Where Content and Ads Come Together

  |  July 1, 2011   |  Comments

Dynamic ad slots, customized user pages, dropping ad calls...just some of the ways content management and ad management can work more closely together.

At the time, I would love to think it was my charm, but I have a feeling it was a combination of timing and the fact that my office was next door to his that made our CTO stop by and ask the question, "Can you give me ad ops' requirements for our new CMS (content management system)?" Now, realize this doesn't happen to every ops department head and I'm sure I stared in amazement for a few awkward moments before letting him know I'd write them up as quickly as I could. I then began to consider the possibilities.

For most publishers, the only ad requirements for a CMS is to designate "holes" in the page templates where the ads go. Some CMS platforms allow for multiple permission levels, and if your CTO trusts you and your team, you might even be able to access these holes and control if one or multiple ads ran in them. Other than that, you'd settle for the CMS to pass on the proper parameters for targeting, and once that was in place, those responsible for the CMS platform and ad operations would seldom have a reason to speak.

But I had been granted an opportunity to think beyond the normal implementation, and while I never saw some of my ideas come to fruition (I left that job before the project was completed), I have long thought that content management and ad management needed to work more closely together. Some of these concepts I've seen implemented, others I have not, and I'd love to hear if anyone is really pushing the boundaries of what can be done.

Dynamic ad slots. Let's face it - without standard ad sizes, online advertising would never have left the dark ages and seen continued growth. Those same standard ad sizes have also lead to commoditization of ad inventory and perhaps worst, "banner blindness" by users who quickly become accustomed to ad sizes and placements on the page and teach themselves to look the other way. By offering new ad sizes in new locations on the page, publishers can create unique ad products for advertisers looking to stand out from the crowd...and pay for it.

I'm going to make the assumption that most CMS platforms will allow for these custom executions in one way or another. Most likely, this is a manual process: for the days of a specific campaign, the template is changed and editorial and operations teams have to coordinate to make this work. I think this is an area where operations, editorial, and technical teams could work up new requirements and work with the CMS provider to create more automated tools. Perhaps templates could be scheduled to change instead of manually switched. It's something I'm sure could be improved.

Customized user pages. I'm not the first to suggest that web pages could be customized by user, but is anyone doing this based on the page and user's revenue potential? A publisher's audience is a mix of faithful followers to one-page-and-gone visitors. It also consists of audience segments that advertisers will pay top dollar for and duds that even the reduce-your-belly-fat marketers aren't interested in. Yet, all of these users get the same page template with the same ad units in the same places. Efficient yes, but not optimized for maximum yield. My dream CMS would determine, based on what we know about the user, which content/ad combination they would get. My "auto intender" who is in market for a car could get a news story page with only a 300x900 car ad, while my "entertainment seeker" might see a laundry list of ticket offers in various ad units on the same page.

I can anticipate two objections at this point. First, inventory management with ever-changing pages would be a nightmare. My response - it's solvable and we need to push vendors to provide solutions that are user-focused on the sell-side not just the buy-side. Demand solutions.

The second objection would be about the user experience and the importance of the publisher brand. Granted, you want users to know they are on your site and to be able to navigate to your other content. I think both can be done, and, in fact, if you are optimizing a page for maximum revenue, you want to give them a reason to stay on the site. Two pages make more money than one. But if you've done your web analytics homework, you'll probably find that most users are only on the site for one or two pages. In other words, giving every user the same, consistent experience doesn't matter - most users don't even notice.

If you don't believe me, I highly recommend Jonathan Mendez's blog. Jonathan is very passionate about publishers realizing the value of their audiences, and I think he would agree with me on this point.

Drop ad calls. Not only do you want to make the maximum revenue per user, you also want to reduce ad serving costs whenever you can. Yet, page after page is served with the same ad calls netting marginal revenue. I'd love a CMS that allows me to stop serving any ads to someone after 10 pages unless they are in a valuable audience segment. I would think this could reduce costs significantly for many publishers.

Manage tags and page load. Tag management requires its own article, but suffice it to say, how well a CMS and a tag management solution work together should be a deciding factor in which systems you use. I'd also say that page latency with tags and ads is a huge issue, and a CMS system that can mitigate latency issues or can work with a solution like GhostWriter is a must.

Learn from the past year. My last thought is that with the launch of the iPad and tablet devices, as well as smartphones becoming ubiquitous, content is being displayed in all sorts of new ways on different screen sizes. Hopefully your company is already trying to address this and has created new opportunities for editorial, technology, and operations to work together. Build from that opportunity to take the conversation further. Start working with these other departments on a perfect blend of content/advertising.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rob Beeler

Rob Beeler is vice president of content and media for AdMonsters, a global community of ad operations and technology leaders. Rob's responsibilities include developing content for AdMonsters forums in the U.S., Europe, and online.

Rob Beeler joined AdMonsters in October 2008 after nearly 10 years at Advance Internet. At Advance Internet, Rob started as the only ad operations person and developed a department of 15 people in eight locations across the country responsible for operations, project management, business development, Web analytics, and financial reporting, becoming executive director of ad operations and analytics in early 2007.

Rob graduated from Syracuse University in 1990 with a dual major in Producing for Electronic Media/English.

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