With more and more companies launching ad businesses as scalable secondary revenue sources, it’s increasingly difficult for publishers to capture ad budgets. After all, advertisers’ budgets are only so large, and much of that will likely be taken up by Facebook, Google, and Amazon.
An ad platform is certainly not a guaranteed “if I build it, they will come” revenue source – publishers must give advertisers a compelling reason to spend with them. To do so, publishers need a key differentiator, something that advertisers can’t get anywhere else.
This article outlines the five key areas in which you can differentiate your ad platform. Even with just one, you can have a thriving ad program, but the more you have, the more likely you’ll catch the attention of advertisers.
If you have a large user base, you’ll easily draw interest from advertisers looking for the next high-growth lead channel. More potential impressions means more potential purchases/leads/results for them.
Of course, there’s a tension here: advertisers want both scale and performance. You’ll have to be mindful of this tradeoff as you build your feature set. You can’t assume that advertisers will keep spending with you even if the traffic is poor quality.
Nonetheless, scale itself can still be your major differentiation. If your ad platform, for example, can drive more overall purchases than Ad Platform #2 — even if they do it more cost-effectively — you have a chance of winning that budget.
Take Tinder’s ad platform. Tinder has limited targeting abilities, but their daily visitor numbers are massive, so Tinder easily draws advertisers to work with them.
Advertisers care about promoting their products to their target customers (demographics, psychographics, interests, and so on). Brands will pay premiums if they are certain they are reaching their desired audience.
If your service draws a niche audience that is hard to reach elsewhere, you are instantly interesting to any advertiser whose target audience overlaps with yours. Imagine a boutique flower shop that focuses on weddings. They already buy ads on Facebook, using hyper targeting to reach their audience (like “men in relationships” on Valentine’s Day). But their preferred ad platform is The Knot’s (a wedding planning tool), where they can target people who are actively planning a wedding, which is their target demographic.
The Knot can monetize here even without complex targeting options, as their entire traffic represents the niche audience the flower shop is looking for.
As mentioned, advertisers want to reach their target customers. If you don’t have a niche audience as a whole, you could instead offer targeting options that allow advertisers to segment and filter your traffic.
This hyper targeting is valuable to advertisers, as it allows them to get closer to their ideal customers. More targeting abilities = more differentiation.
For example, a large retailer like Best Buy has a ton of traffic but also a diverse audience. Targeting the whole site could reach married Dads, single college students, and so on, making it too broad for advertisers looking to target specific demographics.
With robust targeting options, however, Best Buy could appeal to advertisers, such as offering search keyword targeting that shows ads to people searching for relevant products. Samsung might jump on targeting people searching for “TV,” while EA would do the same for “game.”
There are many additional options for targeting beyond intent: first-party data, contextual (content of the page itself), behavioral (what the person has done in the past), real-time hashtags, and more.
First-party data is especially valuable. Advertisers can get third-party data through data platforms, but it has varying accuracy and could disappear when third-party cookies do.
If you can prove your data is reliable, though, you can pitch having access to user information not available elsewhere. Examples include interests, past browsing behavior, unique demographic information (LinkedIn, for instance, is one of the few places that has employment data), what they like to say in posts, and purchase history.
Advertisers want innovative ad units they can’t get anywhere else. They can always buy standard banners from their DSP or Google Ad Manager, but many advertisers are tired of “banner blindness” and are looking for ad units with higher engagement rates.
This is particularly true of digital marketing agencies who are buying on behalf of advertisers and want to tell a story of how they are “thinking outside the box.” Advertisers pay premiums for such ad units.
Take WeTransfer. They provide a full-skin, interactive ad on their upload page. Ads are custom made, high-quality, and don’t detract from the user experience. WeTransfer has had little issues convincing brands like Adobe, Ameritrade, Mailchimp, and many more to work with them.
Other desirable ad units include sponsored listings and sponsored products. Marketplaces and eCommerce brands often employ them, as the ads look and feel like organic listings, except with a “promoted” tag.
Ad performance alone could draw advertisers, even if your scale, targeting, ad units, and audience aren’t as unique as other ad platforms.
If your advertisers see ideal cost-per-actions, cost-per-leads, cost-per-clicks, and so on, it shouldn’t be hard to secure more ad budget, as advertisers usually focus first on what’s profitable.
Of course, good performance is usually driven by the above differentiators. There is definitely overlap between performance and what targeting, audiences, and ad units you offer.
Additionally, you should think of performance less as a separate differentiator and more as a requirement. While it’s certainly possible to scale without it, you’re more likely to retain and grow advertisers if you can prove they are seeing a good return on investment (ROI).
Having a unique ad platform means nothing without communicating it to advertisers. You can do this through:
Advertisers need a compelling reason to advertise beyond the top publishers. The five main differentiators you can pitch are scale, audience, targeting, ad units, and performance. We recommend building an ad platform that has at least three of them.
Communicating your ad platform’s ROI and uniqueness happens before, during, and after advertisers sign with you. Focus on your differentiation — it pays off!
Kevel offers the infrastructure APIs needed to quickly build custom ad platforms for sponsored listings, internal promotions, native ads, and more - so you can drive new revenue and take back the Internet.
We are committed to the vision that every online retailer and publisher should be able to add user-first ad revenue streams and take back the Internet from Google, Amazon, and Facebook. Customers like Ticketmaster, Yelp, Strava, Mozilla, and many more have already launched successful ad platforms on Kevel.
Sarah is an experienced writer with a software background, allowing her to translate between ad tech experts and lay readers. As Kevel's content writer, she writes for the blog and social media.