Digital media industry trends: 9/25/20

September ad spend is ending on a welcome high as Q3 comes to a close. Advertisers are ramping up political ad spend as the US presidential election draws near and, whether you’re interested in taking advantage of that incremental revenue...

By Paul Bannister

September ad spend is ending on a welcome high as Q3 comes to a close. Advertisers are ramping up political ad spend as the US presidential election draws near and, whether you’re interested in taking advantage of that incremental revenue or not, we’re working to meet your goals. 

And with Q4 right around the corner, you’ll find two steps you can check off your to-do list to make sure your site is set and ready to head into the highest ad spending time of the year!

We’re seeing strong ad revenue this month

September 2020 has really turned out to be a strong month for many publishers. The month started in a relatively good place, but we’ve been surprised by the continued growth in ad spending and revenue that we’ve seen. While everyone’s performance is different, the broad trend has been extremely positive this month for most CafeMedia publishers, with great RPMs across the board. 

This year has certainly been a rollercoaster so far, and that’s likely still the best metaphor as we head into the fourth quarter.

The big question is why has advertiser spending been so strong this month? This seemingly simple question actually has a lot of answers. 

Market trends

Part of the answer has been market trends. While some advertiser categories continue to see weak spending (like travel and live events), others have more than picked up the slack. 

As consumers continue to spend more time at home, advertiser categories like appliances, electronics, and consumer-packaged goods (toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning supplies, etc.) stay very strong. Automotive ad spending saw a big dip earlier this year but has bounced back as consumers in metropolitan areas particularly are shifting away from mass transit options and toward personal vehicles.

Ad sales

Another major factor in the strong performance of RPMs has been the continued efforts of our ad sales team. Our team goes directly to advertisers to get custom deals that are ONLY for CafeMedia publishers. These direct deals have performed exceptionally well this year, but September has outperformed even our wildest expectations. 

Directly selling to advertisers is a lengthy and involved process that our team has been at for years now. We’re continuing to see the compounding impact of our long-term investment in this area, ensuring that CafeMedia publishers will be even further ahead of the general market as we get into the fourth quarter.

Ad code & revenue optimizations

Finally, in the last few months, our ad code and revenue optimization teams have been hard at work on a number of major changes that collectively have had a big impact on revenue. 

These teams release several new developments every week, and while each one usually has a relatively small impact on revenue, the compounding effect of dozens of changes per month really adds up!  

Additionally, with our partners at TripleLift, we implemented a batch of new changes to the look and feel of a number of our ad units. This has had a positive impact on click-through rate on these ads, which in turn is driving up the rates that advertisers are willing to pay. 

P.S. You should check out TripleLift’s “Success Stories From Women at the Top” interview with our very own Shobha Doshi!

What’s next for ad spending?

Since we’re at the end of the third quarter, we should see a continued spike in spending through the next few days. 

But even though the beginning of October kicks off the fourth quarter, expect a dip in spending, as advertisers reset their budgets and start putting their Q4 plans into place. 

Assuming there are no major economic crises, Q4 should follow normal historical trends, with mid-November through December 25 being, by far, the highest revenue time of year for most publishers. 

Now is the time to get ready to capture this spending!

Political ad spending

As the presidential election looms in the United States, political ad spending is at its highest point. This can be a double-edged sword for publishers, though, as readers are sensitive to political advertising and it’s tough to block them — a rising problem for many non-CafeMedia publishers

Because of our partnership with Confiant, and the diligence of our operations teams to respond to any miscategorized ads and fine-tune our filters, we have been able to maintain a pretty strong handle on keeping political ads off sites that don’t want them. (Knock on wood!)

On the flip side, for sites that do allow political advertising, it can be a material source of incremental revenue right now. The next six weeks or so will be the largest window of political ad spending, and our teams are working across the board to make sure that CafeMedia publishers who want to run political ads capture the most revenue they can. 

Our ad sales team is negotiating some special campaigns that go above-and-beyond the normal programmatic spending in this space, increasing the size of this opportunity. Three things to do to prep for Q4 and beyond

1. Focus on your email list

With the clock ticking on third-party cookies, we’ve been working on a number of possible alternatives to support independent publishers and maintain the viability of ad-supported content in the future. 

One of those alternatives turns your subscribers’ emails into an anonymous way for advertisers to reach users, confirming that investing in your owned email list is still one of the most valuable things you can do.

ay content is the quickest and easiest way to turn that interest into traffic for your site right now. 

Then, promote away, no matter how early it feels! We’re all ready for a little holiday magic.

3. Learn how to spot and ride trends

Adaptability is the name of the game for 2020 content creation. A changing world means constantly changing interests — and constantly changing opportunities for you to give readers what they’re looking for.

As you’re planning your content calendar, it pays to maintain some flexibility so you can ride the wave of rising trends. Set aside some time, regularly, to dive into Google Trends and Google Shopping Insights to look for content, affiliate marketing, and promotion angle ideas. 

Another massive, free data source that helps you stay on the cutting edge? Social media insights. 

Identifying and capitalizing on fresh but intense trends can be a valuable supplement to your longer term SEO strategies, even if they don’t turn into consistent traffic. 

And with a strong email gathering strategy in place, you can convert a portion of those new eyeballs into permanent readers.