Slate Adds Scale To Native With Polar

Slate CustomLast month, Slate served 100 million impressions of native ads in 30 days.

For the coming fourth quarter, 15 native campaigns are in development. Some are running for a few weeks. A handful of native campaigns involve publication of dozens of posts over a year.

Despite that scale, until April of this year, Slate created and served native ads though its content management system (CMS), as other publishers do. But as the site’s native programming grew, it became a hassle.

“It was a very manual process in terms of reporting,” said Lindsay Nelson, VP of integrated programs for Slate, who started the company's native advertising program, SlateCustom, two and a half years ago. “We used the same tracking measurements we do for editorial, and pulled numbers in [Adobe Analytics] Omniture.”

Having the campaigns in a CMS also made it harder to optimize.

Changing an aspect of a campaign meant taking it offline, editing it and then bringing it back live. Each piece of sponsor content would have to be manually switched to different sections of the site to avoid reader fatigue. So Slate started looking for technology that was more tailored for native advertising and would reduce the manual labor the team had been doing while running and reporting on campaigns.

The impetus to add the technology was “definitively scale,” Nelson said. “Second, it was the ability to optimize. Three, it was the ease of reporting.” Polar addressed all three.

To serve native ads, Polar works in conjunction with a publisher’s ad server. In this case, it’s DoubleClick for Publishers (DFP).

“You upload the creative into Polar, using a template with the headline and images,” Nelson said. “Then you put a tag inside of DFP, and DFP calls on the creative through Polar and serves it in a designated spot.”

Polar allows Slate to add in three different versions of the headline. Based on which one performs best, the team can optimize to favor the headline everyone is clicking on, and disable the other ones.

“Polar changes the notion of ad serving and customizes it for branded content needs,” Nelson reflected. “Traditionally when you think about optimization in an ad context, it’s about how you achieve delivery. In this context, it’s about how to drive the most page views to a piece of content, and to be able to run and test multiple creative, and promote those that are performing.”

The optimization works in part because Slate’s team is so focused on it.

“It’s only effective if your team is looking at traffic on an hourly basis," Nelson said. "We have people focused looking at headline performance around the clock. It’s sort of like A/B testing, except you can monitor and make decisions in real time.”

Having Polar makes Slate’s native advertising more data-driven.

“It is astonishing the difference word choice in a headline can make. We can write three headlines we all think will perform equally as well, and one will perform so much better,” she continued, underscoring the important of real-time data analytics. “You can’t rely on your instinct for some of these things.”

Reporting is also richer. DFP will track basics, but Polar runs a script that will bring in the kind of in-depth information advertisers crave. Among them are details about primary and referral traffic, impressions, and engagement.

The interface tracks social shares and impressions for each social network. It can also monitor spend for paid distribution, and integrates with Moat for viewability data. Nelson can log into the dashboard to view the data and pass it on to advertisers efficiently.

Longer campaigns can add complexity, but Nelson also believes they lead to better results.

“Typically you want to do a series if you’re trying to build deeper engagement with readers on a subject matter,” she said.

A recent campaign with Lexus, designed to focus on the car manufacturer’s new hybrid vehicle, profiled a series of designers doing interesting things with sustainability. A year-long series with Prudential, “Living Longer Project,” is focused on living well while aging. It will include articles like “You’re Never Too Old to Scuba Dive,” infographics and the effect of living longer on the environment.

“Readers have demonstrated that there is an appetite for content created by brands,” Nelson said. “They’re going to start demanding that it’s high-quality. That’s where you’re going to see a shift, and a line in the sand, between good sponsored content and what’s ignored.”

Finding out how to leverage mobile inventory for native advertising is Nelson’s next challenge.

“As more publishers see their audience move into mobile, capturing that mobile audience for native is critical,” she observed. Metrics already favor mobile environments.

According to data collected by Polar, mobile native placements on the homepage have a CTR one-third higher than identical desktop placements.

“Time spent on page is strongest on mobile,” Nelson added. “That speaks to overall industry trends. People aren’t shifting between multiple tabs on mobile compared to desktop, which offers are more intimate experience. There is a big opportunity on mobile for native.”

 

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