In an effort to help publishers of all shapes and sizes better understand, build and sell branded content campaigns, The Branded Content Project is sharing expert advice from across the industry.

Today’s experts: the team from MarketChorus, a company that helps publishers find revenue opportunities by looking at their audience data and content in new and innovative ways, and deploying solutions that can be sold either as advertising products or used internally for driving subscriber growth. MarketChorus applies natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning (ML) technology to analyze content through the lens of social media.

We talked with Matt Sommer, CEO and founder of MarketChorus, and Nathan Binford, vice president of marketing, about retargeting opportunities for publishers, and how using targeting tools can improve branded content results for your advertisers.

Matt and Nathan provided a tutorial and a tour of retargeting for publishers. Watch this video to get expert advice on using your content to retarget your audience, discover step by step guides for building retargeting campaigns, and learn how retargeting can benefit your branded content and subscription strategies.

Ready to get started with retargeting for publishers but want only a few highlights? Below we provide a few excerpts from the interview with Nathan and Matt; for full details, watch the video.

What is retargeting?

Nathan: The topic of today is retargeting opportunities for publishers. Retargeting is a type of digital advertisement that is delivered to people who have visited your website in the recent past. That could be anybody who has come to your website, that could be somebody who has come to a particular page or section of your website, and then creating a targetable ad audience on another platform, like a Facebook or a Google or something, that can then be used as the driver for the ad campaign itself.

How can it work for publishers?

Nathan: Everybody has been retargeted before. Everyone has looked at a product on Amazon, and they have been followed around by that product for days or weeks as they are going everywhere else on the web, because that is Amazon, trying to close the sale. For publishers, there is a bit of a different type of opportunity, but the technology is still very much the same. The idea is if people have been to your website before they are your readers and if they have been many times, then they are your loyal readers. Those readers are really the asset that you have that you sell to advertisers and that you leverage for your own growth. Being able to know something about those people and what they are reading on your website gives you some very compelling opportunities to deliver them personalized advertising messages or promotional messages for your own brand.

Nathan: Where do retargeting campaigns even run, right? It is not on your website, it is on the other websites that people visit after they have been to your website. That would be ad networks like the Google Display Network or the Facebook/Instagram audience network, as well as many others. LinkedIn allows retargeting, so does Twitter. But Google and Facebook/Instagram represent something we call the duopoly. Those are the two largest advertising networks in the world. That is, about sixty percent of the total advertising impressions that exist in the digital space are sold through those two different networks. So, in very simple terms, you have a tight, loyal audience, but a limited number of impressions. And you can target those people on platforms where you have a theoretically limitless number of impressions and much larger reach.

Tips on building an audience

Nathan: A site-wide retargeting audience is great, especially for internal purposes. So, if you are trying to get people who are readers of your website to become subscribers of your website, one of the best ways to do that is to get them back reading more content. Simply creating a site-wide retargeting audience and driving everyone back more often is going to have an effect on your subscriber growth goals.

Nathan: In terms of the types of audiences that you might want to sell, obviously, all of your readers are valid to your advertisers, but usually you want to segment that a little bit. So maybe it is your sports readers, or maybe it is a particular thing that is happening in the news right now. So, there is what you can do manually. And so that is copying a URL and putting it in one at a time and building a retargeting audience based on that. And then there is what you can do with the addition of, say, market chorus-based software that we will get to in a couple of slides.

Matt: One of the abilities of these platforms is also to do exclusions. So, if publishers have hopefully long lists of subscribers already, you can add those via email or other identifiers and use that to exclude from your audience, so you are not duplicating efforts and running subscription campaigns to people that are already subscribers. So, there are lots of fine-grain controls. It is just, how much work do you want to put into it essentially?

What are the benefits of retargeting for publishers?

Nathan: Typically, in a normal Facebook campaign, you are going to pay between ten- and fifteen-dollars CPM or cost per thousand views to buy and deliver the ad. So, if you were going to sell Facebook Ads to someone, you add a thirty or fifty percent margin on top of that, so that you guys had a margin to operate with them. But when you are using your own data, you take all of the targeting fees that are associated with that Facebook campaign completely out, and you replace them with your own data. And that is usually about fifty percent, roughly. It depends a little bit on the audience and who is bidding on what, but let us say, generally speaking, you are talking about a fifty percent savings on the cost per impressions.

Nathan: So, that is beneficial to you in two ways. If you are running your own ads, driving potential subscriber acquisition, then it is half cost. Great. And you also know more about them, and you know that they are engaged readers. So, it is more likely to be a reactive audience. But as from ad sales standpoint, you were also able to buy them at half price and sell them for the same price that anybody else can even buy Facebook Ads and keep about a hundred percent margin on it for yourself. So that is pretty powerful.

Nathan: And the second benefit would be that you can use this technology to reinforce your marketing messages and often personalize them based on what people are reading to engage them more frequently, increase return visits, and reader loyalty, which obviously adds up to a higher subscriber acquisition count.

Nathan: Your loyal audience is valuable, but not just on your website, right? I mean, advertisers come to you. They want to advertise in your paper. They want to advertise on your website because they value your audience. But that audience is really what they value more than any one particular piece of content or that their ad is next to any particular piece of content. So the advertiser at an individual level, they may be interested in your news, but as a buyer of media, they are interested in the audience. And so, what you have as an asset that you can sell to them is your loyal audience.

Nathan: Most of you are already selling all of that inventory actually, but you can now reach a theoretically unlimited number of impressions on that same audience based on reaching them everywhere else they go online. And that is what retargeting is all about. So, your engaged readers also are more likely to become subscribers, which means that when they are on your website, that is great. They are likely to potentially click on a CTA about becoming a subscriber. But what about when they are not on your website? What about when they are getting messages from somewhere else? If you can be reinforcing your valuable, credible message at that point, then you are going to be able to drive them back to your website and increase your subscribers.

Nathan: So why bother trying to influence your readers on other platforms? I mean, you have a lot of opportunity when they are on your website, right? Well, when someone visits your website, they generate ad impressions that you can sell. So, there is a benefit in getting more people to come back to your website more frequently because that increases your ad revenue. But then in addition to that, you also have this audience extension idea with retargeting, you can sell the same audience, the same loyal readers that people already value and already want to pay you for it. And sometimes, you run out of the inventory to serve all those requests, but with retargeting, you can sell this audience when they are on Facebook, or they are on Google or wherever else they might be.

Segmenting audiences for advertisers.

Nathan: Let us talk for a minute about some specific examples of how segments of your audience might be interesting to different segments of advertisers or how you might leverage what you know about those readers to put personalized offers in front of them. Your arts and life readers are valuable to your city’s arts and music community, your theater community, and so forth. Imagine right now, all these places are trying to reopen, certainly are in Texas, and the people that they are trying to get to come back and be patrons, they might take a little convincing. So, some good, healthy advertising to readers that are highly engaged in that content might be very useful to that community.

Nathan: Likewise, this is a big election year. There is always something going on in the election space. So political readers are of big interest, and there is a lot of political ad dollars being thrown around. So, if you could put that together into an audience that was intelligent and be able to actually say based on what they read, we know they are this type or this type of interested, engaged reader and personal political interest. Then you could deliver that as an audience for the Republicans or for the Democrats or for lobbying organizations and so forth. Another one might be real estate readers are looking for places to invest their money. Brokers, real estate funds. They are looking for people to spend their money. So you might be able to put the two of those together.

Matt: We like to say that your content is a lens, right? I mean the act of someone reading articles or articles on your website is a tremendous indicator of their interest, one that is real-time and one that is not necessarily transportable or ownable by platforms like Facebook.

Matt: So from that, leverage your own IP, leverage your own reader data in a way that those platforms cannot do, and create audience segments that are totally differentiable and you can work more economically like Nate was saying earlier.

Nathan: And let us keep in mind that not only is this something that can be monetized. They can also be used to drive subscriber growth. Because you know what they are most interested in reading, you are able to deliver the messages. And I am sure that you do this on your websites right now. If they are reading a particular piece of content, you are probably giving them a particular type of offer. Take that same idea, and then move it off platform based on what you know that other people do not know about your readers. And that is the goal.

Let’s talk about prospecting.

Matt: Let me add one more in especially if it is from a sales perspective, it is prospecting, right? One of the abilities is to identify what tangible audiences that publishers have within their data. So the sales prospecting tool is a way of having something in hand to go out and close those deals. There is a tremendous amount of information that can be used to just start the sales process and have a good ability to walk in and make a good conversation.

The benefits for branded content.

Nathan: So publishers use this technology to promote personalized subscription offers. We are talking about the most highly engaged readers based on what they know about them. They can use it to guarantee views on sponsored content with the low cost of retargeting campaigns on Facebook depending on how your website is monetized. It is possible to drive – again, only through retargeting campaigns – traffic from Facebook for less than you would actually be generating based on the impressions on the given page.

Nathan: So one of my favorite examples of this is sponsored content or native advertising content is really useful and easy to sell to people. But one of the things that is difficult is trafficking enough people to those pages to guarantee the eyeballs, the views, that you have sold them. So Johnson & Johnson or Boeing or somebody comes through and spends twenty-five thousand, fifty thousand, couple of hundred thousand dollars on your website, you want to make sure that they are happy and that they want to keep coming back. So you could be using this technology to find readers that have read other content that is relevant on your website and bring them back so that they are looking at the sponsored content. Therefore, they are filling the number of impressions you guaranteed for them.

Nathan: And likewise, and this is a little bit of a reversal, you could be tracking that sponsored content and then delivering to Boeing or Johnson & Johnson, whoever is putting the sponsorship dollars with you, that same audience off the platforms. So would you like to not only reach the people who read your content on our website but reach them for weeks and months afterward so that you can move them further down the funnel? And that is just additional advertising impressions that you did not have. So those were incremental ad dollars that you can go after.

Nathan: And then that kind of dovetails into this third point which is because we are talking about, in this case, specifically social advertising, social advertising is hot. Everybody wants to be doing it. Almost everybody is advertising on Facebook. But it does not work as well as it used to. And some kind of differentiated data is really the difference.

Nathan: But, again, you have the data, you do not need their help. And so you can provide something to advertise this. They literally cannot buy on their own. They cannot run Facebook ads based on your reader data. Only you can do that. So if you are doing that on their behalf, you are not selling them in their print budget, and you are not selling them in their media advertising budget. You are going to be able to tap into new budgets potentially through executing the same audience they already value on a completely different platform they are already spending dollars on, and be able to do that with that hundred percent margin that we were talking about previously.

Nathan: So that is the big picture. Retargeting is beneficial to publishers because it helps them tap into this, otherwise, unused data source which can be monetized or can be used to drive growth. And that can be done in a manual way like one URL at a time or on a site-wide basis. Those kinds of simple retargeting tasks are pretty easy to do manually.

Nathan: But if you want to do something that is more nuanced? What if you are trying to reach an audience of people who are not just is into sports, and therefore all sports, but a particular activity or particular new story that is happening in the sports world? That cannot be done manually. For that, we have to up the ante and provide some AI to pull everything together in the background for you.

Targeting for subscription growth.

Nathan: So that is how you might sell an ad campaign. But how do you use the ad campaign for your own subscriber growth purposes? Well, that one just simply comes down to using that same data and the same audiences but targeting your most loyal readers with special subscription offers that are personalized based on their reading habits and even potentially current news.

Nathan: So there are lots of current news to work with right now. Anybody who is really interested in keeping up with COVID or who is really interested in keeping up with what is going on with China or is interested in borders reopening or anything like that. If you are a travel agent or you are a tourism department, you might be interested in the people who are reading articles about when things are opening up. You might be interested as a reader in reading more travel content. So you can work that in both ways. You can sell the audience and you can leverage the audience internally. You are using the same technology and the same data that you own, and nobody else has to do that.

Nathan: Any one piece of content is only going to have X number of viewers where if you can target people by the topics, by the stories they read, by leveraging machine learning and AI from MarketChorus, then you really have something that is magical. Something that nobody else can do that you can do at a drop of a hat. And that will differentiate you from other advertisers, from agencies in this space, from other publishers.

Matt: I would just add that I think it is important from a sales perspective to also remember that all of these retargeting opportunity is not cannibalistic with any existing ad efforts, right? It is not taking the place of ad dollars from display advertising or branded. It is incremental. It is a new line item and a new piece of IP based on your data that sales can add to get incremental revenue.

Matt: And also just one piece on the automation side, editors and writers are hard at work all the time, right? One of the efficiency models in all of these is to be able to keep up with new content. And that is kind of where the automation and platforms can come in to really help is there is always new content, there are always new people reading that content. So it is a very active and dynamic process that you could take advantage of multiple times even on the same content.

What content performs best?

Matt: Certainly, it is in the context of the type of campaign. The FWD>DFW campaign that I was associated with as well is a great example. In that case, it was trying to drive people to volunteer certain community aspects. And one of the ways we are testing this out was actually to segment the content and actually test that theory. Are there certain types of content that perform better? Arts and community-oriented content obviously performed pretty well.

Matt: But in that case, the one that blew everything else out of the water in terms of content segmentation was actually articles about the SPCA and pet adoption and pet care. It had seventeen or eighteen percent click-through rate which was off the charts. So I think testing and optimization towards that and figuring that out in the process can be massively beneficial in terms of optimization. And there is probably always is a niche or two where that is going to happen.

Matt: But certainly compared to what the actual campaign is representing, I think, generally, content, high-level content, looking at just sports or business sections, there is still noise in those which is why we are so fond of dialing into content-specific segments. There is always going to be waste, right? But the lower down you can get in the targeting, the more specific you can get, the more money you are going to save and the more results you can get.

What should I do next? What should my first step be?

Matt: Step one, I think we talk about this all the time, too, right? Who are the stakeholders in this? It is figuring out where this is going to turn the needle in getting some amount of buy-in at least experimentally.

Matt: We keep talking about this is incremental and differentiable. I think the starting point is identifying the key stakeholders that are interested in growing revenue and just a small experiment in terms of figuring out if there is interest and the ability to do a trial. It is easy for us to plug in and take the first step. It is extremely cost-effective. And if there are existing advertisers or new advertisers on the horizon that you want to offer something very differentiable, too, then it is a good place to start.

Nathan: So that one thing is to look at the advertisers who you cannot service and try to give them something more or the advertisers that you maybe had a bad experience or that would trust you with anything. Just find some people who need solutions and are already trying to spend. And look at this as a way to take the same core value proposition that you have selling your readers that are already engaged and doing that anywhere. Get them the rest of the time.

Nathan: And then from the subscriber acquisition’s standpoint, definitely, probably the marketing team is not as equipped in terms of ad ops execution jobs as the ad ops team is. And so marrying those two teams together and trying to figure out what are the budgets that they currently have, how are they spending them, and where does this fit to make that more efficient? Because if they are already advertising on Facebook but they are not using your own data and saving fifty percent, that is a huge opportunity. Just double the number of ad impressions that you can get in that platform.

Want to check out the full interview with step by step advice? Watch here!

To learn more about MarketChorus and the company’s solutions for publishers, visit