. He adds:
"First, [the Guardian] needs to tap into their knowledge as a crowd to be sourced for information, insight and material. But it also wants to tap into their pockets, and to do that it needs more data about them. It wants to know much more about you, where you live and what you do. It wants you to tick the box that allows them to 'use this information to provide goods and services'."
GigaOm's Mathew Ingram suggests this model is "a lot more like a velvet rope than a paywall." He writes:
"So instead of just hitting a wall after a certain number of stories, readers who contributed comments or moderated the comments of others -- or provided other forms of useful data or labor -- might get a benefit that others wouldn't, whether it's access to certain content or an invitation to a real-world event they might be interested in."
Turn campaign compliance into an asset
Publishers tend to view online advertising verification services as a stick for campaign compliance rather than a carrot to attract premium advertisers. Media buyers use verification services to audit ad campaigns and ensure that publishers are delivering on above-the-fold placement and other parameters of an ad buy.
DoubleVerify, which says its verification tools are used on more than 60 billion ad impressions each month, is looking to turn that perception by positioning verification as a way for publishers to build trust in their brands and make their websites a more appealing destination to advertisers.
"Verification has been portrayed as a negative for publishers, but it's much more interesting when portrayed as a positive," C. Eoin Townsend, DoubleVerify's SVP of partnerships and business development, said in a phone interview. "But there should be a way for the buy side to understand that quality matters. When you get away from 'this is what you've done wrong' to 'this is what you do well,' it's a more helpful metric for publishers."
A recent comScore study found that 72 percent of campaigns resulted in at least some ads running next to content deemed "not brand safe" by the advertiser. In an increasingly commoditized landscape of ad networks and real-time bidding, publishers that can position their websites as trusted destinations featuring quality content could rise above the pack and attract higher-quality buyers.
This approach does, however, require exposing more data to systems such as DoubleVerify. Some experts believe the trade-off is worth it.
"There's a wealth of audience data that can be very relevant for brands and can drive a lot of efficiency and value," Legolas Media co-founder Yoav Arnstein told eMarketer. "But the platforms need to allow brands to feel comfortable by knowing who they are buying from and of what quality the content will be."
It's an opportunity that premium publishers should not ignore.