Tag Archive for 'targeted advertising'

Advertising on the Internet needs innovation

On the weekend, I caught up with Cameron Reilly of the Podcast network , and he was telling me about his views on monetising podcasts. It got me thinking again about those things I like to think about: how content can be monetised. Despite the growth in online advertising which is tipped to be $80 billion, I think we still have a lot more innovation to go with revenue models, especially ones that help content creators.

Advertising is a revenue stream that has traditionally enabled content-creators to monetise their products, in the absence of people paying a fee or subscription. With the Internet, content has undergone a radical changing of what it is – digital, abundant, easily copied – whilst the Internet has offered new opportunities for how advertising is done. However, the Internet has identified the fundamental weaknesses of advertising , as consumers can now control their content consumption, which allows them to ignore embedded advertising altogether. Content on the other hand, still remains in demand, but means of monetising it are slipping into a free economy which is not sustainable. I make that point to illustrate not that professional content creation is a sunset industry – but rather there’s a big market opportunity as this massive industry needs better options.

time mag

"Hey man, there’s this new thing called the Internet. Sounds pretty cool"

One of the biggest innovations in advertising (and enabled by the Internet) is of contextual search advertising. This has been popularised by Google, which now makes 98% of its $17 billion revenue from these units. This advertising dominates online advertising (40% of total) because of its pull nature, whereby key-words stated by a consumer in effect state their intention of what they are interested or would like to purchase. Whilst this is a highly efficient form of advertising, it also has its weaknesses – for example, it is not as effective outside of the search engine environment. Google makes 35% of its revenue from the adSense network , where these contextual ads are placed on peoples personal websites. Evidence from high traffic bloggers suggests they barely make enough money through this type of advertising. Another point to consider is that aspects of the Google network include significant partnership agreements like the one with AOL which accounts for 10% of Googles revenue (this is a 2005 figure which has likely changed, but Google does state in their 2007 report "Our agreements with a few of the largest Google Network members account for a significant portion of revenues derived from our AdSense program. If our relationship with one or more large Google Network members were terminated or renegotiated on terms less favorable to us, our business could be adversely affected.". AOL most recently reported for Q1 2008 half a billion dollars largely from search advertising ).

Other attempts at creating more efficient advertising which have existed for over a decade, have come in the form of profiling or behavioural tracking. However, these forms of advertising has also highlighted the growing awareness of consumer privacy being eroded, and is under heavy scrutiny by activist groups and government. Facebook is a company that is best posed to deliver new forms of advertising because of the rich profiling data it has, but it itself has faced massive backlash .

My view is that the majority of online advertising for successful individual publishers at least, has largely come from traditional approaches to advertising – a masthead blog with a sales team that uses display advertising. How effective this display advertising is is debateable with widespread banner blindness and consumer control over their content, but it would appear that this is more a case of advertisers seeing this as the least bad on the overall scale of opportunities. The fact it replicates the mass media approach of number of unique consumers viewing the content, and not the types of users, means this isn’t anything new other than being done in a digital environment.

Digital content is in need of a better monetisation system.
Targeted advertising is the most efficient form, yet consumer privacy is a growing force preventing this. What we need, is not a new advertising technology, but a new way of thinking about advertising – in a way that can help the content economy rather than riding on it without giving benefit. Contextual advertising sounds great in theory as it calculates key-word frequency of words on a website, to match it to a key word ad – but it’s proving in practice these ads are not very relevant. Yet trying to think of a smarter way to advertise, may be the wrong question – perhaps half the problem itself is advertising as a concept?

perspective

Are we running down a tunnel, only to find there is nothing there?

Content which comes in the form of news (historical and breaking), analysis, and entertainment can be monetised via a persons attention or through a transaction (ie, subscription, fee, etc). Both this approaches have different barriers.

– Attention: The key driver is increased dollars per unique person, over a period of time. The barriers to this approach is the challenge of identifying the individual in a way that gives advertising that is highly relevant and will result in a conversion. In other words, privacy privacy privacy.

– Alternative payment: Requiring consumers to pay for content is a barrier due to the paid wall. What is more problematic for digital content, is that the ability to replicate it freely makes it not just easy to do for the masses but has created a culture of if it’s not free, it’s not worth purchasing unless its really necessary. There needs to be a strong value proposition for a consumer to purchase content, and in the absense of a brand and marketing, the restriction of what value the content offers is a barrier for consumer demand as they don’t know what they are missing out on.

So as you see above, content creators are in a difficult position. Charging people reduces their opportunity unless they are really established, but even then, due to the digital environment they don’t have any control over subsequent distribution (with rampant piracy). Yet advertising is fraught with being irrelevant and hence not effective (so advertisers go to other forms) and any attempts to make it more relevant, gets held back by the concerns of privacy advocates (and rightly so). Whilst the Internet parades itself as an advertising growth machine, it’s growing in new areas but not the old areas that have traditionally been the medium for advertisers.

This advertising growth is largely being driven through utility computing products that aim to make information retrieval more efficient (ie, search). However, the growth for the content creators, is not happening. As Cam was telling me, in a market like Australia – small content organisations like TPN and Bronwen Clune ‘s Norgs , don’t have access to the big end of town for a sales team. And he didn’t have to tell me, those Google ads for the smaller guys, are not enough to pay the bills. That small to middle end is not being really catered for.

But before you jump on the phone and create some mid-tier advertising network that caters for a niche, think about the real problem: content creators need a better solution to monetise their content. But advertisers also need a better way of selling, other than some slick-talking sales person who can sell ads on pageviews (a broken model with weak alternatives ) They need advertising that is suited for their product, but the market now includes other products media outlets never had to compete with like marketplaces now happening online and utility computing products. Whilst the technology community obsesses about search , let’s also remember we have yet to see a new way to monetise content that is superior to the old world. Contextual advertising of text is the latest new thing area, but that technique is nearly a decade old. As I prove above, outside of the search environment, it is showing to not be that effective.

Where is the innovation going to come from? Not through technology but with a new paradigm shift like how content creators operate . New ways of thinking about the way we ‘sell’ like what the VRM Project is challenging. But perhaps more fundamentally, is an understanding that the holy grail of targeted advertising has got a speed hump called privacy – and that may actually be a sign of not going faster towards better targeting, but changing the vehicle all together.

How Google reader can finally start making money

Today, you would have heard that Newsgator, Bloglines, Me.dium, Peepel, Talis and Ma.gnolia have joined the APML workgroup and are in discussions with workgroup members on how they can implement APML into their product lines. Bloglines created some news the other week on their intention to adopt it, and the announcement today about Newsgator means APML is now fast becoming an industry standard.

Google however, is still sitting on the side lines. I really like using Google reader, but if they don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t announce support for APML soon, I will have to switch back to my old favourite Bloglines which is doing some serious innovating. Seeing as Google reader came out of beta recently, I thought I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢d help them out to finally add a new feature (APML) that will see it generate some real revenue.

What a Google reader APML file would look like
Read my previous post on what exactly APML is. If the Google reader team was to support APML, what they could add to my APML file is a ranking of blogs, authors, and key-words. First an explanation, and then I will explain the consequences.

In terms of blogs I read, the percentage frequency of posting I read from a particular blog will determine the relevancy score in my APML file. So if I was to read 89% of Techcrunch posts ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú which is information already provided to users ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú it would convert this into a relevancy score for Techcrunch of 89% or 0.89.

ranking

APML: pulling rank

In terms of authors I read, it can extract who posted the entry from the individual blog postings I read, and like the blog ranking above, perform a similar procedure. I don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t imagine it would too hard to do this, however given it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s a small team running the product, I would put this on a lower priority to support.

In terms of key-words, Google could employ its contextual analysis technology from each of the postings I read and extract key words. By performing this on each post I read, the frequency of extracted key words determines the relevance score for those concepts.

So that would be the how. The APML file generated from Google Reader would simply rank these blogs, authors, and key-words – and the relevance scores would update over time. Over time, the data is indexed and re-calculated from scratch so as concepts stop being viewed, they start to diminish in value until they drop off.

What Google reader can do with that APML file
1. Ranking of content
One of the biggest issues facing consumers of RSS is the amount of information overload. I am quite confident to think that people would pay a premium, for any attempt to help rank the what can be the hundreds of items per day, that need to be read by a user. By having an APML file, over time Google Reader can match postings to what a users ranked interests are. So rather than presenting the content by reverse chronology (most recent to oldest); it can instead organise content by relevancy (items of most interest to least).

This won?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t reduce the amount of RSS consumption by a user, but it will enable them to know how to allocate their attention to content. There are a lot of innovative ways you can rank the content, down to the way you extract key works and rank concepts, so there is scope for competing vendors to have their own methods. However the point is, a feature to ?¢‚ǨÀúSort by Personal Relevance?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ would be highly sort after, and I am sure quite a few people will be willing to pay the price for this God send.

I know Google seems to think contextual ads are everything, but maybe the Google Reader team can break from the mould and generate a different revenue stream through a value add feature like that. Google should apply its contextual advertising technology to determine key words for filtering, not advertising. It can use this pre-existing technology to generate a different revenue stream.

2. Enhancing its AdSense programme

blatant ads

Targeted advertising is still bloody annoying

One of the great benefits of APML is that it creates an open database about a user. Contextual advertising, in my opinion is actually a pretty sucky technology and its success to date is only because all the other types of targeted advertising models are flawed. As I explain above, the technology instead should be done to better analyse what content a user consumes, through keyword analysis. Over time, a ranking of these concepts can occur ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú as well as being shared from other web services that are doing the same thing.

An APML file that ranks concepts is exactly what Google needs to enhance its adwords technology. Don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t use it to analyse a post to show ads; use it to analyse a post to rank concepts. Then, in aggregate, the contextual advertising will work because it can be based off this APML file with great precision. And even better, a user can tweak it ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú which will be the equivalent to tweaking what advertising a user wants to get. The transparency of a user being able to see what ‘concept ranking’ you generate for them, is powerful, because a user is likely to monitor it to be accurate.

APML is contextual advertising biggest friend, because it profiles a user in a sensible way, that can be shared across applications and monitored by the user. Allowing a user to tweak their APML file for the motivation of more targeted content, aligns their self-interest to ensure the targeted ads thrown at them based on those ranked concepts, are in fact, relevant.

3. Privacy credibility
Privacy is the inflation of the attention economy. You can?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t proceed to innovate with targeted advertising technology, whilst ignoring privacy. Google has clearly realised this the hard way by being labeled one of the worst privacy offenders in the world. By adopting APML, Google will go a long way to gain credibility in privacy rights. It will be creating open transparency with the information it collects to profile users, and it will allow a user to control that profiling of themselves.

APML is a very clever approach to dealing with privacy. It?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s not the only approach, but it a one of the most promising. Even if Google never uses an APML file as I describe above, the pure brand-enhancing value of giving some control to its users over their rightful attention data, is something alone that would benefit the Google Reader product (and Google?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s reputation itself) if they were to adopt it.

privacy

Privacy. Stop looking.

Conclusion
Hey Google – can you hear me? Let’s hope so, because you might be the market leader now, but so was Bloglines once upon a time.

Half the problem has been solved with time spent

On Thursday, I attended the internal launch of the Australian Entertainment & Media Outlook for 2007-2011. It was an hour packed with interesting analysis, trends, and statistics across a dozen industry segments. You can leave a comment on my blog if you are interested in purchasing the report and I’ll see if I can arrange it for you.

One valuable thing briefly mentioned, was the irony of online advertising.
Continue reading ‘Half the problem has been solved with time spent’

Thoughts on attention, advertising, and a metric to measure both: keep it simple

Advertising on the Internet is exploding. Assuming you accept my premise that the Internet will be the backbone of the world’s attention economy – then, I am sure you can see the urgency of developing an effective metric for measuring audiences that consume content online. Advertisers are expecting more accountability online and there is increasing demand for an independent third-party to verify results. But you can’t have accountability and there is no value in audits, if one place measures in apples and the other in bananas.

The Attention Economy is seriously lacking an effective measurement system

Ajax broke the pageview model of impressions, the one billion-dollar practice of click-fraud is the dirty big secret of pay-for-performance advertising, and the other major metric of using unique visitors (through cookies) is proving inaccurate.

It sounds crazy, doesn’t it? The Internet has the best potential for targeted advertising, and advertisers are moving onto it in stampedes – and yet, we still can’t work out how to measure audiences effectively. Measurement is broken on the Net.

(Although I am focusing on advertising, this can be applied in other contexts. An advertising metric is simply putting a monetary value on what is really an attention metric.)

Yet when we look at the traditional media, are we being a little harsh on this new media? Is the problem with the web’s measurement systems just that it is more accountable for its errors? After all – radio, television, and print determine their audience through inference which are based on sampling methods and not actually directly measuring an audience. Sampling is about making educated guesses – but a guess is still a guess.

Maybe another way of looking at it is that the old way of doing advertising is no longer effective. Although we can say pageviews are broken due to AJAX, the truth is it was always an ineffective measurement system, as it was based on the traditional media’s premise of how many viewers/subscribers theoretically and potentially could see that ad. As an example of why this is not how it should be: when people visit my blog via Google Images, they hang around for 30 seconds. People that search for business issues on the web that I write about, like stuff you are reading right now – spend 5+ minutes. If both are equal in terms of page views, but the later actually reads the pages and the former only scans the content for an image – why are we treating them equally? My blog is half about travel, and half about the business of the internet, which is why I have two very different audiences. Just because I get high page views from my travel content, doesn’t mean I can justify higher CPM’s for people that want to advertise on internet issues. Not all pageviews are the same – especially when I know the people giving me high pageviews, arn’t really consuming my content

Another issue is that advertisers are so caught up on who can create the most entertaining 30 second ad, that the creativity to get people entertained has ovetaken the reason why advertising happens in the first place: to make sales. The way you do that, is by communicating your product to the people that would want to buy it. If I placed advertising on this blog, from people who want to do web-business related stuff, they should only pay for the peope that read my blog postings for 5+ minutes on the Attention economy, not for the Google images searchers who are looking for porn (my top keywords, and how people find my blog, makes me laugh out loud sometimes!).

When we create a metric that measures attention, lets be sure of one thing: the old way is broken, and the new ways will continue to be broken if we simply copy and paste the old ways. New ways like click-through ads that appear on search results, and account for 40% of internet advertising is not how advertising should be measured. The reason is because it is putting the burden of an effective advertising campaign, on a publisher. Why should a publisher not get paid, with the opportunity cost of not using another ad that would have paid, because of the ineffectiveness of the advertisers campaign strategy at targeting?

When measuring audience attention, lets not overcomplicate it. It should be purely measuring if someone saw it. As an advertiser, I should be able to determine which people from which demograph can see it my ad – and yes, I will pay the premium for that targeting. If it turns into a sale, or if they enjoyed the content – is where your complex web analytic packages come in. But for a simple global measurement system, lets keep it simple.

Concluding thought

If I stood at the toll booths of the Sydney Harbour bridge naked, some people will honk at me and others won’t. If I can guarantee that they can see me naked, that’s all as a publisher I need to do. It’s the advertisers problem if people honk at me or not. (Not enough honks means as a model I should still get my wage. They just need to hire a better looking model next time!)

Privacy – just like inflation

Privacy is a massive business issue. I’ve commented on the lack of interest in privacy from entrepreneurs in the web space; I’ve tried to define privacy; and I joined the APML workgroup for this reason

Need to know why I think it matters? Well here are three facts:

1) Targeted advertising is the future of advertising. Why? Because it’s most effective type of advertising.

2) Web services, and arguably the entire attention economy, rely on advertising as a revenue model.

3) There is a natural friction between targeted advertising and privacy. You can’t target without knowing who you are targeting – which implies some type of implicit collection of data.

Google, on the strength of its brand, has been able to manage the privacy issue. But no longer. Privacy International has ranked Google at the worst privacy offended on the internet. As 99% of Google’s revenue relies on advertising, with open acknowledgment that they are trying to find ways of better targeting advertising, we can expect to hear more and more how Google’s evil is in the data they collect and the way they control it.

Economic growth is one of the key concepts to how our world works – it’s what companies and countries for example, constantly aim for. But as we have seen repeatedly, if an economy grows too quickly, problems can appear – inflation, infrastructure issues, and fatigue. Greed has a price. In the context of an economy, inflation is the speed-hump – the faster you drive over it, the bigger the hit.

So would it be too far to extend the metaphor, to say that privacy is the advertising equivalent to inflation? If you are relying on advertising as a revenue model, remember that privacy will matter more and more with an interconnected world.

Define privacy: what does it mean to you?

Privacy as a concept is becoming increasingly important in the digital world. People recognise it, but do they know what it is?

If web-services rely on advertising to survive, and targeted advertising is the holy grail of advertising – doesn’t it make sense that privacy as a right is defined? There needs to be an agreement between consumers, publishers, and advertisers of where the lines in the sand are. We can’t afford to have this concept hidden in the shadow – it’s too important.

For me, privacy is three things. The right to determine:

1) who can see information about you
2) when can people see information about you
3) what information they can see about you

As a whole concept –

“Privacy is an individual’s right to determine what information they would like others to know about themselves; which people are permitted know that information; and the ability to determine when those people can access that information”.

I would love it if someone can challenge that, or point me to something else, because I really would like to know.

I’m on the APML workgroup

As Chris announced, I’m now a member of the APML work-group. So the question, is why have I joined it? Because profiling is huge. People are only starting to get to grips with the loss of privacy on the web – I suppose an externality of an electronic world. I remember reading about some guy who posted on a marijuana bulletin board in 2000, and that it still comes up in Google searches. Prospective employers, prospective girlfriends, prospective anything – he now cannot control the information that he was once a pot head. It’s like someone watching you get changed, and you don’t have the option of pulling the curtain. Privacy, is about giving you the choice to use that curtain – whether you’re an exhibitionist or not!

Something a lot of people arn’t aware of, is the amount of data other companies are collecting – and you can’t control it. You reading this blog posting – I can find out what browser you have, what city you are viewing this from, who your Internet service providor is – heck I even know what version of windows you use. And I’m not even trying to profile you – think about Google or DoubleClick that know of every website you visit by placing a cookie on your computer.

Why do people want to collect information about you, known as your “attention data”? Because they can profile you – and when you can profile someone, you can personalise the experience for them…and target their advertising better.

The APML standard does a very simple thing: it allows you to control your “attention”. It’s still early days, and although there are some smart people discussing some deep issues on it, everyone on the work-group is still feeling their way of where this standard is going to go.

If you have thought about targeted advertising – and if you don’t you should – I would watch this standard. Or better still, start discussing it – this is a huge opportunity to set things right, before the Internet dominates our lives.