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Every publisher wants to attract big brand advertisers, but it's not an easy task. Setting up a direct sales force is expensive and time-consuming, so it may seem that the only alternative for publishers is to hand over their ad space to an ad exchange or SSP (supply-side, or sell-side, platform) that engages in programmatic buying, thus devaluing inventory and excluding many of the big brands that don't engage in those platforms.

In fact, there are alternatives, but they require some elbow grease and a little out-of-the-box thinking on the part of the publisher. If publishers want to attract those ad dollars, they have to do the work. They must commit to positioning themselves as appealing to brands by showcasing quality audiences, enticing advertising opportunities, and above-benchmark engagement rates.

If you're a publisher and you're willing to get your hands a little dirty, here are the six things you'll need to do to attract those brand advertisers.

1. Trim the Fat

Review the ad placements you have—and then eliminate the bottom 25%. Yes, that sounds crazy, but I can just about guarantee that they account for only 5% of your revenue. And, most likely, they're degrading your user experience by cluttering up your pages; they are also distracting users from the better, more relevant advertising and content you offer.

2. Location, Location, Location

Move ad placements to nontraditional (but logical) locations to avoid banner blindness and to encourage users to engage. Successful placement alone can increase engagement up to 30-fold. Users don't even see the ads we typically place along the top of the page or along the right rail. Years of predictable placement have trained them to ignore rather than engage.

That is why native advertising has become such a hot trend, and why it's outperforming traditional banners. For example, consider the Stream Ads recently launched on Yahoo's new homepage. These are native-style ads that appear within the content stream, allowing users to engage with fresh eyes. Sponsored Tweets on Twitter and Sponsored Posts on Facebook follow a similar format.

3. Relevance

Evaluate your current monetization platform and make sure you're going deep with your targeting. You're likely to see the best success rates by targeting user intent in real time instead of targeting what users were interested in yesterday, last week, or last month. Cookies are not your best bet here; real-time contextual analysis and intent extraction are essential. Go this route, and rather than being distracting and annoying... the ads your visitors see will appear helpful and relevant to what they're doing now.

4. Demand excellent content

Quality content attracts audiences. Such content is shared via email and social networks, driving even larger audiences. Brands that target niche audiences, such as affluent working mothers, are going to look for content that actually engages that specific audience. So your site had better have excellent childcare tips, recipes for healthy dinners that can be prepared in 15 minutes or less, and reviews of the latest apps for kids. If you have crowd-sourced content, definitely use a tool to screen for brand safety. Advertisers will recognize and appreciate the effort.

5. Audience Alert

Make sure your target audience knows about your excellent content. Intelligent use of SEO and social media will help broaden audiences. Make sure all your content can be shared easily across social platforms and via email! (It's such a great, easy way to distribute content, yet I'm amazed at how many publishers aren't using sharing tools.) Then, once you've attracted your new visitors, tailor the site experience for them. What was their intent in visiting your site? How can you ensure that your content meets their goals?

6. Trusted Partners

Bite the bullet and implement a monetization solution you can trust. And don't settle. If you are going to replace a portion of the ad space you trimmed (see No. 1 in this list), demand that your partner be able to deliver ads in nontraditional locations, target based on real-time intent, and implement with a single tag that doesn't require a site redesign.

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Follow these tips and you'll be on your way to attracting and keeping those big brand advertisers. Yes, there's work involved, but hard work usually pays off. In this case, it can pay off very profitably.

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image of John Yearout

John Yearout is chief sales officer of website ad solution provider Infolinks, where he oversees North American media sales. He occasionally assists his father with a line of hot sauces: Floyd & Fred's HotLime.