Thursday, April 30, 2009

Lights, Camera, RJ! I'm on WebProNews

I was interviewed -- on video, no less! -- by Abby Prince-Johnson of WebProNews at Ad:Tech last week. Our discussion covers a range of topics, from making brands accessible in today's web to the rise of "Journalism 3.0" (citizen journalism).

Monday, April 27, 2009

RJ's Stat Of The Week

While preparing for a panel at Ad:Tech last week, our panel moderator Steve Rubel sent some questions, and one of the questions raised an observation near and dear to my heart: the fragmentation of the content experience on the Internet, the proverbial rise of "the long tail".

First, here's the stat: a Nielsen study revealed the average Internet user in the US views 115 different web sites and 2,200 page views. That's 115 different sources of media, commerce or community, and 74 page views per day! For those that don't work online, that volume may seem hard to believe. However, for those of us who do, it seems very low. Either way, measurement services like Nielsen or comScore attempt to measure the universe, so there are outliers on either side pulling the average up or down, and let's simply assume 115 and 2,200 are good.

Harken back to pre-Internet days, and consider how many newspapers and magazines you read per month. I bet voracious readers consumed about 10-20 sources, but the average was most likely 5-10 (fyi, I'm voracious, so I'm extapolating my own usage). Then consider the first 6-8 years of the Internet. You probably used 1-2 portals, a handful of vertical content commerce sites, and then a dozen or so random visits to curiousities forwarded by friends.

Then search happened. Then blogging and other easy forms of self-publishing. And voila: fragmentation explodes. And today, instead of going to 10-20 sites, we're literally all over the place, visiting dozens of sites per day (I visit at least 25 different sites per day myself).

Another friend rececntly showed me Google Trends charts of about 25 of the most prominent sites and media properties over the past 10 years -- these were the big guys, but I'll refrain from singling any out. From 1999 to 2007, their traffic uniformly grows. But about 2007, they all plateau, and then begin to trend DOWNWARD. Uniformly downward. These across-the-board declines are also coming at a time when those same properties are investing more than ever to create great content and experiences.

So what's happening? The short and simple answer is that pesky fragmentation thing. 115 sites per month per user. There a a variety of factors driving fragmentation: search has become the new nav bar; the rise of self-publishing making it easy to create great content has proliferated choice; and web personalization where users can create their own web experience via widgets and RSS.

What does this mean for the online ad business and marketers? This is once again one of those answers that deserves an entire post, but here's the short story. While people claim there are too many ad networks (and they may be right!), ad networks in general aren't going anywhere anytime soon. Ad networks serve the vital function of making sense of this fragmentation and creating an easy media package for marketers to buy. Some say that ad exchanges will hurt the ad networks, and to some degree that's true. However, I believe that ad networks and ad exchanges will become dependent on each other.

Ad networks will create both buy side and sell side liquidity that make ad exchanges viable, and will also continue to serve the important role of simplification intermediary to marketers. Can you imagine a media planner going into an exchange and buying 115 different media properties...for every campaign...and every client? That's not happening; in fact, most agencies are trying to reduce the number of media sources they buy. On the flip side, ad networks are increasinly becoming more dependent on ad exchanges, as they're awash in inventory on the supply side, and their agency clients continue to ask for more targeted and far-reaching media on the buy side. The networks need exchanges for this.

I've simplified this for the sake of exposition (and ignored direct user-targeting scenarios that exchanges will thrive on), but this is the heart of it. The real point here is that fragmentation of the online media experience presents both a big challenge and opportunity for everyone -- consumers, publishers, marketers and all the intermediaries who serve each.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Technorati Media Makes List of comScore Top 10 Gaining Properties

Technorati Media continued the growth of its media business in March, being noted in comScore's monthly Top Media Property report as one of the Top 10 Gaining Properties (see Table 1). This is really great news for us, as a few days earlier, comScore released another report showing Technorati Media had climbed to the #3 ranked blog property.

Overall, our ad network's comScore measurement grew 37 percent to 16.0 million monthly US unique visitors*, making Technorati Media one of the top social media ad networks on the Internet and the 59th largest Internet property overall. Given that we only launched Technorati Media last June, I'm very pleased with the progress we've made in just nine months. There is still a ton of work to be done, but small bits of good news must be celebrated with small blog posts!

* Note: comScore measurements are panel-based estimates that have become the standard third party reference for media buyers. Our actual audience measurements are signifcantly higher, with our analytics tool showing the network including over 300 sites with a worldwide reach of 91 million monthly unique visitors (approximately 59 million US).

Monday, April 20, 2009

Technorati Media Rise to #3 Ranked Blog Property

According to comScore, Technorati Media has climbed to the #3 ranking for blog media properties. Here are the March comScore rankings and my official blog post:

1. Blogger -- 48.3 million visitors
2. WordPress -- 24.4 million visitors
3. Technorati Media -- 16.0 million visitors
4. Six Apart -- 13.3 million visitors
5. Federated Media -- 10.5 million visitors

Monday, April 13, 2009

Why Brand Ads & Premium Sites Won't Go Away

Last week, I wrote that online advertising was undergoing a massive and rapid shift right now -- away from media properties and towards technologies that target consumers wherever they are. Here, I want to offer a seemingly contradictory addendum to that grand premise: that brand ads and premium media properties will NOT go away any time soon.

How can I say that when I made such a strong case about the challenges they face? While the new targeting technologies and techniques will indeed challenge both brand advertising and premium content sites, the ROI of those same technologies are in fact aided by those old ways they're seeking to bypass. Quite simply, brand helps direct. Brand advertising absolutely improves the ROI of any direct response or audience targeting, and premium content sites are a great way to present high-concept brand ads.

There have been many studies supporting this notion over the past several years. Fred Wilson of does a really great job of summarizing a recent comScore research study, that effectively supports the premises that: a) branded display has a different objective that search or direct response ads; b) significantly increases the effectiveness of search and direct response ads; and c) as such, also lifts offline, in-store sales as well.

The findings of studies like this one and many others also apply to audience targeting. However, as with brand ads' positive contribution to direct response ads, you are also far more likely to react positively to a behavioral targeted or re-targeted ad when you recognize the brand in the ad. It's that simple and totally human nature: people are drawn to the familiar. And because of that, there will always be room for brand ads, and as well as for the ideal premium content venues in which to display them. We'll have to wait a few years and see where the value equilibrium ends up (i.e. ad unit CPM pricing).

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Me, The News Aggregator

With all the recent discussion about the rise of news aggregators and the fall of traditional media outlets, the realization that I -- little ol' me -- have become a news aggregator is quite enlightening.

This discovery occurred very late one evening this week, after taking a few bad beats in poker and tipping a few drinks at a hip local watering hole with a few friends. While drinking a Miller High Life stubbie (yes, they're back in after a 20 year vacation; who would have thought 7 ounce bottles of blue collar suds would be the rage), the conversation moved to news, how we consume it and how the decline of mainstream sources was creating a whole new generation of sources.

Then several of my drinking comrades in quick succession informed me in quick succession that I was one of their news sources. Specifically, they referred to the commentary and links to news I write daily in Facebook status updates and Twitters tweets, and how they listened to my comments and read items I pointed to (I'm told my Sarah Palin rants last fall influenced the election...totally dude...).

This took me by surprise. Despite working with and monetizing the long tail and social media for a living, it never occurred to me that people might get anything more than a few seconds of entertainment from my blurbs. My impetuous little stream of consciousness makes the news and serves as an editorial voice for my social graph.

I am the New York Times. And so are you.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Buying And Selling Online Advertising Redux

I posted "Buying And Selling Online Advertising Is Changing Quickly" over the weekend, and on Monday found this article by Ben Kunz on saying essentially the same thing -- that the focus of online advertising is shifting from specifically targeting web properties to reach audiences to using technology to simply bypass expensively packaged web properties and target the audience directly.

Obviously, other people are noticing the same things I've seen and heard from countless others in the industry. My post, the Bizweek article and some of the conversations around both also note that while the technologies enabling this shift have actually been around for years, they are just now starting to gain serious momentum.

Which leads me to my next subject: the seemingly contradictory notion that even though the tide is shifting with a massive wave to audience targeting, premium web properties and premium will absolutely survive -- and survive in large part to make audience targeting even more successful.

I'll write about it later this week, but alas, it's late zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...stay tuned.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Buying And Selling Online Advertising Is Changing Quickly

I've been working on the internet and in some form of online advertising for the past 15 years, but I've never seen the landscape changing faster than it is changing now. Right before our very eyes, the way that media is being bought and sold is changing in an unprecedented way, at an unbelievably fast rate.

Since advertising began centuries ago, it has always revolved around selling and buying a media property, be it a newspaper, a tv channel, a billboard, a radio station, a web site or even a network that represented web sites, tv channels, newspapers, etc. Even when it came to targeting demographically, geographically, etc, marketers still achieved those targeting objectives by buying specific properties. This is still the most common way of buying media today.

However, this is changing rapidly due to new online advertising technologies -- user profile technologies that allow marketers to target the user no matter what media web site the user is on. I won't go into the details of how the technologies work, as there are far more expert articles already explaining methodologies like behavioral and intent-based targeting and re-targeting; that's not my goal here. Rather, I want to highlight the intellectual shift going on in the media buying and selling world, and particularly the implications for web publishers.

With a simple user profile cookie, a marketer can buy ad impressions on an ad exchange that is filled with countless page impressions that specific user is consuming across any number of web sites. So instead of buying (not picking on here -- just using as an example of what is becoming true for all web publishers) to target a 40 year old male who may or may not be interested in buying a car in San Francisco, an advertiser now has the ability to leverage an incredible array of registration and site visiting data to follow that user around 5o web sites with ads specifically about cars for sale in San Francisco. This isn't necessarily a new concept at all; we've been talking about behavioral and intent based targeting for several years now -- matching an ad cookie with a user cookie. What is new is the rapid realization for what this means for web publishers.

Web publishers invest significant resources to create content that attracts an audience, and hopefully a concentrated audience that an advertiser could use to reach a consumer with a certain need or area of interest. Further, these publishers have gone to great lengths to market and package their content with ads to have both great impact and attain a premium ad rate. Yet, with countless new ad targeting start-ups and ad buying platforms, an advertiser is no longer constrained to buying or any other single property, nor constrained to paying premium ad rates associated with a specific media property to reach that user. Instead, the advertiser can find that same user as they visit countless other sites and often on non-premium packaged pages with significantly lower ad rates.

So this begs the question: what does this mean for web publishers and their traditional revenue model? The answer is a long story with multiple thought streams for another blog post or two. The short story is this: the implications of new ad buying and selling technologies presents a staggering challenge for web publishers and the way they execute their business plans. What does this mean for ad unit pricing? Do you participate in data sharing or not join and risk being bypassed by advertisers altogether? How much do you invest in content, marketing? How do you sell what you have?

While I don't believe the traditional model of marketers buying specific web properties will go away, I do think these new technologies could significantly shift the mentality away from buying a property to buying audience wherever they are, and further, a consumer with a specific objective or interest. The shift is already taking place, yet I believe it will become a tidal wave within the next 12 months, particularly with the perfect storm of new technologies bring lower ad rates and higher ROIs in the midst of a severe recession.