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State of the advertising sector?

     
2:34 pm on Feb 4, 2015 (gmt 0)

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posts: 135
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I have been running a website with advertising since 1999. I started out with Burst Media, I added Flycast, then FastClick, Tribal Fusion, Casale, and Adsense. Things have worked out moderately well with that crop of ad networks (at least the ones that still survive - RIP Flycast!).

However, I have noticed that the landscape seems to be shifting lately. Burst Media was purchased a couple of years ago, their passionate founder, Jarvis Coffin, does not seem to be associated with them anymore. They shut down their own internal publisher message forum over a year ago, and they shifted to a net-60 on payment around the same time. I get horrid CPMs from them, so I barely send them any traffic.

Another advertiser I was using, Olive Media, shut down a couple of months ago. They were primarily a Canadian network operated by the Toronto Star - I had been with them for almost six years.

FastClick was purchased by ValueClick a couple of years ago, and they have shifted their identity to "Conversant" - though their user interface is still the old ValueClick software. I see mediocre results from them, the CPM is never that high, and the advertisers can be sketchy (suggestive/sexual ads on occasion, and things like auto-play audio - though they are not as bad as they used to be).

Tribal Fusion rebranded themselves as Expo9 a couple of years ago. They still perform pretty strong for me, with a good selection of higher brand advertisers. They have their ups and downs though - I can never seem to achieve a good CPM with them for skyscraper ads, and they are very cyclical with CPMs, with January being really, really bad. They are much stronger on US impressions than on Canadian impressions (and my site is about 68% Canadian).

Casale just rebranded themselves as "Index Exchange". I have been having good success with them too, but things have turned a bit downward in 2015. This could be related to the Canadian dollar (they are a Canadian company) which has lost about 30% in relation to the US dollar over the past six months. They have always been better for Canadian impressions.

Google Adsense still chugs along, it never achieved a CPM comparable to the top-tier networks of Casale and Tribal Fusion, but lately the spread is smaller due to those other networks losing ground. I mostly use them as a fallback.

But overall, the CPMs I have been seeing over the past 3 years are disconcerting. I keep meticulous stats on my revenue and impressions; I saw a 4% CPM increase in January of 2012, then a 2% decrease in January 2013, then a 9% decrease in January of 2014, and then a 20% decrease in January 2015. That trend does not seem promising. It has been less painful due to my traffic increases of 12% in Jan 2012, 22% in Jan 2013, 22% in Jan 2014, and 25% in Jan 2015 - but an 86% increase in monthly unique visitors from 2012 to 2015 has brought me a 0.6% decline in revenue!

I suspect that part of the CPM drop is due to mobile impressions. In 2012, my Mobile traffic was about 25%. Today, it is about 60% (I believe that number, from Google Analytics, includes tablets). My site is not yet a responsive design, so I have to imagine that people are not interacting with the ads as much. Although most ad networks report payments based on CPM, I suspect that ultimately these ads generate revenue based on blended formulas of CPM and click percentage - at the very least, the networks optimize their ad allocation based on performance.

I am planning on moving to a responsive design mobile site, but the main issue I am having is that it is very difficult to place CPM ads on a mobile site. My site right now generally serves 2 ads per page - a Leaderboard and either a skyscraper or a box (depending on browser width and page design). There is an equivalent unit to replace the skyscraper on mobile devices, and I can get such a unit "above the fold", but I can't get 2 ad units above the fold - I would need to integrate a second unit within the content, below the fold, and I don't know if the companies I use will allow this. I'm worried that if I go responsive, I will see a huge drop in revenue due to fewer ads per page coupled with lower mobile CPMs - I think it could be as much as a 60% revenue drop, which would be debilitating.

My site is over 10 million pageviews per month, on about 1.4 million monthly uniques. In January, I saw an overall effective CPM of under $0.75 - coming from 2 ad units per page. That strikes me as pretty low, but the only thing I have to compare against is my own history. Historically, I haven't seen CPMs that low since just before the stock market crash in 2008.

So after all that, my question is, what I am I missing? In which direction should I go?

Are there any other top-tier networks out there? Or are Casale and Expo9 the best? I get at least 3-4 emails weekly from companies I have never heard of who are "looking to buy inventory" - but they all seem questionable to me.

I cut out popunder ads about 5 years ago, and don't like the idea of intrusive advertising (especially those mobile units that hang at the bottom of a page). Is that the direction that networks are moving?

Can someone explain "exchanges" to me? Is this something I should be looking into? Are they better than the old-school CPM networks? When Olive Media shut down their network, they said that they would still be buying traffic "on the exchanges". This leads me to believe that I'm missing something.

Thanks!
9:56 pm on Feb 11, 2015 (gmt 0)

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joined:Apr 15, 2003
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Have you tried affiliate links instead of CPC/CPM adverts? Banners have two big problems:

1) 50% of the ads are filtered out by Adblockers
2) Banner blindness results in sub 1% CTR

And the result is the $1 per 1000 impressions that seems to be the norm these days. And even that is usually taken from the Adsense reports that doesn't even include the 50% of visitors who use ad blockers.

Affiliate links do not have these two problems. For me they work way better then Adsense these days. Which is kind of insane, because my home-made "find the right affiliate link and display it to the right visitor" system competes with Googles billion dollar system. And my handful of advertisers with Googles hundreds of thousands of advertisers. But it is as it is. AdBlockers and Banner Blindness make it so. Crazy world.
8:43 pm on Feb 12, 2015 (gmt 0)

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joined:June 20, 2006
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Finding some to buy your space, is like Craigslist (you've got to find and communicate with the buyer). Loads of work, but finding a buyer takes time, and does not necessarily find the seller top dollar.

Signing up with a Network (like AdSense or FlyCast), is like selling to a pawn shop (bring whatever you've got, they'll buy it, they'll worry about selling it to others). The Pawn shop owner / Network marks your stuff up a ton.

Signing up with an exchange, is like eBay, list all of your stuff, many buyers are there already lined up to buy all kinds of stuff. eBay / exchange takes a very small cut.

Exchanges might be better, or worse, than other methods, depends on the quality of your traffic, it's commercial value to others, and other lesser factors.

If your content centers around items you can sell, better to be an affiliate for those items (or use Chitika). If your content is best supported by ads, try the exchange route. It and AdSense are likely your two best choices.