Building Advertiser Value

In the last several columns, we’ve been talking about creating successful advertising-funded sites. In today’s column, we’re going to look at the cornerstone of building advertiser value — information on your target audience.

There are a variety of ways to gather information on your visitors, but all of the many methods fall into one of two categories.

Census techniques systematically gather information on each and every registered user (and ideally on every visitor), while sampling techniques obtain information by surveying a portion of the user base through market research techniques.

While both types of information are valuable, they are not created equal in the eyes of advertisers, nor do they lead to the same ability to charge higher CPMs. Census techniques, of which the most popular is gathering user information via registration and then appending the user profile through follow-up data gathering techniques, lead directly to one-to-one marketing capabilities. This enables publishers to create targeted, high-value inventory by providing advertisers with specific information down to the user level.

It’s important to note that the bar keeps getting higher for the level of information deemed valuable by advertisers. It’s also a delicate balancing act for sites to gather information about users in a systematic way — you need to gather more and more data over time, without alienating users by overtly pumping them for information.

There are a number of companies in business to support site publishers with the challenge of gathering and enhancing user profiles at the individual level. Perhaps the best known is Engage, which pioneered the offering of profile-driven online marketing back in 1995. Its ProfileServer product can profile based on information the user provides, such as registration and survey data, as well as through behavioral profiling, which tracks visitors behavior across sites.

Sampling techniques are also invaluable for understanding and demonstrating audience value to advertisers. But they do not lead to the creation of targeted inventory, as the publisher has no way of reliably translating site demographics to the specific profile of an individual visitor at any given point in time.

Nonetheless, sampling techniques are usually the only way to gather in-depth information that users would be unlikely to provide during registration or follow-up data collection. Surveys are especially useful for providing information on web usage patterns, media preferences, and detailed demographics.

Sampling techniques can also be used comparatively to prove a site’s audience value against other similar sites.

@plan, for example, is a popular tool that surveys a sample of a site’s audience using a very detailed pop-up questionnaire. It then uses this information to compare the site’s audience to the web population in general, and to other similar sites.

This level of detail (which includes online and offline shopping habits by category as well as by major company) allows publishers to find the sweet spots where their audience compares favorably to that of competitors, and promote these in their pitches to advertisers.

The bottom line is that both census and sampling techniques are critical elements in proofing audience value and developing high value, targeted inventory. Sure, they’re expensive, but if your business model is built on advertising revenue, consider market research and profile enhancement necessary investments in demonstrating the value of your site.

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