Study: Reaching Light Users, Niche Sites Is Key for Advertisers

If you want to reach more people, you don’t necessarily need to advertise only on the biggest sites, according to a joint research study released today by DoubleClick and comScore Media Metrix.

“There’s a misconception that in order to get reach, you have to put ads on a portal’s home page,” said Kathryn Koegel, director of research at DoubleClick. “The reality is that you can get more efficient reach by complementing portal buys with more specific buys on targeted sites.”

The differences of audiences of larger portals and more targeted sites can be better understood by considering the difference between reach — which is the percentage of a target audience that visited a site — and composition — which is the percentage of a site’s total audience that is made up of a target audience.

The study found that sites with targeted content can reach a larger proportion of a targeted audience — in other words, high reach is not always consistent with a high composition. High-reach sites, because they are visited by most consumers in the Internet population, generally have demographic compositions that closely mirror the Internet average. On sites with more specialized content, and a clearer skew towards a target audience, the probability of an ad actually being viewed by the target is much higher.

“This has always been a big problem in TV — you overreach the people who watch tons of TV. In order to get efficient reach, you have to spread out the impressions to reach the full potential of the audience,” Koegel said.

Among other things, the research found that in order to effectively build reach, delivery among heavy and light Internet users should be balanced. Heavy Internet users, defined as those who go online 19 days or more in a month, have a disproportionate impact on site statistics: 38.8 percent of viewers account for 73.0 percent of all page views.

If the advertising goal is targeted audience reach, placement on high-reach sites should be complemented with high-composition sites — sites whose audiences are composed largely of members of the targeted group. For example, the study showed, not surprisingly, that sports, auto, and gaming sites dominate high-composition sites for males 18-34. These types of sites have the highest compositions of males in this age group.

If an advertiser is concerned with reaching light Internet users, who may more closely represent their target audience than heavy users, the focus should not be on a site’s monthly page-views, but on the ability of a site to reach the light Web users, which can vary by category and among sites within a category. For example, the study showed that CNN’s likelihood of reaching a light user on an average ad placement is much higher than that of others in its competitive set.

While the conclusions are not ground-breaking, Koegel believes most publishers, advertisers, and agencies are not incorporating these findings into their best practices when it comes to advertising online.

“These are very useful things that a publisher could use as unique selling propositions,” she said. “A lot of these concepts have been used by agencies buying ads in TV or print. This knowledge would make the Internet more accessible to advertisers.”

It would also make it easier for agencies to explain to their customers who buy TV and print advertising how the Internet can be used as a reach medium, which has been a long-standing problem, Koegel said.

The study also found that advertisers should consider that audience patterns and reach vary by day of week and hour of day and certain sites’ usage patterns are directly affected by their content offerings. For example, entertainment sites see higher usage on weekend evenings, business news site usage peaks early in the morning and at the end of the workday, and parenting sites see a spike on Sundays.

Another factor to consider is that “audience build” rates vary by the category of site. A majority of a general interest portal’s monthly visitors can be reached in four days, while a niche site would require a longer period of exposure to do so. Slower-building sites require longer runs, while a short, heavy blast on sites with steep build curves may be sufficient to reach the majority of users.

“In both television and print advertising, audience accumulation is always a factor in assessing reach, and the same principle can be applied to the Web,” said Lynn Bolger, executive VP of agency development at comScore. “Total monthly audience data is just one way to determine how a site can deliver reach — online audience accumulation must also be analyzed to determine which day of week, times of day and types of content perform best given advertiser goals.”

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