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Listen up!: Finding the right digital audio ad

Adi Pinco, July 11, 2022

Takeaways:

  • There are three main ways digital ad space can be purchased: manual ad insertion, dynamic ad insertion, and programmatic ad insertion.
  • Manual insertion is the traditional way to purchase ad space and, until recently, has been used for the majority of ad placements.
  • Dynamic ad insertion is the most popular way digital audio ads are placed and offer greater targeting options.
  • Programmatic insertion is in its infancy but offers more personalized messaging thanks to better targeting.
digital audio ads
Photo by ConvertKit on Unsplash

Like a lot of people, we feel lost these days if left commuting without our favorite podcast, or winding down at the end of the day without Alexa playing the radio in the background, or if on the treadmill without our well-curated gym playlist. Digital audio has become a staple of our daily lives.

Brands have taken note of our growing love of digital audio, with increased spending over the last few years on all areas. Highly effective due to its personal nature, and with endless creative possibilities, the growth of these formats has been music to many advertisers’ ears.

But like any other advertising channel, brands diving into digital audio need to buy their advertising slots in an effective, scalable, and context-appropriate manner if their campaigns are going to grab the ears of consumers.

For those still struggling to get their heads around the world of digital audio ads, let’s look into the three main ways that space can be purchased.

1. Manual ad insertion 

This is the traditional way to purchase ad space, especially for podcasts. Usually, brands will negotiate directly with publishers or podcasters. Ads are then ‘baked’ into the audio, meaning they are part of a single audio file that cannot change. Hosts or artists can read these ads out, blending seamlessly into the content.

Until recently, a majority of ad placements were run using this method – in 2019 52% of podcast ads were purchased manually. The method also chimes with consumers, with the often personalized tone, familiarity of a host’s voice, and naturalistic insertion leading to a 71% brand recall.

The downside is that these kinds of placements can be taxing to implement and lack true scalability. As the market for digital audio continues to expand, these individual insertions will be time-consuming for advertisers and may cause brands to miss out on potential audiences. 

2. Dynamic ad insertion 

Dynamic ad insertion (DAI) is currently the most popular way that digital audio ads are placed, seeing explosive growth during the pandemic. Second best to manual podcast insertion in 2019 with around 48% of placements, it now accounts for 84% of podcast ads.

In short, DAI differs from manual insertion in that publishers mark spots within an audio file where ads can be inserted. Advertisers are then able to serve ads the moment audio is downloaded. It’s basically a win-win for brands and creators – ad messaging can be kept up-to-date while back catalogue can continue to be monetized.

DAI gives advertisers greater targeting options, meaning audiences to be found via genre, geotargeting, and even specific episode titles. Data signals can also be harnessed with DAI to serve ad messaging dependent on variables such as time, or even weather data. The use of audience data overlays from third- or first-party data is also possible.

Despite this, murkiness about the true measurability of DAI hampers its effectiveness. While advertisers can see downloads of a podcast, whether an advert was actually listened to remains somewhat a mystery.

3. Programmatic insertion

Programmatic is still very much in its infancy within the digital audio space. Though effectively used on many music streaming platforms – Spotify has Private Marketplaces (PMPs) and Programmatic Guaranteed (PG) buys available to advertisers – the podcast space is slower on the uptake. Only 1.7% of podcast revenue was generated through this buying method in 2021 (compared to 67% for display advertising back in 2019).

Its growth in the space could lower the barrier for entry for smaller brands and creators alike. More personalized messaging can also be served into the ears of listeners thanks to better targeting abilities.

There are however currently big question-marks over the brand safety solution in the audio space. While targeting via show type or description is possible, the ability to screen on an episodic level is not yet effective enough – the recent Joe Rogan vaccine denial scandal would give any advertiser cold sweats. As the technology develops and industry-wide safety standards are implemented, programmatic will start becoming a real contender in the digital audio space.

Any further questions on audio ads? Want to get further into the details on programmatic? Or do you have any other publisher-related questions? Get in touch with our team.

Building an ad tech strategy: 3 elements publishers must master

Adi Pinco, April 28, 2022

Takeaways:

  • Publishers should explore different inventory allocation opportunities to determine which mix best aligns with their business model.
  • Yield management strategies need to be employed to maximize revenues.
  • Publishers are responsible for complying with policies and data protection regulations.
ad strategy, ad tech

Building an ad-tech strategy is perhaps the most challenging aspect of being a publisher. A simple Google search will reveal thousands of ad tech companies, each claiming to offer the best monetization methods and strategies. It’s easy for publishers to quickly become overwhelmed and get lost in a sea of advice and recommendations. 

The result is publishers with overly complicated or underperforming tech stacks, misconfigurations, policy compliance issues, and many other problems, all of which amount to lost revenues and other consequences. 

Creating the right ad-tech strategy is a lot like cooking. Just as you balance flavors to suit your tastebuds, you need to find the right ad-tech mix to achieve your business goals.

In this post, we’ll cover the ingredients you need to make your ad-tech stack sizzle. With the right in-house expertise, you can follow it and create a workable, revenue-generating machine. 

1. Supply allocation 

When it comes to allocating inventory, publishers have several options. How inventory is divided among demand sources can significantly impact revenue, so publishers must do this with great care. Since publishers have different business models and strategies, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Publishers should evaluate various opportunities and determine which types of deals are most beneficial.

Let’s look at some of the most common types of deals.

Private marketplace 

Private marketplace deals (PMP) are invite-only auctions in which a selected group of advertisers get bidding priorities before inventory is made available to all other advertisers. Publishers determine minimum costs, and the advertiser with the highest offer wins.  

Direct deals

Direct deals are struck between sellers and buyers without ad exchanges or intermediaries. CPMs are pre-negotiated and higher than open market rates because deals are for premium inventory.

Programmatic guaranteed and preferred deals

With preferred deals, publishers sell premium inventory to a preselected group of advertisers at fixed prices. Advertisers bid in real-time, and the winner is determined by the highest bid or the advertiser that offers the pre-negotiated price. Guaranteed deals are similar but come with a fixed number of impressions. 

Remnant inventories

Remnant inventories are suitable for open auctions as real-time bidding is open to many advertisers. Demand will vary, but publishers can still get an acceptable price for unsold ad inventory. 

2. Yield management 

Yield management is a variable pricing strategy that enables publishers to sell inventory for the best price. Publishers usually alter prices based on demand, demand sources, seasonality, or user behavior. Yield management allows publishers to maximize fill rates and earn the highest CPMs possible. 

Here are a few ways publishers optimize their yield management strategies. 

Demand partners 

Publishers need to think carefully about the demand partners they work with, adding them to tech stacks to test their value. Some supply-side platforms (SSPs) and demand-side platforms (DSPs) have commitments or relationships with agencies to provide certain opportunities for buyers. Other demand partners might specialize in specific geo-locations or verticals, which can benefit publishers.

Header bidding 

Header bidding, which occurs outside of ad server auctions, gives advertisers a ‘first look’ at a publisher’s inventory, allowing them to choose high-priority impressions. Impressions are auctioned to all partners simultaneously, and the highest offered price determines the winner.

Varied ad formats

Some ad formats are more valuable to advertisers than others. To maximize profits, publishers should offer a variety of traditional and non-traditional ad formats, including video, application, interstitial, native, and anchor or sticky ads. Advertisers will pay a premium for ads that provide a better return on investment (ROI), resulting in more revenue for the publisher. 

A/B testing 

Every yield management strategy should include an A/B testing component. Publishers can test new technology, ad formats, header bidding solutions, and more against what they already use to determine which mix provides the best yields. 

3. Stay on top of everything!

The ad tech industry is no longer the wild west it once was. Today, organizations such as the IAB have been working to clean up the ad supply chain and restore confidence for both publishers and advertisers. Publishers that follow the rules, implement privacy policies, cookie compliance, and data protection measures can capture the revenue that would otherwise be headed toward non-compliant publishers.  

Traffic monitoring (trust & safety)

To instill a sense of trust and safety for advertisers, publishers need to monitor their traffic and understand their traffic sources. Publishers that don’t do this consistently will undoubtedly suffer from invalid traffic (IVT). Those with high IVT rates will see revenues and reputation diminish, and persistent IVT can cause publishers to lose access to Google products and other third-party partners. 

Policy compliance 

The ad tech industry and supply chain have suffered due to poor business practices and malicious actors. Nowadays, reputable programmatic platforms require publishers to meet standard compliance terms. For example, many platforms, including Google, won’t monetize publisher content that promotes illegal activity, including harmful or derogatory content, sexually explicit content, and much more. 

Data protection 

Data protection regulations vary by region and country. They include laws such as the EU’s GDPR, California’s CCPA, and Brazil’s LGPD. It is a publisher’s responsibility to make sure they comply with local laws and properly obtain user consent to collect data. 

Should you whip up your own ad tech stack?

As we mentioned earlier, it depends. Does your team have the right ingredients – the required knowledge, experience, and development skills?

While we encourage you to explore your options, we also know that sometimes publishers can be the most successful by focusing on the business activities they do best and allowing an expert like Total Media Solutions to do what it does best – provide publisher revenue management services.  

If you don’t want to waste more time or miss out on monetization opportunities, reach out to us. We’ll get you cooking in no time!

The four most important SEO strategies for publishers in 2022

Naomi Rabbie, March 16, 2022

Key takeaways:

  • Preparing for MUM might not be required today, but it will keep you ahead of the game.
  • Make increasing page speed a priority and evaluate your site speed routinely.
  • Leverage Google’s tools for the best chance of earning a spot in Suggested Clips.
  • Refresh old content to build on the wins you previously had. 
MUM, Google, BERT, algorithm

There’s no denying that Google is the king of the internet. As such, all of its subjects, a.k.a. advertisers and publishers, must abide by the rules to court favor with the king in an attempt to win a coveted spot on the first page of search results. That, of course, is no easy feat. Landing a spot on page two is still a good consolation prize, but any further down is the equivalent of being sent to the Tower of London with a fate similar to Anne Boleyn.

Alas, for you publishers, the way to curry favor with the king and remain in its good graces is to focus on SEO strategies that meet its ever-changing algorithms. So, what does the ruler of the digital land have in store for us as we look at the year ahead? Google is flexing its mighty tech muscle, building on its AI and natural language processing (NLP) capabilities and focusing on how to provide internet users with better, more relevant sources of information. 

In this post, we’ll unpack the treasure chest of what Google has been working on so you can adjust your SEO strategy and prepare for tomorrow and the years to come. 

Google MUM is coming

Last May, Google introduced its new AI algorithm called MUM (Multitask Unified Model), which is built on top of its already in use algorithm BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers). According to Google, MUM is 1000 times more powerful than BERT and takes a radically different approach towards serving users’ implied search intent by understanding context, concepts, and how topics intersect.  

No one knows how MUM will affect search results. Google has been vague about that so far and about when it will be released, only saying “months to years.” At this moment, you can’t truly create a strategy to beat this algorithm, but you can start producing content that reflects the way this future algorithm will prioritize and display results: based on intent questions.

To put this in more concrete terms, Google gave an example of a person who, after hiking one mountain, wants to know how to prepare for a hike on a different mountain. Google posits that the user currently needs to perform several searches to find out about all aspects of their query – elevation levels, trails, temperatures, gear, etc. With MUM, all of those underlying non-verbalized questions would be answered with one result.

The key takeaway here is to think like a user and create content that answers more of their questions. 

Focus on improving page speed

Google cares about your site’s speed – a lot. A significant part of its last update, Core Web Vitals, focused on speed: how long it takes the largest page element to load, how elements shifted on a page while it was loading, and how quickly elements responded to clicks

You can quickly find out your scores with Google’s PageSpeed tool, and if pages are slow, there could be many culprits. Here are a few of the more technical but quick tweaks you should consider:

  • Minimizing HTTP requests 
  • Minifying files
  • Using asynchronous loading for JavaScript and CSS files
  • Deferring JavaScript loading
  • Using a fast DNS provider
  • Compressing files and reducing image sizes
  • Switching hosting providers
  • Using a CDN 

The list goes on and on, but the point is there are lots of ways to address site speed and eliminate the issues slowing your load times. 

Optimize for Suggested Clips

Video consumption is off the charts these days, and Google offers plenty of video results when users search. According to a global survey conducted by Statista, over 27% of people watch more than 10 hours of online video per week, while another 15% watch 7-10 hours, and 18% watch 4-7 hours. Chances are, you already know this and have prioritized creating video content.

So, if your written content isn’t landing you in the top ten results, try optimizing your videos to give them the best chance of appearing in Google’s Suggested Clips. Using the new structured data types, Clip Markup and Seek Markup, you manually tell Google which timestamp and label to use to create key moments and increase your chances of appearing in the results.

Refresh old content

Experts will always encourage you to create evergreen content, but the world moves fast, and things change quickly, meaning what you thought was evergreen has now fallen out of favor with Google. But all is not lost with those pages because refreshing them with updated content can restore them to their former glory. Google loves ‘fresh,’ and this is one of the quickest SEO 

strategies you can implement.

The best way to get that shine (and ranking) back is by refreshing old content. One of the best tactics is to look at the top ten Google results for a topic or keyword, put on your sleuthing cap and uncover what makes those pages rank. It could be the structure, keywords in the headers, optimized images, new data, or other factors. Take what you learn and apply it to your own page. After all, you already invested in producing this content, so giving it a refresh builds on that equity.

SEO is never done

SEO is like a castle’s defenses – there’s always work to be done, and you can always improve your site’s SEO. Thankfully, today we live in the digital age, and there are countless tools at your fingertips to help you.

Remember that these days, SEO is not just about adding keywords to your content, titles, meta descriptions, and alt tags – although all of those will help. Modern SEO is about thinking of the needs of your readers, prioritizing their experience, and answering the questions they are asking. 

If you prioritize those elements in your SEO strategy, you’ll be well on your way to becoming internet royalty – or at least snagging a top spot alongside other royals in Google-land.

If you need advice about SEO, monetization, or any other aspect of your publishing business, reach out to us.

About the author Leah Grantz is the Marketing Manager at Total Media Solutions. You can find Leah on LinkedIn or reach out to her via email to discuss content and SEO strategy!

Google is thinking of taking the F out (…of First Input Delay)

Ryan Rakover, February 23, 2022

Key takeaways

  • First Input Delay will be updated to Input Delay
  • The update will focus on the user journey rather than user moment
  • Expect more metrics to be updated 
  • CWV coming to desktop February 2022

What happened to the F?

Google is adjusting their Core Web Vitals (CWV) metrics to focus more on the user journey rather than just a moment within the user journey. Understanding what makes up a positive page experience has always been key to ranking high in Google Search and has been the North Star of the CWVs.  When setting priorities, publishers understand that speed is essential. When calculating speed it is critical to have picked the right “breathing” moments that the user may take – the moment content is either loading or ready for interaction. First Input Delay looks at the first loading event. The Input Delay metric will look not just at the first load but what comes next in the user journey. With this update Google is switching to evaluating more of the user’s journey rather than first arrival to a web page. The belief is that this approach will promote a better user experience and page experience.  

Last year (that would be 2021) Google released Core Web Vitals. This provided transparency for publishers on how their page performance is being “seen” by Google. The update was aimed at building publishers’ understanding about how loading, interactivity, and visual stability is measured/evaluated in Google’s eyes.  We covered this update on our blog last year (Understanding Core Web Vitals). At the time of the announcement Google made it clear that these metrics would be open to change, depending on how best to further the dialogue of helping publishers publish fast, secure, and reactive pages. 

What Core Web Vitals are doing to your page experience score

Lighthouse from Google continues to be the go to for publishers for understanding page performance. With the release of Core Web Vitals, Google integrated the scoring for Core Web Vitals into their transparency tool Lighthouse and Google Search Console, helping publishers see the impact of CWV as well as delivering insights into scoring. Since the launch of these metrics for mobile web in June 2021, publishers have been busy working to use this knowledge to make better page experiences for their users. 

The metric First Input Delay or FID measures how fast a browser can respond to a user interaction with a website. Playing a critical role in response time is a publisher’s content management system (CMS). However, the CMS provider usually has their own interests which are not always inline with Google’s. 

CMS companies offer a great advantage for small publishers but it is often delays in template optimisation and additional CMS features that keep publishers performing poorly.  At the time of the update this was one of many concerns from publishers. What could they do?  However, for the most part, the major content management systems – WordPress, Wix, and Drupal – released versions that score very high. This performance change has given Google the ability to expand their page experience score to look deeper into the user journey.  

What’s new? ID – Input Delay 

The main point to understand about this new metric is that it isn’t measuring a single interaction. It is measuring the collective interactions that are part of the user experience of the page. When a user lands on a page there are a series of events that are loaded. The updated metric will include those “first” events loaded, as well as those subsequent events needed for further interaction. 

In a blog post on Google’s web developer page the following four points were highlighted. The blog points out that these four points will help publishers to focus on the user journey.“These four points take the concept of FID and bring it to the bigger picture. The user journey does not stop when the first interactions are loaded but is only able to be seen in movement.” Towards a better responsiveness metric

  • Consider the responsiveness of all user inputs (not just the first one)
  • Capture each event’s full duration (not just the delay).
  • Group events together that occur as part of the same logical user interaction and define that interaction’s latency as the max duration of all its events.
  • Create an aggregate score for all interactions that occur on a page, throughout its full lifecycle.

LCP, CLS what can change next?

Core Web Vitals and their impact on search ranking is still yet to be seen. What is clear is that Google’s Lighthouse Audit allows a publisher to see under the hood of their domains. The picture isn’t always pretty, the years have brought a lot of legacy, plans abandoned, and an overall weight on current publisher offerings. Having publishers invest in balancing their pages benefits the whole ecosystem and promotes positive user experiences. 

Updates to the Update are expected to continue as Google (Chrome) learns more about the user experience. The expected roll out for Core Web Vitals on desktop is this month. It will be interesting to see what metrics may come into focus with desktop publishing. This update and the CWV initiative is challenging and asks the publisher to really sit in their user’s seat. What comes next we will have to wait and see. 

If you have any questions about Core Web Vitals and what you can do to improve your score, please be in touch. 

About the author: Ryan Rakover is the head of our Trust and Safety efforts at Total Media Solutions. One of the things Ryan enjoys the most in his role as a publisher’s strategic partner is the challenge of bringing policy from a place of rules and standards to delivering solutions to clients to improve their client’s bottom line. Find Ryan on LinkedIn or reach him by email.


References

Google Is Creating A New Core Web Vitals Metric, searchenginejournal.com

Towards a better responsiveness metric, web.dev

Feedback wanted: An experimental responsiveness metric, web.dev

Google Feb 2022 Update of Page Experience – What you need to know NOW!, webvitalsdev.com

6 publisher trends that will dominate 2022

Steve Myslinski, January 19, 2022

Key takeaways:

  • Publishers will look to diversify revenue streams further with commerce and interest-based newsletters.
  • A first-party data strategy is no longer nice to have but a necessity.
  • Demand for audio content will continue to grow.
2022, publisher trends

Life and business are in flux as we enter a third year of pandemic existence. While the Omicron strain threatens the routines we were just getting back to, 2022 doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom, especially for digital publishers who are used to adapting and evolving.

This year will see the continuation of several trends that have been building steam; some were spurred into action because of the pandemic and others because of technology and consumer demands (we’re looking at you, cookie deprecation!). If necessity is the mother of invention, this is a prime time for publishers to reinvent themselves.

Below are the six trends that we predict will lead the publishing industry this year.

1. Content-commerce collaborations increase 

Even before digital consumption dominated daily life, publishers used multiple revenue streams to support their business, including ads, advertorials, and subscriptions. Although advertising still generates the most revenue, publishers are embracing new revenue streams. According to Digiday, 64% of publishers rely on direct product sales as a revenue stream, and 72% say that affiliate marketing generates a part of their earnings.

Public trust in social media is at an all-time low. Consumers are spending more time on the open web, opening the door for publishers to leverage the trust they already have with audiences to sell them products. Although reports indicate 94% of publishers use affiliate marketing, we expect to see publishers produce more content that includes product recommendations from affiliate programs they are a part of and more direct sales deals with brands.

2. Diversified monetization strategy

According to eMarketer, digital advertising will continue to grow but not at the crazy record-setting pace of 2021. The pandemic taught us that no business, publishers included, should have all their revenue-generating eggs in one basket (or two when we consider commerce trends).

For publishers that haven’t yet jumped on the newsletter train, now is the time. Newsletters can help publishers develop deeper, direct relationships with readers. While that doesn’t offer an immediate financial payoff, a dedicated readership is attractive to brands that can advertise in it or sponsor it. In fact, the Washington Post was able to amass such consistent readership and a 40% open rate with their coronavirus newsletter, Slack, Salesforce, and Goldman Sachs all became sponsors.

Subscription models will continue to make a strong showing, but some consumers report feeling fatigued will all the content available on the open web, further noting that they prefer content-specific newsletters instead.

3. Consumers want to listen, not just read

Between audiobooks and podcasts, audio has captured consumers’ attention, or ears as the case may be. Edison Research found that some 80 million Americans listened to podcasts weekly in 2021, a 20% increase from 2020. Publishers can use audio to connect with audiences at times when users want to consume content but can’t read, like when they are driving.  

Top publishers including The New Yorker, The Economist, and The Atlantic all offer readers narrated articles, not in place of written content but in addition to it. Publishers interested in this booming trend can partner with a service to create narrated content versions (like we do) or monetize their audio content through revenue-sharing agreements with audio apps such as Audm.  

4. Capitalizing on a first-party data strategy

With the demise of the cookie looming on the horizon, current privacy regulations, and consumer-initiated tracking prevention, publishers need to reassess their data collection strategies. This isn’t news, but smaller publishers have been slower to implement strategies. We expect more of these publishers to adopt a few tried and tested collection methods this year, mainly because they are quick and easy to implement.  

People are motivated by value and trade-offs. Publishers can use premium content or exclusive promotions to incentivize audiences to share at least some data like an email address. Piggybacking on that, as logins will become more commonplace, so will simplified registrations and logins. Giving users the ability to sign in quickly with a social media or Google ID will cut friction and give publishers access to more data.

5. Readers influence content production 

Competition is becoming stiffer across every industry. To create brand loyalists, businesses are becoming more customer-centric, offering products, services, and solutions that speak to customer needs. Digital publishers are also taking this approach, analyzing traffic and data to see which stories get the most clicks and using that to inform their content strategy and production. With publishers now accumulating more first-party data, making those content decisions is even easier.

A number of publishers have been using questionnaires to gather information about what piques their audience’s interest, and we expect to see more publishers implement this tactic along with other engaging formats such as quizzes and polls. As a small example, a publisher could poll readers to determine how interested they would be in audio content before allocating a portion of their budget to creating it.

6. Continued focus on UX 

We mentioned that businesses are becoming customer-centric, and Google is no different. However, for Google, customer-centric, at least partially, equates to serving users content that delivers a great user experience (UX). 

Google will continue to ramp up its Web Vitals program, which means publishers will need to find ways to improve their sites, and those that have been slow to change will need to kick change into high gear. We expect to see some major site redesigns that improve page load times, stability, navigation, and the ad experience consumers see. We don’t know if Google will add new signals to its algorithm, but it’s best to optimize for the current signals, so should new ones be introduced, the workload is achievable. 

Looking at the year ahead

The reality is that no one can predict the future, which is both daunting and exciting. What publishers should do is prepare for knowable situations like the need for first-party data and the eventual loss of cookies. Beyond that, diversifying revenue streams with audio, newsletters, advertising and commerce can future-proof a company as much as possible. In the end, the advice is the same: test new strategies, evaluate what works, and optimize along the way.

If you have questions about how to implement any of these trends, get in touch with us.

About the author Steve Myslinski is the Senior Director of Sales for EMEA at Total Media Solutions and brings years of experience helping publishers realize their true potential for monetizing their inventory.

Starting out as an engineer in the automotive industry, before getting his MBA and joining the adtech industry, he provides a unique approach to sales with an analytical and problem solving style to addressing a publishers needs.

Find Steve on LinkedIn or reach him ">by email.