Publishers Sitting on a Goldmine

Posted February 6th, 2014 by Rich Shea in Publishers, gold, relevance


If I was asked for one slide that best captured the motivation behind the technology and business direction of Yieldbot it would still be this original one. It IS the elevator pitch. And the points it makes are clear.

This slide is actually from the presentation that @jonathanmendez first made to me over four years ago when he was pulling me in to build Yieldbot with him. All this time later, it still best sums up the motivation behind our technology and how we view our market. I was fairly new to ad tech in 2009 and the thing I remember coming away thinking the most after our first conversation was: “It’s not already done that way?”.

Everything captured in that slide is as true in 2014 as it was in 2009 before any lines of code for Yieldbot had been written. In an industry that embraces the pivot, it’s nice to have a slide that could still be used five years from now as much as it could five years ago.

Intent is Generated in the Publisher Domain

Search gets to take a peek at users’ intent as they do part of their navigation through content on the web. But when a user is searching, they’re searching *for something*. Search is a tool for getting the user to what they want. Publisher content is where users spend their time discovering new interests. Or digging deeper into existing interests. Their clickstream through the site and what they interact with is how they express what they are REALLY interested in.

Yieldbot’s analytics discovers the intent of the publisher’s users to use relevance as a tool for effectively monetizing the publisher’s users interests. When advertising is relevant to the user’s intent, it is not seen as intrusive. Done right it can augment the user’s experience by delivering to them something that they are interested in. Something that matches their intent.

Only Pubs Can Effectively Harvest Visitor Event & Contextual Data

Publishers have a direct relationship with their users. As users consume content they are signaling what they are interested in. Yieldbot’s technology lets publishers leverage this relationship, taking the value created by the content and making it monetizable when and where possible.

Yieldbot’s javascript is loaded directly on the publisher’s page. This arrangement is similar to first-generation web analytics. But while first-generation web analytics was useful for understating what happened in the past, Yieldbot is driven by real-time understanding of what is happening on the publisher’s site and in the users’ sessions, and can take action on it in real-time. Yieldbot’s decisioning algorithms take into account the full range of context such as the site referrer to the session and time of day.

Only Pubs Can Weave Ad Optimization Tech Into the Experience

The publisher owns the experience on their site. This is where the three dimensions of optimization come together – the visitor and their intent, the context of their clickstream, and the creative for the message. This is what Yieldbot’s technology does – our machine learning algorithms running in real-time with our ad decisioning pick the most relevant action presented in the way that’s most engaging.

Other approaches, by not optimizing based on relevance, are by definition optimizing on the wrong thing for the user and publisher (and advertiser for that matter). Retargeting for example optimizes to a cookie that was set some time in the past on some other domain, without regard for whether the message is relevant to the user at that moment. That’s why retargeting examples are so jarring. More often than not their message is no longer relevant, and the experience is a reminder to the user that they’re being followed around the web; in the process detracting from the experience on the current publisher site. Contextual, as another example, only looks at one of the factors for relevance and can only drive simple targeting rules that are broadly defined.

The key here is that optimizing for relevance wins. Both brand and performance advertisers want relevance and will pay a premium either for relevant placement or performance (a natural byproduct of relevance). Publishers have a double-win of relevant messaging alongside their content from an experience point of view, as well as collecting the premiums that relevance brings from the advertisers. And the user always benefits from relevance in their overall experience of getting at what they are interested in.

Only Pubs Can Accomplish the Above Without Privacy Issues

Yieldbot does not track users across the web. We support Do Not Track initiatives because we don’t think relevance for anyone involved (the user, the advertiser, and the publisher) depends on this type of tracking to be effective. Our results back this up.

With Yieldbot the value of the publisher’s media is not diluted by bringing the insights about a user’s intent and trying to monetize them somewhere else. Let retargeters dilute the value of the publisher’s media and dilute the relevance to the user. By contrast Yieldbot makes decisions based on the user’s intent on this particular site at this particular time.

Pubs Are Sitting on a Goldmine

For all of the reasons above, publishers are indeed sitting on a goldmine. Their domain is where users engage with content and express their interests. If this is the information age, then the value is where the information is. Publishers own the value of the web. Until we built Yieldbot, they were just lacking the technology that allows them to realize that value.

— @shearic

Intent Targeting vs. Contextual Targeting

Posted January 17th, 2014 by Rich Shea in contextual, intent, relevance


The image above is an example of the problem with Contextual targeting with the type of unfortunate pairing of ad and content we all come across now and again. Look closely at the headline of the content behind the interstitial ad for "10 Best Cruise Ship Water Slides", and you'll see it's about the passing of Gilligan's Island star Russell Johnson.

How Contextual Gets Confused

There have been worse combinations, to be sure. But there's little chance that a visitor will be interested in a cruise-related ad just because the subject of the underlying story is a star from a television show that featured as its set-up an ill-fated cruise.

The culprit here is so-called "Contextual" targeting. This ad technology scans the words or phrases in the content of the page, picks out the common ones, and then matches ads to pages based on a list of words or phrases associated with the ad. In this particular case it may have been the several instances of the word "island" on the page that triggered the match.

Really it's a shame that this approach is called contextual, because in truth every fact about what is involved and led up to that ad impression is context, but that's the terminology we're stuck with.

Why Intent Is Better

In contrast, Yieldbot's Intent-based targeting comparatively discounts the value of the content on the page itself. Instead, multiple Intent Signals, each derived from a unique "intent source", are used to make a real-time determination of the appropriate ad for the specific pageview -- if any.

To serve an ad, Yieldbot takes a handful of Intent Signals and brings them together to determine if any ads are appropriate to display for the pageview and which ads are most relevant. Sometimes it's determined there actually is no ad relevant enough, and that's fine too.

Yieldbot's intent sources include data derived from external referrer links, the path of pages through the session, and key attributes of the page itself. Pages themselves have associations with intent based on sessions of past visitors and these are correlated with the signals for the current user for the pageview. An independent decision on matching is made every single pageview taking all of these factors into account.

Ultimately what makes intent better than contextual is that intent is about what this specific user is interested in right now. Pages themselves can be about many things, so at best contextual can parse that out and try to infer what the page might be "mostly about". Intent brings into focus what actually interests this user, whether or not it's one of the dominant concepts on the page.

Intent Enables Display Bought Like Search

In the Yieldbot Marketplace, Intent inventory is purchased in the same manner as Search (the grand-daddy of intent), through the use of keywords. Stemming from these dynamics, there are at least three reasons why Yieldbot would avoid the type of targeting faux pas illustrated above.

First, if contextual is about "what" (what is on the page) then intent is much more about "why" (why the user is visiting that page). The nature of intent is about the question: why are people (and this current person) visiting this particular page at this particular time? A frequently repeated word or phrase in the content of the page hardly factors into the equation. The keywords associated with the intent bringing users to that page is likely to be different and more relevant.

Second, negative keywords are a much more natural fit when thinking about intent. In this case it's likely that a campaign about cruises, even if it had "island" as a keyword to match and that was coming through with an initially strong intent signal, would likely have negative keywords that would filter the ad from consideration (perhaps "die" or "food poisoning" for example).

Third, intent-based ad serving is inherently about relevance. As such, Yieldbot's ad serving uses real-time updated performance data to aid in determining relevancy. If an irrelevant ad did get impressions for a short time, Yieldbot's machine learning algorithms would determine that the ad was not relevant in that situation.

Moral of the Story

It's all about relevance, and for relevance intent is king. For advertisers and publishers alike, serving a non-relevant ad impression is a wasted opportunity. As a result, advertisers in the Yieldbot Marketplace are seeing higher ROAS (return on ad spend) and publishers are getting higher CPMs.

-- @shearic

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