Washingtonpost.com’s announcement last week that the site will expand the data points it captures in its required registration wasn’t big news in itself. Almost all major branded content news sites require user registration, now that advertisers are rewarding publishers who offer data-targeted advertising with higher ad rates and better sell-through rates.
What is big news is the type of data washingtonpost.com will capture.
Previously, the company asked users for only the basics: Zip Code, gender, age, and email. One might have expected it to add data points consistent with the targeting interests of consumer advertisers, as many other consumer Web sites do. These include presence and number of children in the household, lifestyle interests (such as golf or skiing), and household income.
But it didn’t.
It added points you’d more readily associate with a classic business-to-business (B2B) data: job title, primary job responsibility, industry, and company size. What gives? What does this mean?
In one sense, given washingtonpost.com’s newspaper-of-record pedigree, capturing employment information isn’t unusual. Employment advertising is a key element of the parent company’s franchise. Capturing data that could enhance the site’s ability to target elusive “passive job seekers” for employment advertisers by title, responsibility, and industry type makes sense.
There may be something bigger at play. Consumer Web sites are starting to cash in on B2B advertising opportunities presented by the enormous at-work audiences they capture during the day. Though they may not have all the inherent business and trade content classic B2B sites do, they have something equally important: a business audience.
Historically, consumer publications and consumer-oriented Web sites haven’t done well for business-focused advertisers. In the B2B world, target audiences tend to be very well-defined and relatively limited in size, numbering in the thousands. Consumer-focused advertisers tend to target groups that number in the millions. Buying ads on consumer Web sites has traditionally not made sense for B2B advertisers. Why pay for millions of wasted reach when you only target thousands?
The cost of advertising on business and trade Web sites is significantly higher than on consumer sites, in many cases exponentially higher.
By adding business-oriented data capture and audience targeting, consumer Web sites are positioning to compete for those high-value ad dollars. If advertisers such as Microsoft and IBM want to reach information technology implementers at small and medium-sized businesses, sites such as washingtonpost.com can now serve their needs. They may not get the multiple-hundred-dollar CPMs of B2B niche trade sites with very focused content, but they will certainly be able to command premium ad rates compared to their consumer advertising.
This underlines the importance of contextual placement. Consumer sites generally don’t have the business and trade-oriented content B2B sites have, so they’re probably short of ad inventory for the B2B content they do run.
But with data-driven targeting, contextual placement isn’t an essential. Audience-driven targeting can serve ads to users after they’ve read B2B content on the site and still get higher-than-industry-average response rates. One site served auto ads to users after they read auto classified ads and navigated to other areas of the site, such as restaurant reviews or sports.
Audience-targeting can virtually expand ad inventory in a B2B category without expanding the category content. Ads need not appear in contextual placement. They can be served later in the same session, even when a visitor returns days later. They’ll still outperform nearly all other forms of advertising on the site.
Web publishers may want to adjust their focus from contextual placement to audience targeting. Otherwise, they’ll play catch up to innovators such as washingtonpost.com.
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