Whether you’re an avid or periodic podcast listener, you’ve likely encountered an advertisement for Squarespace.
The website creation platform’s ubiquity on the podcasting circuit came through a combination of luck and design, beginning with audio advertising experiments five years ago.
The marketing team at the time was small, between 15 and 20, some of whom had relationships with podcasters.
And around that time, other tech firms like MailChimp and Audible were also testing podcast advertising in search of tech-savvy audiences.
According to Ryan Stansky, the Squarespace marketer who spearheaded the company’s podcast ad strategy, the firm now commits “a large portion” of its ad budget to audio, which also includes radio, online radio and podcasting.
“That blends together to be a very big chunk,” Stansky said. “Podcasting has been a base for us that we’ve scaled up over the years. And as our marketing budget has grown each year, the podcast budget has grown nearly proportionally.”
Though podcasting has been a successful strategy for Squarespace, the medium may not be right for advertisers wary of what podcast personalities might say. Podcasts tend to be more freely expressive than, say, traditional radio shows, and some brands might not want to associate with divisive content.
“Federal regulation is a huge security blanket for a brand’s ability to advertise on podcasts,” said Chris Paul, VP of media and acquisition for Squarespace. “But for the brands that play in the space of free expression, which is what we enable via our technology, there’s less of an opportunity for a brand-damaging event.”
He added that major brands who are particularly cautious around these concerns “might have a tougher time advertising on podcasts.”
And given the diversity of podcasts that Squarespace works with, there’s no set process for striking new sponsorship deals.
“It varies from vendor to vendor and from podcast to podcast,” Stansky said, adding that while some sponsorships last a month, others can last for a full year.
“Some people reach out to us because they already know the product,” he said. “Sometimes it can be really quick, and other times there’s a lot of coaching. It’s not a set-it-and-forget-it process.”
As Squarespace’s marketing budget grows, Paul said the firm is also diversifying its ad portfolio by investing in video, with a lot of that marketing spend tied up in broadcast television.
“Diversity among our marketing channels has helped do better, more accurate cross-channel measurement,” Paul said.
He added that Stansky and his team were able to grow the firms’ presence in podcasting by working to define the business impact of podcasting.
“I think that might be one of the things that has kept other advertisers at bay,” said Paul. “They haven’t done as much work around attribution.”
Squarespace has experimented with offer codes and custom URLs to track a listener through to conversion, which Stansky said has worked well so far.
But he conceded that for podcasting there’s still very little data about how people consume content, how long they’re listening and whether or not the ads are skipped. Another caveat is a button on podcasting apps that allows listeners to skip forward 15 or 30 seconds.
And advertisers are left to trust podcasters on the download data they do gather.
“The podcaster has those numbers, and there’s no way for me to verify how many downloads they claim to see unless I ask them for a screenshot of their tracking interface.”
Yet given the chance to speculate on how podcast metrics could advance, Paul said he would like to see some third-party ad serving introduced to ease the advertising process and grow the overall market.
“I’m realistic about the technology being used to create these podcasts,” Paul said. “It’s often a microphone in a booth. The idea of having a back-end system like an ad server or DFA [DoubleClick for Advertisers] to integrate the ads may be a lot to ask in the near term.”
But over the last year, Paul has seen more advertisers entering podcasting. An ad server with audio capabilities could hasten that trend and benefit sponsors by providing new tools for metrics. And more advertisers in the space might hasten the development of an audio ad server.
“For companies like Squarespace,” he said, “who have already put a large commitment behind podcasting, it would make it a lot easier for us to manage our portfolio across podcasts and to do better measurements.”