352: How to Optimize Your Ad Revenue with Paul Bannister and Courtney Kahn from AdThrive

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Lots of dollar sign necklaces and the title of Paul Bannister and Courtney Kahn's episode on the Food Blogger Pro Podcast, 'Optimize Your Ad Revenue.'

This episode is sponsored by Slickstream.

Welcome to episode 352 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Paul Bannister and Courtney Kahn from AdThrive about optimizing ad revenue.

Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Danielle Liss from Businessese and LISS Legal about understanding data collection, GDPR, and CCPA. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

How to Optimize Your Ad Revenue

Today, we’re really excited to be chatting about all things advertising with two members of the AdThrive team, Paul Bannister and Courtney Kahn!

Ads are one of the best ways to earn passive income from a blog, so it’s not surprising that many food bloggers place a lot of emphasis on increasing their ad revenue.

And in this episode, Paul and Courtney are sharing all their expert advice on just that topic: how to optimize your ads and increase your earnings. You’ll also hear what changes will be coming soon to the ad industry, how the ad industry works behind the scenes, and more.

A quote from Paul Bannister and Courtney Kahn’s appearance on the Food Blogger Pro podcast that says, 'Advertisers want to work with quality sites, they want to be with quality content... Ultimately, they care about consumers, and they want to be in places where consumers feel good and can be engaged with.'

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How Google is planning to phase out third-party cookies on Chrome
  • How the cookieless future will affect ad networks and publishers
  • Why quality content and engagement is so important
  • How to create the optimal ad experience on your site
  • How to increase your ad revenue
  • Why advertisers have started focusing more on video
  • Why you should set up a video sitemap
  • How programmatic advertising works
  • What’s coming next for the ad industry
  • Why it’s so important to diversify your revenue streams


About This Week’s Sponsor

We’re excited to announce that this week’s episode is sponsored by our friends at Slickstream!

On your site, you can use the Slickstream Engagement Suite to add:

  • Responsive, as-you-type search
  • A simple and intuitive way for your readers to “favorite” recipes
  • Intelligent content recommendations
  • And more!

Learn more and sign up for a free trial here. This deal is no longer active.

If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for interviews, be sure to email them to [email protected].

Food Blogger Pro logo with the words 'Join the Community' on a blue background

Transcript (click to expand):

Bjork Ostrom: This week’s episode is sponsored by Slickstream. It’s something that I’m really excited to talk about because I’ve been able to work closely with the Slickstream team, weighing in and hearing about different things that they’re developing and advising them along their way in an official advisor capacity. And what’s come from that is me really being inspired by this team of super smart people, focusing on a really specific area. And I’m going to tell you a little bit about that, but a little bit of a background before I tell you about that. And the first thing is this acknowledgement of, you work really hard on your blog, I don’t need to tell you that, countless hours creating posts that your readers will love and you craft the recipe, the photographs, maybe you have video. All of that stuff. You’re putting in a ton of work, but the question is really, are your visitors going to find it?

Bjork Ostrom: Are they going to actually discover that piece of content? And that’s why Slickstream exists. It’s called the Slickstream Engagement Suite. Now Slickstream is the name of the company, but there’s two words there that come after that are important to point out, engagement and what that means is, are people actually engaging with your content? It’s one thing to discover it on social or search, but there’s another piece of the puzzle that we don’t talk about as much, which is engagement. Are they actually engaging with it once they get there? So engagement is the first part and then suite, meaning there’s multiple things that are a part of Slickstream, it’s not just one thing. There’s multiple elements. So what is it? Well, it’s an easy to add state-of-the-art navigation tool to any site and that means it could be any CMS.

Bjork Ostrom: It could be any theme. So what are the different pieces of it? Well, it’s a responsive, as you type, search. So an example, if you want to see that live, you can go to Pinch of Yum and click on the search and you could search something like tacos and you can see as you’re typing, the search results are changing. It’s awesome. So people can revise and edit and find exactly what they want, as they’re typing. Another thing is a way to favorite recipes, so as somebody’s looking at a recipe, they can come to it and say like, “Hey, you know what? I actually really like this recipe. I’m going to hit this heart button.” And it’s going to add that to a favorites for that user and so they can come back and they can manage their favorites on your site. It’s a way for them to create a little collection of their favorite recipes on your site, that’s an engagement thing.

Bjork Ostrom: So they know, “Hey, I have that favorite. I haven’t bookmarked it, but I favorited it.” And that’s going to be a way for them to engage with your site and keep them coming back, which is a wonderful thing. And intelligent content recommendations, so let’s say you’re looking through a post and you want to recommend other pieces of content, Slickstream does that in a really intelligent, smart way, using technology and gathering all of this content, using smart tools behind the scenes, crunching all of the data with that content and then recommending content that’s going to be engaging and there’s a lot more that comes with it. So each of these features is designed specifically for user engagement. So it helps your visitors find exactly what they’re looking for, and then it keeps them coming back for more. So what does it look like to get somebody to your site?

Bjork Ostrom: That’s a lot of hard work, but the question is how do you get them to continue to come back and to continue to engage with content once you’re there? That’s what Slickstream is all about. So that translates into more monthly sessions, more page views and in many cases more ad revenue. Here’s the deal, Slickstream, you’ll see it in lots of different places, it’s trusted by hundreds of food bloggers, Pinch of Yum, obviously included and it’s really cool to see the range in sizes. It could be sites from tens of thousands of monthly page views to tens of millions. They work with some really huge sites, but they also are beneficial for smaller sites as well. So larger and more established blogs, in particular, often benefit the most since they have a lot of content. So they have a deep catalog, that they want to get in front of those readers.

Bjork Ostrom: So if you have a deep catalog of content, chances are people might not see all of that or be exposed to all of it. Slipstream helps to do that. As a special promotion for Food Blogger Pro listeners, you can try a Slickstream Engagement Suite on your site completely free for 60 days. That’s double the standard trial, and there’s no commitment, you can cancel at any time. So if you want to get a feel for what it looks like, how it works, it’s really easy to get set up and you can start to see really quickly the benefit of using a tool like this.

Bjork Ostrom: You can go to slick stream.com/fbp and enter the promo code, here we go, I’m going to give it to you, FBP60. That’ll get you that 60-day trial, test it out, see what it looks like, see what you think of it. I know that you’ll be able to really quickly see, “Wow, this is going to be extremely beneficial for the people who come to my site and it’s going to increase the engagement on the content.” And that’s what Slickstream is all about. Special thank you to Slickstream for sponsoring this episode.

Bjork Ostrom: Hey folks, fun episode here. We’re talking about all things ads and for most of us listening, ads is the number one way that we create income from our site. And so it would make sense that we prioritize conversations around how we can be doing that well and changes that are coming down the line. And that’s why we’re talking with Paul Bannister and Courtney Kahn from AdThrive today, about all things advertising, industry changes, things to consider, things to be aware of. It’s a great episode, super informational, and also a fun thing coming up, not related to ads, but related to keywords and getting people to your site is a live Q&A that we have with Casey Marque, many of you know Casey from Media Wise, an expert from Food Blog Pro and also somebody with deep industry knowledge around all things SEO as it relates to food and recipe sites.

Bjork Ostrom: So if you want to check that out, it’s happening on April 14th at 3:00 PM, and you can go to foodbloggerpro.com/keyword, again, that’s foodbloggerpro.com/keyword to sign up for that live Q&A. And it’s going to be a great conversation with Casey, he’s going to be updating on industry trends, things that are happening and all the things you need to be aware of to keep on top of all things search engine optimization. All right, let’s go ahead and jump into this episode. Courtney, Paul, so great to have you on the podcast to talk about all things ads. What I’ve learned is, it’s best in introductions for multiple podcast interviews, to direct them at people first. So first Courtney, welcome to the podcast.

Courtney Kahn: Thank you, Bjork.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And Paul, welcome to the podcast.

Paul Bannister: Thank you, Bjork. Happy to be here.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. This is one of those podcasts that I really look forward to because I always learn a lot in conversations like this. And anytime that I can talk to people who are really deep in a certain area, thinking about a certain thing, when you show up, you sit down at the computer, what you’re thinking about is the world of publishers and monetization and success for those publishers. I always find is extremely beneficial because you’re able to see things at a level that not a lot of people are, and we’re going to be talking a lot about those things and industry trends and things coming down the line. And that’s actually the first question that I have for you, Paul, knowing that at a high level, you have an awareness of what’s happening within the advertising industry and one of the things that was this, at least this is what it felt like, you can let me know if it is true.

Bjork Ostrom: It felt like this buildup, like if it was an EDM song, it’d be you’re building up to the beat drop. And then it was Rick Roll played, and then they’re like, “Wait a minute. The beat drop isn’t going to happen for another couple years.” And I’m talking about cookie-less and the big changes that were coming down the line for that. And then it got punted. What happened with that? And why is that something that everybody’s aware of and concerned with?

Paul Bannister: Sure. It’s a great question. And I love the EDM analogy. I may steal that from my-

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Yeah. Great.

Paul Bannister: So yeah the bulk of digital advertising today is built on cookies, this technology in web browsers that lets advertisers and their ad tech companies track users around and show them, you go to Zappos and you look at some shoes and you see those shoes later on another site. And that’s the simplest version of it, there’s a lot more sophisticated things that advertisers are doing, but a lot of it’s built on that basic technology. Over the years a lot of people have raised real privacy issues around that, they don’t like being tracked, they don’t like the fact that it’s not clear what’s happening, there’s a whole bunch of negatives that come out of it. And so over time, Safari and Firefox and all the browsers have blocked that capability, made it so that technology no longer works. But for a long time Chrome, which is the biggest browser, it allowed them and it still allows cookies to work.

Paul Bannister: And that still happens today. And so when you look at advertising on the web today, the vast majority of the money is spent on Chrome because that’s where advertisers can use this technology. And so I think, when was it? Early 2020, right before COVID, Google said, “Okay, we’re setting up a timeline to phase out cookies over the next two years.” And that caused a lot of panic and chaos, and how’s the world’s going to work in the future? And without the technology, what are we going to do? And so a lot of us were very engaged in working with Google and working with other companies to try to figure out what came next and how the world looks in the future. And then to your point, Bjork, after 18 months or so of going through this crazy process, last June, Google said, “Oh, guess what? We’re going to delay it another two years.”

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Paul Bannister: And so that completely changed the equation. Everyone took their focus off of it for a while, even Google was very disengaged from the conversations for a while, but now it’s picking back up again, the timeline is like late 2023, for that to happen. And there’s just a lot of work going on in different organizations and industry groups and all these different places where people are like, “How how does digital advertising look in the future?” It’s a big question. And that’s where we focus a lot of our time to make sure that as that transition happens, which we’re very supportive of, we think users should have more privacy, we think that’s really important, but we also obviously think publishers should be able to make a living from creating content. And we want to ensure that has a big part of the future and we know that advertisers want to reach consumers on good websites. That’s a thing and that’s not going to change. The question is, how are they doing in the future? Is the big question mark.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And it seems like when I think about that as a problem, which is you have, if I’m understanding it right, right now, advertisers, their options are more limited in terms of where they can go to have extremely focused and targeted advertising. And essentially it’s Chrome. And Chrome on desktop or is it Chrome on mobile as well?

Paul Bannister: It’s both. Yeah, it’s both.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay. So you have Chrome as your option because Safari, Apple’s very privacy-focused, so they’ve removed that. Firefox removed it. And so on those browsers, advertisers are paying less because they can’t get as accurate of a read, it’s a foggy picture of who somebody is, that they’re advertising to. And so they’re all going to Chrome or Google and paying to run their ads through that platform, because they can get really targeted. They know that I live in the Northern suburbs of Minnesota, I have a dog, I have two kids and that I’ve been watching The Bachelor. And so they’re like, “Okay, this is interesting.” And you like tech. “This is an interesting profile. Let’s advertise, whatever it is.” That somebody would advertise to me, but that would go away. Eventually Google said, “Hey, we’re going to take that away.”

Bjork Ostrom: One of the questions that I have, Courtney, is when you were having conversations with publishers, they were anticipating this, they were seeing this go away. My guess is the concern was around, are revenues going to evaporate, is this going to disappear? Is that the primary concern that you’d hear from publisher conversations, is “Hey, this change is coming down the line. And I anticipate my business, earning this much from ads, how much of that am I going to lose? And is there any way to know?”

Courtney Kahn: Yeah, that’s exactly what we were seeing from everyone. It was initial panic and then, “Well, what happens and what direction are you all going to focus on now?” And so I think we’re always of the opinion that we can evolve and change to meet whatever the industry is going to face and it’s going to be challenging at every step of the way, but as much as we can, I think we want to help publishers see the light at the end of the tunnel and see that there’s potential for greatness at the end of this eventually one day.

Bjork Ostrom: Yep. And part of it too, that you touched on Paul, is this idea of it’s still going to be there, but in what capacity? What’s the best way to do it? And that’s one of the thoughts that I’ve had around this potential change in the future, is maybe it’s actually more advantage ages for the type of people who listen to a podcast like this, they’re going to have a certain level of quality content, maybe that becomes strategic and it becomes an advantage in that if an advertiser’s not able to build a really specific profile on somebody, based on cookies and advertise to them, what’s the next best option, potentially the next best option is to look at a bucket of publishers and to say, “Hey, we know that these publishers produce good content. That are generally focused on the same things that we want our people to be focused on.”

Bjork Ostrom: Somebody can look at a site like Pinch of Yum and say, “Hey, that’s generally going to be 20 to 40 something year old, 90% female and 80% US.” Okay, that’s not maybe as specific as they also drive an Acura, but it gets them pretty close to it. So could there be a scenario where it actually becomes advantageous for certain types of publishers when cookies go away? Because some of the lower quality sites that would’ve been advertised on before, no longer have those advertising dollars, or is that me just being optimistic?

Paul Bannister: I think you’re totally right. And I think you said the exact right word there, which is quality. And that’s been, since day one, such a huge focus of ours, because we know that over time and we’re seeing it every day, more and more advertisers, regardless of the cookie stuff, advertisers want to work with quality sites. They want to be with quality content. They want to be in places where they… Ultimately, they care about consumers, that’s who they care about and they want to be in places where consumers feel good and can be engaged with and so that’s why we’re so focused on quality. And so I think if you’re a publisher with great quality content and a quality audience of whatever size, that’s where advertisers want more and more to be. And I think you’re totally right that in the future of less targeting, context and quality are going to matter more.

Paul Bannister: And that’s a huge place where we spend a lot of our time, part of it also is, while advertisers want those things and you can be any size to some level, advertisers are huge. You’re talking about the biggest retailers in the world and the biggest car companies in the world and the biggest consumer package goods companies. And they can’t make a million deals, so they’re going to go where they can make one big deal that gets them a lot of access. And that’s why we find more and more people coming to us, saying, “Oh my God, you’ve got all these amazing food sites.” We’ve got the largest collection of food content in the world, is on AdThrive. And so more and more they’re coming to us saying, “Let’s work directly on this.” And then we get to bring those ad dollars directly to our publishers. So that’s a big part and we think that’s accelerating.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s interesting because it’s such a perspective shift in our world, if we sat around the table and somebody’s like, “I get a million page shoes.” And that equates to whatever that would be, 10 million potential ad impressions, you’d be like, “Oh my gosh, that’s awesome.” And then you go to my friend who does advertising at target.com and I’m like, “Hey, you want to do a deal?” And he’s like, “Great. How many impressions.” I’m like, “10 million.” He’s like, “Oh, funny. We need 3 billion.” It’s like, “Oh, okay.” We are in very different worlds in regards to perspective because they’re viewing that as, “Hey, here’s our budget.” It’s multiple, multiple millions of dollars that they spend on even just a certain category. So Courtney, within that context, one of the questions that I know people will have is, what is quality?

Bjork Ostrom: And it’s so hard because everybody’s like, “Hey, quality content for important. Content is king.” But when it comes down to it, it’s really nice when you have Google Search Console and you can look and say, “Here’s a yellow flag, here’s a red flag. I need to fix this thing.” Technical things that you can do and sometimes we can get absorbed by those, so much so that you are really technical sound, but in terms of your content itself, it’s not this ambiguous, nebulous quality because you’ve gotten so good at technical, but you forget the spirit of quality content. It’s because it’s not trackable, you can’t really see it, you can’t run it through a quality checker, you get a score back. So you’ve seen a lot of sites you’ve interacted with a lot of blogs and publishers, and you probably have a little bit of a sixth sense, but would you be able to flesh that out around what that actually looks like? And how do people know if they’re quality or at least, how do you work towards quality?

Courtney Kahn: Yeah. So you said a couple of really great things in your preamble, but I think that a lot of publishers who can take a step back, to your point, who aren’t totally engrossed in all of the… It’s good to be aware of it and we definitely encourage spending time trying to educate yourself on all of the tech technical details. But I think for a lot of publishers, taking a step back and thinking simplistically about the people coming to the site, advertisers are looking at it in the same way.

Courtney Kahn: They’re not always going directly to the complicated data of it. They’re thinking about what’s going to be the most engaging? What’s going to keep people around for a long period of time? And that’s where they want to put their ads. They really want to make sure that they’re going to be seen, that they’re going to be interacted with. Not necessarily clicking on it, but even just viewing the ad itself. So content that is compelling, it’s engaging. Video is really big, it’s been big for a while, but continues to be a big thing. Whatever’s going to keep people around on the site is where they want to be.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And within that, things that keep people around are this category of, it could be entertainment, it’s something that’s really fun to read. Trying to think, there was this site that Lindsay and I randomly came across the other day and it’s kind of like The Onion, but it’s all writing, there’s no photography, it’s a humor, I think it’s East Coast-based. I forget the name of it. I’ll have to look it up, but I ended up spending like a half an hour on it and it was super funny. The one article that I remember was, what your favorite dad sob band says about who you are and mine was Bon Iver. So it’s like, “Oh yeah, actually that’s pretty accurate.”

Bjork Ostrom: But the idea being it was really well done content and I found myself spending more time there, but it’s a hard thing to know if you’re doing that. I think a lot about the Ira Glass quote, where he talks about the gap and I won’t do the talk through the whole thing, but this idea of as a creator, you know where you want to be and you know where you are and you know there’s this gap in between it, but you’re trying to get there. And it’s hard to know where that is and it’s hard to get there, but would there be any type of metrics that you could track to know if something is engaging? I think of time on page as an example, or bounce rate, would those be places you could point people towards or is it more of the art and art is just naturally hard to quantify.

Courtney Kahn: There’s definitely a lot you can look at with time on page and bounce rate and all of that. But I do think to some extent it is a bit of an art because to your point, it’s not always the most beautiful templated site, that is the one that advertisers are going to want to stick around on. But when they are able to figure out, “Okay, this valuable reader is coming to the site and staying around and not jumping right away.” That is meaningful to them. I think.

Bjork Ostrom: And one of the… Yeah, Paul.

Paul Bannister: I would say also, I think engagement matters. You can’t measure this, but for food in particular, there’s this funny thing about food search and you can’t measure this, but you actually don’t want to be the first click on the search results. You might want to be the first rank, you want to be the last click. You want to be the one when the user clicks on it, they’re like, “Ah, this is the chicken Parmesan that I’m making, because this is the one that I like the most.” And then that user is more likely to come back, to cook it, to make a comment, to leave a rating, if you’ve got that capability, to engage with you in some way. Because in my mind, quality is actually about the user.

Paul Bannister: Because the user is what Google cares about, the user is what advertisers care about, the user is what you as the publisher care about. And I agree with Courtney 100%, it is art, but I always think about, I plan in my retirement to be a food blogger, but that’s… Love all our blogs, but I always think about, how do I become the last click here? How do I become the one that this user really wants?

Bjork Ostrom: Well, and essentially, if you translate that into, practically speaking, what does that mean? Last click equals best answer or fully fulfilled in terms of what you’re looking for. And what I love about that idea of the user, is thinking about what is this person trying to get and how do I get them what they want? And that becomes a skill that gets into macro content planning, which is who am I creating this content for? And how can it be most helpful? I think specifically of the meal planning stuff that we did with Pinch of Yum, we did a series on meal planning. And the Pinch of Yum team thought a lot about how do we make this as helpful as possible, as clear as possible, as easy to understand as possible? And you think of macro, who are the people, what are their needs? How do we serve those needs?

Bjork Ostrom: And then the micro is what is the actual content that’s going to fulfill that? And it’s really hard because there’s a lot of different components to that, it’s photography, it’s writing, it’s recipe development, it’s understanding WordPress, but then it’s all also general audience building and thinking through who are these people and how are they going to use it? One of the follow up questions that I have on that is around the balance between usability and ad optimization and knowing that the best performing ads probably, maybe not, but it seems like the best performing ads are also going to be the ads that are most visible.

Bjork Ostrom: Which means they’re taking up the most screen real estate. Maybe it’s in a place where somebody’s spending a lot of time preparing a recipe. So how do you advise people when they are struggling to make decisions around that balance? Because you could go on one extreme, the most usable site from an advertising perspective has no ads on it and you’re not making any money and that’s not going to work. And on the other extreme, and a site could become so inundated with ads that it makes for a poor user experience and then those people won’t come back, which also isn’t optimizing your revenue. So do either of you have thoughts on how publishers can find their advertising Zen in regards to optimization for user experience and revenue?

Courtney Kahn: I really think what you said about your audience and even thinking about what you and Lindsay do for Pinch of Yum in terms of serving your readers on social media and on the blog, in lots of different places, getting their insight is so important. And I don’t think enough publishers spend time figuring that out. I think a lot of publishers have created content from a passion place and haven’t necessarily evolved to think about who’s coming to the site and how they can adapt the content for them. So I think that is really an important piece of it, is learning what your readers care about and what is going to bug them about your ad experience, or not bug them. And I would say with ads, there are certainly lots of people who don’t love them initially, but getting feedback from a lot of people and not just letting one or two people be the decision makers for what happens on your site, I think is really important. And then-

Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about that piece? Because that’s come up, I think for me personally, for us, sometimes you have a really squeaky wheel and it could impact you in so far as making a drastic decision. Is that what you’re getting at?

Courtney Kahn: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, you get some feedback from readers that really hurts. It gets into your core. And I think sometimes it’s hard to put that in perspective of everyone coming to the site and thinking about how it all comes together. But I think there’s a judgment call you have to make, and sometimes it requires talking to your audience, but then it also is the gut check of, “You know what? This ad layout does not feel right to me, I’m not comfortable running lots of ads in the content. I’m not going to do it. I’m going to focus on… I know a lot of readers come to my recipes. And so they’re sitting there for long periods of time. That’s where I’m going to have an ad.” Or someone who’s comfortable running a sticky footer or sticky video ad, they may choose to run something that’s a little bit more invasive in one place, but not going to cause-

Bjork Ostrom: Everywhere.

Courtney Kahn: Yeah, feel heavy everywhere else.

Bjork Ostrom: That makes sense. And I think to your point about audience makes sense, where let’s say you have a site all around minimalism, your audiences’ take on aesthetic and clutter is going to be different than, and I don’t know these audiences, these are just pulling out the top of my head. But a coupon site, maybe that world, you just expect more to be happening there and more offers so to speak, if you’re in the mindset of couponing. And so maybe you might be able to have a little bit more prevalent ads in a layout like that. Speaking of optimization and revenue, when it comes from ads, what are the things that people can be doing to earn more? Because a lot of times we think about increasing traffic, which is important, how do I get more people to my site?

Bjork Ostrom: But one of the things I’ve tried to encourage people to think about, whether it be ads or other revenues sources, is what are the ways that you can… Let’s say you never increase traffic again, it’s an interesting thought experiment for creators and business owners. What if you never increase traffic again? How could your business continually grow from a revenue perspective? And one of the ways that it can grow is you can change how you’re optimizing ads. So Paul, do you have any recommendations for things that people might be able to consider in regards to increasing their ad revenue on their site?

Paul Bannister: I’ll let Courtney chime in on this too, because she knows a lot about this. I can only speak for us and how we do it. I think for us, we try to take a very consultative approach to working with each publisher and really trying to, for them, adapt and change over time, because there are ad units that we ran a couple of years ago that were great at the time and over time they become less and less valuable and we’ve basically sunset them and get rid of them and replace them with new things, that are more modern and work better. So I think part of it is-

Bjork Ostrom: Do you have examples of those, the ones that you’ve sunsetted and ones that are more newer, modern?

Paul Bannister: We used to run these in image ads, that sat on top of the photos on your site and five years ago, something like that, they were a big deal. And I think they may be completely gone at this point, we may have literally no one left with those. So those are something that, at a point in time, they were doing pretty well. Whereas, Courtney obviously mentioned, video is a huge thing and that continues to be a huge thing. We continue to evolve that and create new types of players and new opportunities.

Paul Bannister: And that’s a place where advertisers advertise love video. They love TV ads and this is the equivalent on the web. And so that’s a big focus. So we spend a lot of time on having new video ads. So it’s a mixed bag, but I think working with a company like ours to help advise you on what the right things to do are, because that changes over time, it’s not a set it and forget it. We can happily take that over, but it is something that needs to evolve and change over time. I’m sure Courtney-

Courtney Kahn: Yeah. Well the only other thing to say is we’re able to have good data on our ad performance here, so we can keep track of, “Okay, we tried out this ad placement, it didn’t work very well, so let’s get rid of it.” And so that’s really nice to do. And so if you have someone to help you dig into that more, that’s great. But I think ad types that we’ve seen do well for a lot of publishers or… The sticky types, so either video or something that’s going to stick either to the bottom of the page or if you’re on your phone, stick to the bottom of the phone and hang out with the readers.

Bjork Ostrom: Sticky, meaning that you’d have, let’s say, imagine you have an ad in your sidebar or if you’re on mobile, which is probably a better use case, you have something injected into your blog post, you scroll past it, so it’s maybe on there for a little bit, but then you go past it versus you pull up the site and then overlaid over your content is an ad, a really small one at the bottom. Again, I’m thinking mobile, but it could be desktop. Or the video player example you gave where there’s a little, in the lower third or whatever, almost like picture and picture, there’s a little video player playing. So Paul, you had mentioned this, but Courtney, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts around it and I think you mentioned this earlier too, video is a big deal.

Bjork Ostrom: And I think people hear that and they’re like, “Video, video, video, video.” Lindsay had a joke when I owned three Bitcoin, three years ago, where anytime you’d… And you’d start any conversation, I would just reply by saying “Bitcoin, Bitcoin, Bitcoin.” I was kind of stuck on it. But she said that as a joke around this idea of that just being a thing that’s always happening. But I feel like in this world, video can be that. And suddenly it just becomes this thing where everybody’s like, “Video, video video.” But what does that actually mean? Is it important because of engagement? Is it important because you’re able to earn more from it? Why is video a big deal and what does that practically mean for a publisher in regards to where their focus should be and what they should be doing?

Courtney Kahn: Yeah. Engagement is the number one thing I think, a lot of advertisers want to either be close to video that you’ve created or their own video ads that they can put on for your readers. Like whatever’s going to be most engaging and have them keep an eye on things and I think about whenever I’m making a recipe myself, whenever I get there and I’m in the thick of it and there’s something complicated that happens and I’m like, “Oh no, I don’t know how to do this.” Being able to go to a video first, if you have a video at the top of your recipe or something like that, that’s a really great place a lot of advertisers want to spend their money. And it just helps bring things to life so much more than regular content can. And I think that is a big piece of it, in terms of why it’s such a focus and so much of content has been written for a long time. And moving towards this in the future, I think, is really where they’re hoping to go, I don’t know-

Bjork Ostrom: This being video. Yeah. There’s a shift towards advertising dollars being more effective is what I hear if in the context of a video and you think about even in general trends, like people are consuming more video undoubtedly than they were 10 years ago. And that also looks different. It might be video on a blog post, in the lower third, but there’s also video content within reels or ads inserted in YouTube shorts or whatever it might be. So is part of the reason why that’s advantageous for a publisher? Is it because there’s a supply and demand issue around video, where there’s a lot of demand from advertisers to run video ads, but is there enough supply to meet that or is there an issue on the macro level, Paul, when it comes to the general trend of video ads and the ability for advertisers to actually get those in front of people?

Paul Bannister: I think your supply and demand point is right, simply there’s far more banner ads on the internet than there are video ads. And so you’ve got less supply and then advertisers value video more because you can tell a better story, you can sell better in a 30 second video, than a flat or slightly animated banner ad. So there’s like more value there also. So I think to your supply and demand point, that’s a big piece of it. I think also, to add on the video thing with, there’s also I think from a publisher perspective when it comes to ads and when it comes to video content, there’s a continuum, there’s ways to get started and ways to evolve too.

Paul Bannister: You can get started with video ads, we’ve got a player that just runs ads. It doesn’t even need content and that’s not going to necessarily drive engagement, but it brings value that’s incremental to the publisher and that’s good. The next step is, if you’ve got some videos, but not that many that match all the content. We’ve got a player that will play any video you have against any content, that has some engagement value to the user because now at least there’s some opportunity for them to see a piece of content that you’ve created, that’s different than what they’re looking at and that might be engaging to them. And also make money from the ad, so that’s good. And then the next layer on top of that is like related video content, where I use my chicken Parmesan example.

Paul Bannister: You go to the chicken Parmesan recipe, and you’ve got a chicken Parmesan video, that’s actually literally what the user was looking for and it’s much more engaging. And we’re starting to do some testing and it’s early, we don’t know what the answers are yet, but can that drive more SEO even? Can that drive that user spending more time on the page and bring even more value on top of the ad revenue? I think again, it’s about that continuum of getting started with something basic and moving further and further up the path of, I don’t say more advanced, but creating more video content and ultimately bringing more value to users.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. So if I’m understanding that right, there’s these three tiers that you could consider and important with the first two tiers that you used as an example, the idea you would be, that would be a switch that you’d turn on, or a setting where it would inject a video player, potentially across all of your pages. And the first example would be one that would just run ads. So let’s say, you want to be strategic and you’re saying, “Hey, November, December really high performing months, I want to make sure that I capitalize on revenue. So I’m going to run an ad player, even though I know it’s going to be a detrimental user experience, potentially.” Unless they’re really awesome ads like super bowl ads that you’re going to love. You know you’re going to take a hit from usability standpoint, but you’re going to say, “Hey, this justified based on doing this for a couple months, maybe. I know that I’m going to have high earning potential in November, December, I’m going to run these ads, this ad specific video player.”

Bjork Ostrom: And you can run that across your entire site, inject it into a post and people scroll by, it starts playing. It drops to the lower third, continues to play until somebody closes it out, if they want to do that. That’d be tier one. Tier two would be, you have a thousand blog posts, but you only have five videos. So you put all of those into a related player and you say, “Play this across my site and it’s my recipes.” But you might go to a chocolate chip cookies post, and it will play a chicken Parmesan recipe video, which it’s like, “Hey, still correlation there, it’s still food.” It’s still your content, but not the exact piece of content.

Bjork Ostrom: The third option would be the most aligned and potentially upside from a usability standpoint, in that, as you were talking about before Courtney, it’s going to provide you some visual examples of how the recipes made, and you’re going to have the advantage of the recipe player along with it. And that actually ties into a question that came from our Food Blogger Pro Podcast Facebook group, Heather was asking, “Does a recipe video of the recipe provide higher RPM or more revenue?” So what she’s asking is, in that third case scenario where the recipe video matches the recipe that people are on, does that provide higher RPM than let’s say an unrelated playlist of your five recipe players or five recipe videos in just a player that’s uncorrelated to the recipe itself?

Paul Bannister: Today, I would say no. In the future, I think that’s going to change. I think that advertisers are going to want, like we were talking about before, they want the most engagement. They want to be in the best places and the best places are going to be content with a matched video and ads against it. That’s a really good user experience and that’s what they’re going to want. So I think again, I think for the longer term, we’re definitely encouraging our publishers to make more of that matched video content, because I think it’s going to be better over time. But today there might be some minor difference, but it’s unmeasurably low today.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And the related piece to that, that you had mentioned, is this idea of SEO benefited video. And if you’re doing video right, there’s two things that you should note, for anybody listening, you should make sure that you have structured data around that recipe. So in the same way that you have a recipe with structured data, you can do that for a video. And you can say, “Here’s what this video’s about. Here’s how long it is. Here’s the description for it.” And you can put that in with the… And I think you can do that with an individual player too, if you have an individual video.

Bjork Ostrom: And the second piece is you should have a site map for your videos. And this was something we didn’t have for a very long time, but a site map, essentially, you’d load that in and you’d put it into Google search console and say, “Here’s a list of all of my videos.” So Google knows, “Great, here’s a video, so I can call those if somebody’s looking for a video, a specific video, then we can surface that in a video search.” Anything else from a technical standpoint, that would be important for people to know from a video stand point or anything that you can think of that you’d add on there, Courtney?

Courtney Kahn: Can’t think of anything else to add to that right now.

Bjork Ostrom: Cool. A follow up question on that then, and again, from Heather, so we’ve said at this point, probably not a huge difference from an RPM perspective, if you have a specific video for the specific recipe versus a playlist player, or even do us the ad player, but we do know based on just our gut as creators, that it’s probably going to be a better experience for somebody to see the video that matches the content. I’ve done that before, where I’m reading an article about iguanas that are falling out of trees in Florida, and then it’s a story about koalas. And I was like, “I wanted to see the iguanas.” And then you just lose a little bit of trust with the site. And so there’s a usability piece for sure, that I think is worth considering.

Bjork Ostrom: And that needs to factor in, but Heather’s follow up question is, she said, “I have a bunch of video, but obviously not covering all my recipes. Does creating a video for a recipe help you earn more than the videos already on the page?” And so in that specific question, the answer to her would be, and it’s what we were talking about before, “Hey, if you’re thinking about optimizing revenue and you’re okay with a little bit of a usability hit, put all of those into a playlist player and then inject that into your site throughout as a revenue optimization strategy.” Is that generally aligned in that second bucket of plays that you could have in this category? Does that sound right, Courtney?

Courtney Kahn: Yeah, I think just being open to… And it’s different for everybody, so it’s difficult to blanket statement it, but I think for the most part creating video, getting out on your site and in mass isn’t bad in any way, and it’s going to help advertisers figure out what works best for them and understand what the right approach is for them to spend on the videos and the site itself.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That last piece that you talked about is something that I was thinking about earlier when you were talking about advertisers themselves and when you were talking about it, I don’t remember if it was you, Paul or Courtney, but I had this visualization of a person at an advertising agency, scrolling through a site and making a decision about if they want to work with that site or not. Can you help paint the picture of what’s actually happening behind the scenes in regards to advertisers, looking at our sites?

Paul Bannister: It’s funny, most advertisers, I would say, don’t look at that many sites. I think also maybe seven, eight years ago, that was how happening a bit more often, people wanted to really know. I think more and more these days, advertisers are trusting people like us, that they know that we’re bringing them good sites, so they feel good about it. So they might know some of our sites, I’ve actually been in advertising meetings where the advertisers are like, “Oh my God, I love Pinch of Yum.”

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Paul Bannister: “Lindsay and Bjork are amazing.” That’s verbatim and that happens. But a lot of the time they’re like, “Okay, we know AdThrive is working with these sites. And we know that they’ve got really good sites. So we’re good with this group of sites.” And I think that happens more often these days, where they’re not really checking everything. They’re more looking at the big picture and then letting other people like us worry more about the details.

Bjork Ostrom: And what’s the split now, if you were to say on a percentage basis with programmatic and if you could explain what programmatic is, versus what I’ve always called handshake deals?

Paul Bannister: In these days, it’s hard to even break them apart to some level. So programmatic in the olden days of advertising, like Mad Men, Don Draper kind of thing, everything was handshake deals. It was the publisher of Vogue Magazine would talk to an ad agency and get them to commit to spend $500,000 in their magazine. And it was all handshake deals and sign contracts. And then a bunch of people ferrying ads and stuff back and forth, and that migrated onto digital advertising in the beginning. And it’s still chunk of advertising, but what has been developed over time is what’s called programmatic advertising, which is that there are thousands or tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands, or even millions of sites and apps.

Paul Bannister: And other things where you can spend money, as an advertiser. And on the flip side, there are hundreds of thousands or millions or tens of millions of potential advertisers there. And it’s fundamentally impossible for people to handshake deal with thousands and thousands of websites or thousands and thousands of advertisers, you can’t do it. It doesn’t work. So programmatic is these ad technology systems that have sprung up to automate a lot of those things and make it so as a publisher, you can work with thousands of advertisers, you don’t have to make thousands of deals. And on the reverse side, as an advertiser, you can work with thousands of sites, but not have to make thousands of deals. So it’s automation and technology to make that better. And that has eaten advertising at this point.

Paul Bannister: Nearly everything in some way, or another runs through those sort of systems. Even when there are handshakes in place. We don’t give out our own numbers, but it’s a bigger and bigger number every year, that’s moving in that direction. And sometimes you can’t even quite tell, we work with a lot of advertisers where we’ll talk to them and they’ll be like, “This sounds great. We love all your sites. We’re not going to do a handshake deal with you, but we’re still going to target our advertising, be a programmatic at your sites.” And so we can’t even measure that, but we know-

Bjork Ostrom: It’s kind of hybrid, they say, “We’re going to run our programmatic ads through your ad network because we trust you.” There’s a multiplier on the sourcing that you do for publishers.

Paul Bannister: Exactly, exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: And so in those situations, I think what I’m trying to go back to and understand then is, how does quality play in to a world of programmatic advertising? Is quality what gets you into an ad network, like AdThrive that then the advertisers know that you’re doing the work to find quality content? Or it probably still matters from an engagement perspective, but it’s not like somebody’s going to look through and be like, “Oh, Pinch of Yum, we really like them, let’s run our chicken ads on their site.” Because it’s more like, “Hey, we know generally speaking this bucket of content, great Pinch of Yum is in it.” But it’s not that’s going to be fine tuned enough for us to perform better than some other random site. And the numbers are just so big too, that it feels like they wouldn’t make sense.

Paul Bannister: I think it is a little bit of both. Some of it is a big advertiser, a big retailer might say, “We’re going to make a deal with Conde Nast and with NBC and with two other really big media companies. And we’re going to make a deal with AdThrive and we’re going to buyouts across all of them.” And it’s for a retailer, so it really can work on any site and every site’s sort of, I don’t say interchangeable, but the systems will optimize where the best place is and the systems will just do their work and that’s kind of it. And that’s good, because it’s money, but it’s across the board, but then you are going to get a lot more people who are interested in like deeper targeting and they’re going to say, “Oh, this site is vegetarian or this site is easy meals or this site is Asian food of some sort. Those sub niches are pretty interesting to different groups of advertisers.

Paul Bannister: So I think everyone’s going to get some base level of advertiser spending from those fairly broad, big advertisers, but then everyone’s also going to find their pockets of ones that are unique to us. And sometimes it’s not even as obvious, we’re working on something with a company that sells cleaning products and they wanted to be on sites that have actually messier recipes.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Paul Bannister: Things like that where you’re like, “Oh, I hadn’t thought of that connection.” And there’s a lot more like that, where it’s a bit deeper. So that would be my long…

Bjork Ostrom: Yep. No, that makes sense and helpful to have, the context around it. It’s always interesting for me to know it’s such an important piece of the business model for us and for so many other people. And it’s always helpful to know, what does that look like? How’s that world work? Even if it’s at a super high level, so we understand what’s happening and can think strategically about it in regards to how we’re producing content. What I really hear is, the takeaway from it is obviously quality. Quality, meaning you want content that’s engaging, so people are sticking around, they’re looking at it, they’re using it and that being an indicator to advertisers that their ads are going to get seen and viewed. So it sounds like the ultimate takeaway here or the ultimate win would be, if somebody could think about moving forward, how do I create video content that’s really sticky, that people love, that they watch?

Bjork Ostrom: If their mindset is around advertising optimization from a revenue perspective, feels like that would be, in the year ahead, something that would be a win. Related to that, Courtney, one of the questions that I know people will be curious about is what’s coming down the line? Things are changing in this world, and I’m sure you feel this where as soon as you figure out the next path forward, it’s like, “Wait a minute, the railroad track has shifted and it’s actually this way.” But if you were to project out and say, “Hey, generally speaking, here’s where we see the industry shifting and changing and some things for publishers to be aware of.” Anything that you’d have, Courtney? Then I’d be interested in your thoughts as well, Paul.

Courtney Kahn: Yeah. Oh gosh. So there’s so much going on, but I would say, I think this is a year of transition for the ad industry and trying to figure out what’s next for us and for the industry at large. So lots for us in terms of focusing on how do we improve our ad code and get set up for the future and build better relationships in the marketplace and new tools that our publishers can use to think more broadly about their businesses at large.

Courtney Kahn: I think there’s going to be a lot of change and it’s always scary because there’s unknowns. But I think that with all the changes coming down the line, we’re hoping to help publishers be prepared in lots some different ways, thinking about all the facets of their business and not necessarily just ads, it’s obviously important to us and we want to help educate publishers and help them understand where the industry is going. But also think about what’s your SEO strategy? What’s your email strategy? How are you thinking about how the two correlate? And so I think lots coming in the future for that.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I love that and excited to see what’s coming down the line. Paul, anything you’d add to that as publishers think about changing landscape things that they can, not necessarily have to move or adjust or change, but I imagine it as, this will be my last analogy for the day, when we go up to the cabin with Lindsay’s family and there’s the clear lake, and you could see a storm and you’re like, “This might come this way or might not.” But not that everything has to be this storm that’s coming down the line, but I think that’s naturally how we think of things. What are the things that are changing? What’s the storm that I should least keep an eye on? Anything that you would point out or that publishers should be aware of?

Paul Bannister: I mean, we’re really trying hard to make it so our publishers, I don’t want to say don’t have to worry, because we all should worry a little bit and we all should be concerned and we should all should keep our eye on the horizon and you never know where the storm is going to come from sometimes. So I think a little bit of healthy paranoia is always good. We do try to make it so publishers can worry less and try to take control of a lot of those things for them, particularly with ads, but to Courtney’s point, trying to help more in areas as well.

Paul Bannister: We talked about it a little bit before, really go more direct to advertisers, build those stronger relationships, make it so today and in like the cookie-less future, when advertisers think about buying ads on quality sites on the internet, that they come to us and we’re finding a lot of success there. So I think it is vague, but we should all be worried and be thoughtful about these things and again, all we can do is speak for us, talk to us and we feel it’s our job to really try to make it like, you know, so people can rest easy and feel good.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s great. It comes full circle around this idea of people who are constantly thinking about a really specific area and that’s what you guys are doing. It’s that world. My last thought here for people who are in that category and maybe do have some sense of, to your point, healthy paranoia. I think there’s always something to be said about diversification. And if the one way that you’re creating revenue right now is ads, great. But think about maybe taking on something else, sponsored content, maybe you have a product that you would want to fold in, you can even more macro and this is getting outside of the world of ads, but just to speak on this a little bit, but maybe you also look at doing some type of uncorrelated revenue, like you have a little rental house that you have, and that would be one opportunity.

Bjork Ostrom: So I know you guys are not our category, it’s not the thing that we’re going to speak to, but as a last thought, would want to share that as people think about diversification and as it relates to revenue within your businesses to make space for that. So my last question for you, and I know we’re going over, so I’ll try and wrap it up quick, but you each have a lot of insight into people who are really doing a job at a high level, producing content and building a business. What is one thing that you’d point out as something you see as a throughline for people who have built a business, built a blog or operating at a certain level of success, if you were to look across the board and say, “Hey, this is something that I see as a similarity with these people.” Would there be one thing that you could pinpoint or pull out as an inspirational characteristic or personality trait?

Courtney Kahn: So I was actually going to try to circle back to this with your takeaways, but didn’t find a place to come back to it. But I would say, and it’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about personally, just as I’ve been talking to lots of different sites and seeing what they do, but that focus on your audience is so important. And I see that for all of the publishers who are successful, they have a connection with their audience that not everyone is focused on and they’re not necessarily talking to them one on one, but they are collecting data. They’re using social media to like drop your question and I’ll respond. And so your readers get insight into your personal life and get to understand you better and all of that seems to really help the grand scheme of what their business ends up being because they really know what content is going to draw in more readers and what their readers are going to keep coming back for. So I can’t say that enough. I think figuring out how to really understand your audience as best you can is really important.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. In the software world, we talk a lot about product-market fit.

Courtney Kahn: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: But it’s almost like content audience fit. Do you understand well the content that you’re producing and how that fits into the needs of your audience? I think that’s a great takeaway. Paul, anything you’d add?

Paul Bannister: I agree. Totally with both of those things, the thing I’ve been thinking a little bit is all of that’s true, but in a funny way, your most important audience member is you, do what you love and do what you’re great at and that makes it way more likely that you’ll find the right audience for you. If you’re doing something you’re not totally passionate about, it’s always going to be harder to find the audience and do what they need. Whereas if you do what you love, the people who also love that will find you, I think.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s awesome. I try to frantically find this quote. And it’s one of those quotes where it’s been attributed to three people and Mark Twain is one of them. Feels like all quotes come back to Mark Twain. But the one that I pulled up is Frederick Buchner, is that how he say his last name? “Your vocation in life is where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.” And I see that as really true in the content world. If you can find something that is your great joy, and there’s also a great need for it, that’s going to lead to some really cool things. And I think that’s a great note to end on. So usually at this point we have where people can connect with and follow along with what you guys are doing. And I know you do produce content that people could check out and read, but anything that you’d want to highlight here at the end, for people who are interested in diving deep on any of this stuff.

Courtney Kahn: Definitely check out our blog adthrive.com.

Bjork Ostrom: Great. Yeah, we’ll link to that and obviously AdThrive itself else as well. And as always, just really appreciate you both for your insights and ideas and all the work that you do in this space and makes a difference in people’s lives. So I will end as I started, Paul first, thank you for coming on the podcast, really appreciate it.

Paul Bannister: Thank you, Bjork. Really appreciate it.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And Courtney, thank you as well.

Courtney Kahn: Thank you, Bjork. Honored to be here.

Bjork Ostrom: Great. That’s a wrap. Thanks.

Leslie Jeon: Hello. Hello. Leslie here from the Food Blogger Pro Team. Thank you so much for tuning into this episode and we really hope that you enjoyed it. Before we sign off, I wanted to mention a really exciting live event that we have coming up on April 14th and it’s a live Q&A all about keyword research with Food Blogger Pro expert Casey Marque. So he’s going to be joining Bjork to answer all of your questions about keyword research during this live Q&A. So normally our live Q&As are actually exclusively for Food Blogger Pro members only, but this one is live to everyone, to the entire public. So whether you’re a member or not, we really would encourage you to come, if you really want to learn more about keyword research and SEO, it’s just going to be a fantastic time. So if you’d like to get registered, the Q&A is going to be on April 14th at 4:00 PM Eastern, 3:00 PM Central, and you can get registered by going to foodbloggerpro.com/keyword.

Leslie Jeon: And there you’ll be able to register by putting in your name, your email, and a question you have about keyword research. So maybe you’re wondering how to get started, or you have a specific question about domain authority or search volume. You can ask all of those questions and then we’ll be really excited to hit all of them and as much as we can during the Q&A. So again, you can get registered by going to foodbloggerpro.com/keyword. And we can’t wait to see there on April 14th. All right. That’s all we’ve got for you in today’s episode. Thanks again for tuning in and until next time, make it a great week.

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