Publishing And Paid Acquisition In A Pandemic

publishing paid acquisition coronavirus pandemic content marketing covid-19

If you’ve dealt with any paid acquisition over your career before the pandemic, you probably know that there are a few basics to make it work. You add a pixel to your site and set up targeting, you decide on a business goal and track how many users complete it, and you optimize based on that. The thing is, there’s a whole world of possibilities when it comes to setting up a campaign that goes way beyond the basics. A lot of publishers are taking tracking and targeting to the next level and driving amazing success as a result. That’s what I want to talk about today, so let’s dive in. 

The Tip of the Iceberg Confession time: Up until recently, my knowledge of targeting and tracking basically ended with audience interests and demographics, a confirmation page, or a button click. I was surprised to discover the wealth of opportunities that the right kind of targeting can bring. More specifically, it never occurred to me that you can use your on-site audience behavior as a targeting strategy to drive high-value business goals. I’ll try to illustrate the point in generic terms: Let’s say you’re an online fashion store, and you have a surplus inventory of red high-heeled shoes. You can target women who have bought red shoes before, but that would probably be too narrow of an audience. 

You can target people who have visited your site in the past, but that would probably be too broad and inefficient. So instead, you target women who have browsed your high-heeled shoe section over the last 90 days. That can give you a true indication of interest and affinity while keeping it broad enough to achieve scale. Of course, publishers don’t usually sell shoes. For publishers, using first-party behavioral data can help identify people who are already familiar with the brand, and then hone in on behaviors that indicate affinity, and finally target those behaviors to drive ROI. 

So let’s take a look at how a few of them are putting this into practice. A Tale of 3 Publishers First let’s look at a tactic that I’ve discussed here before: subscription retention campaigns. Publisher A is an international brand whose primary revenue stream is paid subscriptions. The cost of their subscription is relatively high compared to the rest of the market, so it’s critical for that publisher to consistently show value to their subscribers. To that end, they’ve identified behavior patterns that indicate a risk for churn. 

If a particular user’s visits or pageviews are decreasing at a pre-defined pace, Publisher A identifies them and targets them with a re-engagement campaign. Of course, understanding the key behaviors and targeting accordingly requires some A/B testing to find the “sweet spot” between reach and overall cost. But the return on investment is clear, with the user’s lifetime value increasing significantly. At the end of the day, paying a few cents to retain a user that is potentially worth hundreds of dollars is very much worth it. 

While tracking behavior for subscription acquisition is a relatively common technique, there are publishers with other revenue streams that are making great use of this ability as well. Publisher B is a well known national paper with a niche audience. They recently revamped their app and were looking to get new users to install it. At first, they used a combination of lookalike and interest targeting. It was working fairly well compared to past campaigns, but there was definitely more scale potential. 

About a month into the campaign, they switched the targeting. They used their on-site tracking to identify and target users who had read two articles on their website within the past 60 days. This behavior was clearly an indication of familiarity with the brand and interest, and the results from adjusting the targeting strategy were dramatic: Over time, the cost per acquisition shrank by about 50% compared to other targeting methods, and the overall reach was on par. Not all campaigns lead to an acquisition, but behavioral targeting can still play a huge role in ROI. 

There are a few challenges associated with ad revenue campaigns — from finding the right balance between quality and scale, to the learning curve that happens when you launch — but adding behavioral data into that mix can make a huge difference. Publisher C was struggling to see a profit from their campaigns, and after an in-depth analysis of on-site user behavior, they started to see an interesting pattern. Basically, they achieved profitability from any user who scrolled through over 30% of their article content. 

So they decided to test this out further. They launched campaigns that were lookalikes of users that exhibited that behavior, and they also started targeting those high-value users specifically. The strategy proved to be incredibly effective: The right targeting combined with a consistent optimization strategy and effective campaign creatives brought publisher C into the green quickly, while also allowing them to scale. They’re continuing to test and analyze to see what else they can learn and what other targeting opportunities can arise from user behavior. 

The TL:DR Facebook campaigns offer what seem to be an infinite number of options when it comes to targeting and optimization. At the end of the day, publishers have one clear advantage: by nature, users spend a lot of time on their sites, giving clear cues and leaving a trail of insights in their wake. By using their own on-site behavioral data, publishers can drive incredibly effective results and with time, meet and exceed their goals. Have you been using on-site behavioral data to optimize your campaigns during the Covid-19 pandemic? We’d love to hear more about your content marketing, advertising, and revenue generation strategies in the Coronavirus economy.

By now, you’ve likely caught wind of The New York Times’ plan to buy the production company behind the hit podcast Serial, but that wasn’t the only exciting news coming from the world of podcasts this week. Despite listenership dipping by 10% during March and April, podcast downloads are now back up and higher than they were before the downswing earlier this year. And although lower than previous predictions, a recent IAB/PwC report projects that the podcast advertising market will still grow by 15% in 2020, likely driven in large part by direct-to-consumer brand advertising. Speaking of the IAB: this September, the organization will hold its annual Podcast Upfront event virtually for the first time. Given that iHeartMedia is among the more than twenty presenters set to preview their podcast programming during the event, there’s a good chance that advertisers will get a glimpse of the five new comedy podcasts that the company recently announced from its joint venture with comedian Will Ferrell. 

While the lines between media and technology have been blurring for a while, like many other aspects of work and home life, the events of this year seem to have sped up the rate of change for this trend as well. Apple recently launched a daily news podcast, and the biggest story in the space last week was SiriusXM’s acquisition of Stitcher for $350 million — the largest podcast deal to date.

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