Forbes has introduced a native content tool that can geolocate readers down to the company they work for and target articles accordingly, a move it claims is a significant breakthrough in the future of targeted news content.
The publisher tore down the editorial/commercial divide six years ago when it launched BrandVoice, which gives advertisers access to its CMS to publish content directly onto site. The model was later picked up by freesheet City AM. Now every major publisher has some form of branded content offering, but none so generous - or controversial - as Forbes’.
Yet while BrandVoice - which in 2015 accounted for more than a third (35%) of digital revenue - has undoubtedly boosted ad revenues for Forbes, its targeting has been a “challenge” that advertisers have been keen to overcome, said chief revenue officer Mark Howard.
While publishers have the ability to target native ads using a secondary native content system like Nativo, or building their own system as Forbes did, the ads account for a “very little percentage of the views you get to a piece of content”, believes Howard.
“While those can be specifically targeted to a country or region or company, that doesn’t necessarily drive large readership of people in that desired target,” said Howard.
To counter this, Forbes has spent the last year working on a new product that connects the native ad server, the CMS and a newly created infinite scroll tab - systems that have otherwise “never communicated with each other”, Howard added.
Now when someone comes to the Forbes site, the publisher is able to locate that user down to the company they work using signals from the ad server, layered with logged-in user information, identify the BrandVoice content that qualifies for that type of reader, and then present that content to the reader in the natural flow of the infinite scroll.
The publisher can then report back to its advertisers the audience engagement levels from specific targets: "We have a much better ability to be able to predict within a certain range the types of page views they will be able to generate, give them a better idea of size of audience they want to reach. And more sophisticated content discussions around engagement," Howard says.
It’s the first time a publisher has been able to reach a such a granular level of targeting in branded content, claimed Howard: "Typically the sites that have infinite scroll and have content baked into it wouldn’t necessarily be able to get as granular in terms of the number of different options you have got from an ad server,"he continued.
He said there are "hundreds if not thousands" of different audience segments that the publisher can identify, ranging from job title to purchase intent - information that BrandVoice partners can use to pinpoint content at an individual reader level.
Forbes uses Google’s DoubleClick for Publishers (DFP) ad server to identify the geolocation of its readers. The product is only available on desktop currently, but the publisher is working on a mobile equivalent.
“It is a pretty big breakthrough for us in terms of being able to work with partners across Europe and Asia who will have more specific targets of businesses or affluent consumers, who have either global campaigns or regional campaigns. It can be anywhere in the world; a region, a city, a company. Now we have the ability to surface content to people in those targets,” says Howard.
The new navigation pane that sits on the left hand side of the site, which shows readers what content is coming next in the infinite scroll, was introduced in the fourth quarter of last year. An algorithm decides what editorial content to surface to an individual user, while the publisher’s latest native ad product places targeted content in the second and sixth slots within the pane.
“We are seeing much higher rate of people going article-to-article because they can see what that article is going to be ahead of time," Howard said , adding that the pane has increased engagement from readers between 25-40% depending on the audience segment.
It means the publisher can put a better price on a native ad slot; the price increasing as the target audience becomes more specific, and vice versa. In light of this, Howard’s ambition is for "all brands" to move to this model of serving content on a granular level.
"It takes a little bit of the uncertainty around what is the reach to target that an advertiser will have with a campaign. That was another one of the big pieces that had previously been missing. Now we are talking about a targeted cost-per-view for that brand," he added.