It's been six months since The Online Publishing Association released a study claiming that ads on content sites proved more effective than those on portals. But a lot has changed in that time, most notably a reduction in ad spending spurred by a collapse in world financial markets.
So OPA decided to look again in an effort to determine whether the economic downturn had any impact on its initial findings. What it found was that tough times might actually be good news for publishers of content sites.
According to a new OPA study being released today, ads on sites with original content (think Web sites for newspapers or TV networks) had actually improved their scores for effectiveness in recent months in comparison to ads on non-content sites (such as portals like Yahoo or ad networks that may represent inventory on social networks, e-mail or other pages).
"As budgets are being further scrutinized and people are looking for a better return on investment, we wanted to see if the metrics are changing," Pam Horan, president of OPA, said. "What we found is that now more than ever OPA sites outscored industry norms across all 47 ad metrics."
While it is hardly surprising that a group dedicated to the promotion of content sites would suggest that such sites are the optimal place for your ad dollars, it is worth noting that OPA's findings are based on an analysis of Dynamic Logic's MarketNorms database, a standard industry tool for measuring the effectiveness of ads, and do not represent its own research.
The data show that since July, aided brand awareness scores on OPA member sites have increased 38 percent, while scores on ad networks have declined 19 percent. It also shows that brand favorability scores for OPA sites have risen 27 percent, while the scores for ad networks have dropped 29 percent, and portals have dropped 17 percent.
Precisely why ads on content sites would become more effective as the economy worsens is anyone's guess. But Horan said the findings make it clear that quality content is always more engaging and hence a better environment for advertising.
"The key thing here is that everyone is trying to figure out how to spend smart right now, and the reality is you get you pay for," Horan said.
The numbers also suggest that content sites hold even greater sway over younger audiences: Web users aged 18 to 34 were found to be almost twice as likely to form favorable opinions of brands advertised on content sites than on portals. Horan said such data flies in the face of much of the conventional wisdom regarding younger audiences.
"We found that 18- to 34-year-olds really are looking for content online," she said. "[It] isn't just about MySpace and Facebook. They really are coming to the Web for content."
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Douglas Quenqua is a journalist based in Brooklyn, NY who writes about culture and technology. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Wired, The New York Observer, and Fortune.
March 19, 2014