If you thought vertical ad networks were a fad fated to founder next to their more general counterparts, a new comScore research report will have you tipping your hat to these industry newcomers. According to a study of vertical networks -- in essence subject-specific ad resellers -- their collective reach has increased over the past year from 21.5 percent to over 57 percent. Whereas in March 2008, vertical networks reached 40.3 million unique visitors in the U.S., that number ballooned to 109.8 million in March 2009.
Additionally, vertical ad networks were found to be effective at reaching Internet users with "significantly higher than average engagement" in their preferred content category (e.g., gaming, entertainment, and health), with consumers spending at least 60 percent more time interacting with that category than the average site visitor.
What's responsible for this increased reach and engagement? The vertical network space owes its newfound fame in part to new partnerships and new technologies that secure new users and improve business operations.
In January, MTV Networks (MTVN) introduced a comedy-themed Tribe, its term for its collection of vertical networks. The new Tribe includes sites like Comedy Central, JibJab, and Fark.com. This month, automotive research site AutoTrader.com launched a vertical network called AutoTrader.com Access that's intended to reach in-market car buyers on related category sites.
Also assisting vertical networks in keeping their growth momentum going strong is the wide release of Google subsidiary DoubleClick's Network Builder. The tool is designed for building and managing ad networks. In addition to integrating core DoubleClick products, like DART for Publishers (DFP), it provides a partner portal where site partners can directly access their sites' performance and reporting data. Plus it simplifies financial reporting and partner payouts.
Vertical networks are in no small part affected by the news that vertical ad network platform Adify Corp. -- which many vertical networks, including AutoTrader Access, employ -- has launched a product that's meant to simplify cross-network buys for agencies and advertisers. The new Adify Media service consolidates the over 150 vertical networks using the Adify Network Builder platform to create private marketplaces for advertisers and a customized and specialized media buy.
Whereas vertical networks for such content categories as travel, technology, beauty and environmentally conscious living already exist, there's still space for newcomers if they pick a popular genre. One to watch is Gourmet Ads, another Adify partner that launched in July 2008. The gourmet food, wine, and beer network was created by Benjamin Christie, an Australian celebrity chef who also has his own popular food site and blog (look for him on Twitter at @gourmetads, too). The network started targeting U.S. sites in January and is up to 33 million monthly American page views and 42 million page views globally. Gourmet Ads will launch additional BBQ and coffee verticals to further entice advertisers searching for food-loving home cooks and wine drinkers who purchase quality cookware and appliances, drink wine with dinner, and visit wineries several times each year.
Established vertical networks are, of course, doing their part to boost reach and readership. Top women's network Glam Media launched Glam Family last year and has since added womensforum.com. Tech-themed network NetShelter Technology Media, now with 90 million unique monthly visitors worldwide, ranked fourth last year among the fastest growing sites. Its growth can be attributed to efforts like Top Tech Gifts and Last Gadget Standing, two microsites the network built to leverage the expertise of editors from numerous sites within the NetShelter network.
Despite talk of the network space being too oversaturated to support such content-specific advertising businesses, vertical ad networks continue to demonstrate their value by exhibiting their massive reach. Keep an eye on the big ones and watch for new offerings to emerge in the year to come.
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Tessa Wegert is an interactive media strategist with Enlighten, one of the first full-service digital marketing strategy and services agencies, serving such brands as Bioré, Bratz, Food Network, illy, Hunter Douglas, Jergens, and Olympic Paints and Stains. An industry veteran, Tessa has worked in online media buying and planning, marketing, and online copywriting since 1999. She is an active freelance writer specializing in interactive marketing who has contributed to U.S. and Canadian publications, including "USA Weekend Magazine," "Marketing Magazine," "The Globe and Mail," and "The Montreal Gazette." She is frequently quoted as an industry expert and speaks regularly at industry conferences and events.
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