This episode is sponsored by Duett.
Welcome to episode 410 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Paul Bannister from Raptive.
Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Danielle Liss. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.
AI, Third-Party Cookies, and Changes in Video Advertising Standards
If it feels like the last few years have come with a lot of changes in the online world, that’s because there have been tons of changes. We’re talking ChatGPT and AI, the removal of third-party cookies, the rapid growth of video, and more.
Luckily, our guest on the podcast today is just the person to break down these big changes and explain how it all relates to content creators. Bjork is chatting with Paul Bannister, the CSO and co-founder of Raptive (formerly AdThrive and CafeMedia) about all of these buzzy topics.
Whether you’re hoping to qualify for Raptive in the future, are already a Raptive creator, or are just curious about all of the tech news in the online space, this is a really informative listen!
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- More about the beginning of Paul’s career founding Online Gaming Review in 1995.
- How he approaches big changes in the online space.
- What third-party cookies are, how they relate to digital advertising, and what you need to know about the removal of third-party cookies from Google.
- What’s next for advertisers after the removal of third-party cookies.
- How ChatGPT and AI are changing the world of content creation.
- How the transition from UA to GA4 will change Raptive’s eligibility criteria.
- About why he believes “video is the future” and how the advertising space is changing to reflect that.
- The difference between in-stream, out-stream, and accompanying content video ads.
- More about the new standards for video advertising.
- How Raptive is evolving to help content creators diversify their income streams.
- Paul’s previous episodes on The Food Blogger Pro Podcast here and here
- Raptive formerly known as AdThrive and CafeMedia
- Dotdash Meredith
- Pinch of Yum’s 20 Minute Healthy Chicken Parmesan
- Nothing Gold Can Stay by Robert Frost
- Raptive’s Eligibility Criteria
- 363: What Bloggers Need to Know About Google Analytics 4 with Alison Bechdol
- Google Analytics Course on Food Blogger Pro
- IAB Tech Lab
- Raptive Blog
- Follow Paul on Twitter
- Join the Food Blogger Pro Podcast Facebook Group
About This Week’s Sponsor
We’re excited to announce that this week’s episode is sponsored by, Duett!
Duett is a team of email strategists and copywriters, led by our very own Food Blogger Pro Expert Allea Grummert, on email marketing. They help online business owners and bloggers engage readers, build brand loyalty, and optimize conversions for sales and site traffic through email.
Sign up for a free discovery call with the Duett team to learn how to:
- Better show up for your audience
- Send valuable traffic back to your site through email
- Feel more confident connecting with your subscribers
- And more!
If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for interviews, be sure to email them to [email protected].
Transcript (click to expand):
Bjork Ostrom: This episode is sponsored by Duett. If you currently have an email list, you may feel like one of these three things here. Number one, you don’t know what to actually send to your list or how often. Number two, your email list is a bit of an afterthought once you create new content. Or, number three, you’re not even scratching the surface of what you could be doing with it or all of the above. I think that’s usually the case with us. It’s all three of those things. If any of those sound like you, you should really check out Duett. They are a team of email strategists and copywriters backed by Allie Drummer, who you’ve probably heard here on the podcast a few times, and they help bloggers like you engage readers and send traffic back to your site from email. As you’ve heard time and time again on this podcast, your email list is one of the most valuable assets as a business owner. You own your list, so you’re not impacted by constantly changing social algorithms or Google updates or all of those other things that we have to deal with.
But instead, you can decide what your audience sees and when, you have control. Duett can help you by giving you feedback on your existing email strategy and by actually writing emails and getting email sequences set up within your account. By working with the Duett team, you’ll feel better about how you’re showing up for your audience consistently send valuable traffic back to your site and feel more confident connecting with your subscribers. Here’s what you have to do. Head to duett.co/foodbloggerpro, that’s DUETT.co/foodbloggerpro, all one word, to download a guide to help you welcome new subscribers to your email list, that’s a really important thing that new subscriber series that you have, and learn more about how the Duett team can help you leverage your email list for even more traffic and engagement, which is what we’re all about and what we’re all after. This is also really cool and I would encourage you to check this out. You can book a free discovery call on that page if you’re interested in learning more about how Duett can help you. Again, that’s duett.co/foodbloggerpro, and thanks to Duett for sponsoring this episode.
Emily Walker: Hey, there. This is Emily and you’re listening to the Food Blogger Pro podcast. Today on the podcast, Bjork is interviewing Paul Bannister, who is the Chief Strategy Officer and co-founder of Raptive. Right off the bat, I just wanted to say that this interview was conducted in mid-April, so over the course of the interview, they’re going to mention AdThrive and CafeMedia quite a bit, but at the end of April, AdThrive and CafeMedia rebranded to become Raptive, so I just wanted to clear any confusion out of the way and let you know that they are all the same thing, but now they are called Raptive.
Anyways, it’s a really great interview, they’re talking about all sorts of hot topics in the blogging and text space, including the removal of third party cookies, ChatGPT and AI and how it might affect content creation, the rapid growth of video and how it’s changing advertising and lots more. They also touch on the transition from Universal Analytics to GA4 and how it might affect Raptive’s eligibility criteria and more about the new standards for video advertising. It’s a really interesting episode and we know you’re going to get a lot out of it, so I’ll just let Bjork kick it off.
Bjork Ostrom: Paul, welcome to the podcast.
Paul Bannister: Great to be here, Bjork. Thanks very much.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, welcome back. You’ve been on, I think a few different times. You have a depth of expertise, specifically in the world that a lot of people who listen to this podcast would be interested in, which is revenue, advertising. Your role officially is strategy officer, chief strategy officer at AdThrive CafeMedia. Is that correct?
Paul Bannister: That is correct.
Bjork Ostrom: Cool. Previously though, in the research, now we do these research for these podcasts, so then I get these notes and I’m like, “Wait a minute, I didn’t know this”, your role previously was the founder of a very early and one of the most popular online gaming review sites. What was the site? Tell us a little bit about that.
Paul Bannister: Yeah. To date myself, I have the great benefit of getting out of college in the mid–90s when the web was being born. Used the earliest web browsers, even ones that didn’t even have graphics, like real early days.
Bjork Ostrom: Gopher mail. What was the email client that was the first email client that people had used?
Paul Bannister: I used Elm and Pine, remember all the email, like wood names. It was like Unix stuff, like real super, super early. I got out at that point in time and considered taking a traditional job, and on the side, did some traditional stuff, but I decided in my parents’ basement to start a website. Love playing video games. I still do as much as I can these days. Back then, I was like, I’m going to play video games, review them, write tips and hints and whatever else, and got it off the ground. It started doing really well. I started hiring freelancers. I hired some people to help me.
A good friend of mine built out the backend, and it was before there wasn’t like, WordPress didn’t exist, there was no CMS that existed. You had to build it all yourself, and so we built all these different things. Then, this was starting in ’95 when we started the site, it did pretty well pretty quickly, and we immediately got interest from somebody who wanted to buy advertising on the site. I think the first ad on the web was on hotwire.com, which was in ’94. We had ads on our site in ’95, so we were not far behind that.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s so crazy.
Paul Bannister: Very, very beginning. I think made a thousand dollars from selling a banner ad. There was no ad server. You didn’t count … there was no viewability, there were no impressions, clickthrough rate today, you’re happy if you get a 0.1% clickthrough rate. Back then, the clickthrough rate was 4% or something astronomical. Very different time. I ran it for a couple of years and eventually sold it to a publishing company that had a video game magazine, and it became the companion website of the magazine. It was really interesting. It was a great experience. I had already been very interested in media and publishing, and I worked on the school newspaper in college and the university TV station and whatever else, and so it was part of my passion was content and making and running my own website was a great way to get out of college and really get into the thick of it.
Bjork Ostrom: Is it right that it was a top 100 website in the world? Like on all the World Wide Web?
Paul Bannister: Yeah. This is so early, where I think most sites, any site we work with today, we would be big enough to qualify for AdThrive, but we wouldn’t be enormous. Back then, there weren’t that many people on the web, so it was super.
Bjork Ostrom: Right. But it looked different too because the pool wasn’t as big, and so the percentage of attention that you had for people using the web, that’s really cool. One of the things that’s so interesting with anybody who has the experience like you do is you view all of this differently. For somebody who comes in and starts yesterday, the way that they understand the context, the history, it’s like, I remember in high school having these teachers who had taught for a long time or even history teachers, and they have a different appreciation for the way that things work because they have this long context around changes and patterns. A lot of the things that we’re going to be talking about on this podcast are things that are changing and evolving.
But when you’ve watched those changes happen for 25 years, I would assume you feel differently about it than you would if it’s like you’ve been here three years and there’s a big change happening. Does that resonate? Does that feel true in terms of your response to things that sometimes seem like, “Oh my gosh, this huge thing is changing,” but for you, you have experience with things changing so much through the years that it’s like that’s part of the deal with the web?
Paul Bannister: Yeah. It’s a really good point. It’s funny, I can’t speak for the other side, so I don’t know how other people feel when some big thing comes out and it’s scary. I do know for me when, because I think you’re right on the money, when something comes out that seems scary and big and like “Oh my God, what is this thing?”, for a little bit, I’m like, “Oh my God, this is horrifying.” Then, I quickly get to, “All right, what do we do? How do we get ahead of this? What’s the opportunity? How do we turn lemons into lemonade? What’s the right way to deal with this?” I’m working on a presentation now, actually almost to this exact point where it’s like, we thought cookies going away was the big thing, but actually probably AI is the big thing.
Then, give me some other thing, we’re like, “Oh, the AI thing is nothing. Forget about that.” We’ve all lived. Anyone who’s been in the business for 10 years has lived through the pivot to mobile, the pivot to video, what are apps going to do? Search engine changes, all these different things. I think the more you’ve done it, the more you just realize, “All right, put your head down, keep working and keep doing your thing and figure out how to move to the next level.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. You mentioned two things there that I think people would be really interested to talk through. The first one, if we were to have talked six months ago, a year ago, definitely would’ve been top of the list, and that’s the removal of the cookie and specifically that happening with Google. Can you talk a little bit about what that is for those who aren’t familiar, and then we can talk about why that’s important to be aware of?
Paul Bannister: Yeah. Most of digital advertising today is based on a technology called Third Party Cookies, which is a feature in browsers that lets people track you across the web. For mainly motivated by privacy reasons, many browsers have been getting rid of third party cookies, so Safari on iOS and Apple Mac devices and Firefox and other browsers have gotten rid of those cookies. At this point, Chrome, Google’s browser is the only one that still has third party cookies. They announced in 2020 that they were going to get rid of them by 2022. That has now been delayed several times, and now they’re saying that that deadline is the middle of next year. It’s a big deal because so much of the foundation of advertising is based on this technology. A lot of time has been spent over the last couple of years like rebuilding technology, figuring out new solutions, figuring out what is much more proof preserving privacy-friendly, user-friendly, and making a better advertising set of systems.
We’ve been working on that since the beginning back in 2020, even when we’re working on things pre–2020, and with the delays it has, in some regards, it saps some energy from the process because a lot of companies are like, “Ah, Google’s never going to do this. I don’t believe it’s going to happen. I’m not going to waste my time on this.” But it does seem, to those of us who are very close to it and we’re very close to it, that Google is getting more and more serious about it now. They really are investing a lot of resources and across the board. I can’t speak to you for sure it will happen next year, but I think it’s much more likely it’s going to happen next year than at the same point in the process a year or two ago, so I really believe it’s going to happen at this point and we’re really spending time getting ahead of it.
I’m also more confident than I have been in the past where in the beginning maybe a little bit to your point, it’s like, “Oh my God, this guy’s thought going away, but what are we going to do?” Now, I’m like, “All right, there is a raft of new technology being built. The foundations are being re-architected and restructured. This will be okay and we’re going to get through this and figuring it out. It’ll probably be a little bumpy, but I don’t think it will massively change from a publisher or a user or some other perspective, really heavily change the way things work.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Help me understand a little bit the why behind it, because with Safari, so that’s Apple’s browser, that makes sense. Safari, Apple’s extremely privacy-focused, they don’t have any downside in removing cookies because they’re not an advertiser, they don’t make their money from advertising. Same with Firefox, Mozilla is a non-profit. Is that right?
Paul Bannister: Yep, that’s right.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay. Non-profit, they don’t have, it’s not like they’re advertising. Their primary focus is, how do we create the best browser possible? One of the ways is to make browsing more private, so we’re going to remove a third party cookie, and the basic idea is you can’t be tracked across sites in the same way. Would the basic example be like, if I’m on Amazon and then I’m looking at footballs and then I go to another site, then I won’t see an ad for footballs because I’m not being tracked across sites. Is that a good example of a third party cookie? Okay. It makes sense for Safari, it makes sense for Firefox, but Chrome is a little bit, it’s owned by Google and Google’s cash cow is advertising, and that’s how they make all their money.
What is the motivation for a company like Google that makes all of their money from advertising to say, “We’re going to take away one of the most effective ways for us to advertise”? Is it just they know they’re going to lose users if that goes away? Or, is it European rules around tracking and needing to make a browser accessible to Europe as well as the US?
Paul Bannister: I think it is. I’ll talk about a positive and negative, if there is the right way to frame it. The first point is what you said about regulation, the way the wind is blowing, what users want, it’s changing and it’s harder and harder for Google to be this outcast where they’re not doing what everybody else has done and they’re getting pressure from regulators and from different governmental bodies around the world, but they have to do more to protect privacy and they just know they have to do it. I think the reason they’re doing it is really that external pressure, which is sure heavily governmental, but there’s other factors too.
Bjork Ostrom: The market in general is shifting and there’s recognition of that, yeah.
Paul Bannister: The other thing, from an advertising perspective, to massively oversimplify, Google has three parts of their business that are driven by advertising. They have some non-advertising parts of their business, but there are three core parts of Google that run on advertising. There is Google search, there is YouTube and there is Google Ads. Google search, we all know. You go to google.com, you search stuff, you see search ads. That is their cash cow that makes them gobs and gobs of money that relies on third-party cookies nearly not at all, because it’s based on a search term.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s based on a search term.
Paul Bannister: By the way, you’re logged in. Most people are logged into Google anyway, so they know a lot about you regardless. The huge bucket of their money is unaffected. Bucket number two is YouTube, which is small but growing and they really believe in it and it’s video and video is the future, and there’s a big investment there. Also relatively unaffected by third party cookies because so much of it’s about what you’re watching on YouTube.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. You’re watching an insurance video and they show an insurance ad.
Paul Bannister: Exactly. They can also share the data across google.com and youtube.com because you’re logged in and you’re using them. They don’t need third party cookies or anything to do that, so those two parts of the business, which are by far and away the largest and the most profitable parts of their business, pretty protected from this change. Google Ads, which is the part that you and us and any publisher on the web uses, that part is the least protected, but it’s also Google’s smallest business and it’s a bit of a problem. What they’re trying to do is saying, on the Chrome side of their business, how do we get rid of these things? How do we build some new technologies into Chrome to make it so advertising still works? Then, the Google Ads part is saying, okay, how do we use these new technologies to build things on top of it and really continue what we’re doing, continue providing value to advertisers.
The big difference, I think, again, I buried it in there, but between Apple and Firefox and others is, they took away third party cookies and they added nothing to support advertising. Chrome is saying we’re going to take away third party cookies and we’re building a whole bunch of new tech that you can use also, and that new tech is really interesting and really cool, and that’s where a lot of the focus is on building into those new tech technologies.
Bjork Ostrom: When you say you can use, are you referring to ad network like AdThrive?
Paul Bannister: Yeah, exactly. Ad-driven companies can build on top of that technology.
Bjork Ostrom: Is there an example that you could give what that looks like? Or is it pretty technical in nature? I’m guessing regardless it’s technical in nature, but if not third party cookies, I’m trying to think through, does it have to do with logged in behavior and incentivizing that in some way?
Paul Bannister: To use your football example, in the current world, I think you said Amazon. If you go to Amazon and you search for a football, the Amazon servers and other companies that Amazon work with store that data about you and attach it to your third party cookie. When they see you on another site, that Amazon server sees you on that site also because Amazon code is running on that site for a variety of reasons, and they say, “Ooh, this is Bjork. He’s looking for a football, let me show them a football ad,” and that’s the way it works today. When third party cookies go away, that technological method goes away.
One of the new features Chrome is building as a technology they call Fledge. Fledge makes the same system work, but none of the data goes to the servers. The browser itself keeps the data, so it’s protected from servers. Amazon knows that about you, but they can’t see you in other places, but they can still target ads of you because of this new technology where the data itself is in the browser, so it’s your data, it’s on your computer, advertisers can still use it in a private way. It’s a very different way of thinking about it. What the advertiser needs is still possible to execute on, but it’s done so in a way that the data’s not shared back with the companies.
Bjork Ostrom: Which is one of the big issues that is, there’s a shift happening and the shift is who owns this data? I’m giving you this data, does the company own it? Well, technically it’s my data, I should own it. There’s all different degrees on how government weighs in on that from the least regulated to the most regulated US in general on not as regulated, maybe European countries more regulated, and then California in the middle.
All of these restrictions that are in place. But inevitably, what’s going to happen is the trend is towards users owning their data, and so one way to get around that, while still doing some version of targeted ads is to let the user maintain their data in their browser, they can slide it on or slide it off or as you see, if you use an iPhone, you get a prompt all the time. This app wants to track using Bluetooth, allow or disallow? That trend makes sense and you can start to see, like you said, how the building in tools to replicate what it was doing before, while also solving for a problem, which is a company owning a user’s data.
Paul Bannister: Right, exactly. Hundred percent. Yep.
Bjork Ostrom: Really interesting. The date for that change is when? In 2024? Is there an actual date that you know that that will happen?
Paul Bannister: There’s none actually. I think it’s third quarter, so August, September is what they’re saying. There’s a lot of steps also between now and then. This August I think, they actually will have, assuming they hit their goals, the new technologies will be fully turned on in Chrome. Cookies will still be there, but the new technology will be there fully as well. Right now, it’s only about 5% of Chrome browsers now have the technology. The other 95%, will get it over the next four or five months.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Got it. One of the other things that exists in my head as a potential outcome of this, you can say if it’s accurate, not accurate, or somewhere in the middle. Third party cookies go away, a company has less ability to track somebody, let’s say it’s a chicken company and they say, “Great, we want to track people who have searched on Google for chicken recipes and then end up somewhere else in show them an ad on that.”
That goes away, what it seems like might happen is there would be a benefit given to curated groups of large pools of content like an ad network, where then a company can come to them and say, this chicken company can come to them and say, it’s Tyson Chicken, they come to them and say, “We want to show our ads and we want to do it in a way that we know it’s effective. We can’t right now exactly replicate what we did before, so we want to come to you and say, ‘Hey, on any of your content in your network that has a chicken recipe show a chicken ad.’ Is there any truth to that or will these tools that come in to replace some of the third party cookie stuff essentially stand in the middle and not require that?
Paul Bannister: I think you’re totally right. We very much believe in that. One of our big investments this year is in direct sales, is in increasing the size of our sales team that goes directly to advertisers. We hired a few months ago a woman named Marla Newman, she was the president of Dotdash Meredith, which is a huge publishing company.
Bjork Ostrom: Oh wow, yep.
Paul Bannister: People magazine and all recipes and 50 other big publications and websites. She ran all of their sales and now she’s moved over to our team and we’re growing that team very significantly, because we really believe what you’re saying and we’re seeing it to be true, where while some of the things that advertisers want to do will be replaced with a new technology, and so the technology can enable that and that’s great, some things are just going to go away, and so advertisers who want to reach those audiences are going to be working directly with publishers and ad networks like us that, to your point, have that large scale, have that aggregation with the right kinds of content, have the right aggregation of the right kinds of audiences, and really can help them achieve their goals. We are seeing that trend happen and we’re investing in it because we know it’s part of the way the wind is blowing.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. When you look at it at a macro level over the last 10 years, it’s interesting to see. Essentially, what it is is just companies trying to figure out where their dollar goes the furthest. Ten years ago, it’s direct sales because there wasn’t technology there is today to do programmatic advertising third party cookies. It shifts way over over time. Like “Hey, we can target not only people who are looking for a chicken recipe but are also between the ages of 25 and 35 and live in the suburbs of Minnesota,” you can get hypertargeted. As that starts to go away, potentially there’s a shift back towards direct sales because the impact of the dollar spent could potentially go further. It’s to be determined still, we don’t know yet, but interesting to hear your thoughts and reflections on that.
That’s coming down the line, TBD, we don’t know exactly what it’ll look like. Like you said, it will probably be bumpy to some degree as companies are trying to figure it out and dollars get reallocated and systems get figured out. One of the things you said that’s this new reality that we’re all navigating is artificial intelligence and amazing how quickly it’s adopted. I think it’s a hundred million people are using or signed up for ChatGPT within three months or something. I don’t remember exactly.
Paul Bannister: The fastest growth to a hundred million users of any technology ever.
Bjork Ostrom: Anything ever. Lindsay is now at the point where she just kind of rolls her eyes. It was just an hour ago, we’re sitting down in a meeting, I was like, “A friend coded up this little AI chatbot that brought in all of Pinch of Yum content and we could interact with it and be like, ”I’m going to a friend’s house tonight. What’s the best dessert recipe to bring?” You’re starting to see people use it, but it’s really impactful for the world of content. You can write an essay in 10 seconds on best chicken recipes or whatever it is, as you’ve watched this so quickly become used by so many people and also not only are so many people using it, but it’s also good. It’s really good at creating content and interacting with people and solving problems. Where do you think that leaves us as content creators? How do we approach it and what should our mindset be?
Paul Bannister: I think there’s a lot of different angles to it, obviously. Two very big buckets are content creation and content distribution. In the content creation world, you’ve got the risks of, can people just use ChatGPT or some other system like that to create content that’s as good as mine or better or nearly as good, but to a massive scale. Can the internet be flooded with a trillion new pieces of content written by a chatbot that are pretty good? Maybe not perfect, but pretty good and just overwhelm the human generated content in a bad way, so you’ve got risks like that. On the other side. You’ve got the way we view it a lot of the time is, what’s the opportunity there where we’ve had a technology for a year and a half or so now called Topic, which is based on GPT, which is the underlying platform that does content inspiration.
It’s like how can you use these chatbot and AI technologies to help you figure out what content should I make next? When I write that content, what should be included in it? Give me some ideas. You know what I know, writer’s block is a real thing that is hard to deal with sometimes, to use those tools to help you figure out what to do and where to go can be really powerful. There’s other applications like that, like your point about using your content to answer questions as a component of the chatbot is super interesting and there’s lots of things down that path. In the world of content creation, you’ve got a lot of things where there are some risks, there are some real ways to use this tech that could be really interesting.
I do think a big factor with content creation that’s important that the technology is moving fast, but I think this is a while before it gets there, is the point of trust. Recipes is an easy example where yes, you can ask ChatGPT today to give you a recipe for chicken Parmesan. I don’t know if I want to cook that recipe. I think I’d rather go to Pinch of Yum and say, they’ve got a chicken … I don’t know if you have a chicken Parmesan recipe.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, yeah, sure. Yeah.
Paul Bannister: I’m going to trust Lindsay and Bjork and what their recipe is, and I think that’s the right way to do it. I think trust is a really big factor that I think publishers should keep relying on and leaning on. We are all real people. We want to hear what other real people have to say. We want things that are tested and true and real and something that I can believe. I think that’s where the AI stuff is not there yet. On the other side, you’ve got content distribution, and I think the risk there is with Google’s Bard and BingGPT, is a progression of what Google and Bing have been doing for years now, which is the zero click search. If they can answer the user’s question on the search page and they don’t need to send the traffic, they have shown over the years to do that significantly.
Will these technologies make it so more and more types of content can be disintermediated that way where no one needs to go to Pinch if Yum anymore because there’s a recipe that’s on the Google results page and what’s the dynamic there and how do you do that? I think, again, there it’s a real risk. I think there’s a question of how do you get ahead of it by owning more and more of your audience, finding other platforms and ways to reach your audience, what’s the right way to keep moving forward? We’re thinking a lot about those things. Anyway, I think you’ve thought about it, I’m sure as much as I have, there’s a tremendous number of things that are a little scary and then there’s a tremendous number of things you’re like, “Holy cow, I can do that. That’s going to be amazing. How do I get ahead of that?” You can do all those pieces.
Bjork Ostrom: It feels like the hard thing to do in a situation like this, is to know that nothing lasts forever. I think this is maybe more a more poetic version of it, but I just came across that Robert Frost poem, I think it’s called Nothing Gold Can Stay. His is more pontificating on life and its beauty and whatnot. I think it’s also true in business. It’s not like 20 years from now we’re going to be doing the exact same thing, so the question is, to what degree are you willing to be light on your feet and say, “What are my skills? What are the abilities that I have? How can those be adapted to a new reality?” One of the things that I do think will happen is, and you alluded to this, there’s a shift from information to, I think what’s happened, especially in the last three months, there’s been a value shift in terms of your ability to produce information versus your ability to connect and engage.
The value of information, meaning top 10 healthy coffees to get from Starbucks, that’s become less valuable as a piece of content because it’s purely informational. There’s not a huge element of your humanity wrapped up within that as opposed to somebody who says, here’s my story in transitioning my habits around drinking really unhealthy drinks from Starbucks to figuring out how to still get my fix from Starbucks but not have a bunch of sugar. It shifts it from story experience person or towards that away from just information, and I think the stuff that’s really at risk is just pure information.
Paul Bannister: I agree.
Bjork Ostrom: Best places, most affordable places to stay in Minneapolis or whatever it is, stuff like that. For a content creator, somebody who’s like, “Is this going to take over what I’m going to do, and now my skills are no longer valuable?” Or, “I’ve worked really hard to build this following on the blog, does all the search traffic go away?” Do you have any advice just from a mindset perspective how to approach it and even any ideas on, you maybe alluded to this a little bit, but where the opportunity might lie within some of these changes for people not to be discouraged by it, but encouraged by it.
Paul Bannister: Yep, yep. That’s a big question. I think it’s a personal question. It’s specific to each person to some level.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Yeah.
Paul Bannister: Another good saying I’ve heard recently that I’ve used a lot with these things is that we will overestimate the impact of it in the short term and underestimate the impact in the long term, in the sense that, right now everyone’s like, “Oh my God, it’s going to destroy the world. What’s going to happen?” That’s probably not true. We have time. These technologies take, even though this is moving fast, we, it will take a time for it to get to it. To some level for today, keep doing what you’re doing, build your audience, create great content. To your point, imbue your humanity into what you do. Those are things that you are good at and you can keep being good at and keep refining.
Then, I think for the longer term it is start thinking about how can you use these different tools that are being created to go faster, do more, do better, improve what you’re doing. I think it is, in the short and medium term, stress and agitation is not valuable, it just creates angst and doesn’t make you feel good. Focus on what you’re great at and then for the longer term, really thinking about, “Okay, how do I use this stuff? How do I do more? How do I go to the next level and figure out what to do next?” That’s my best advice.
Bjork Ostrom: I think that’s great and the idea of not will this replace me in what I’m doing, but how do I use this to make what I’m doing better? That, to me, is a really interesting question. Even for me, what I’ve tried to do is I’ve tried to have ChatGPT up on another screen, and as much as possible when I run into something where I’m like, “I wonder about this,” I try using it to help me understand like building a job description, like “Hey, here’s the components. Can you help me build a job description?” It’s questions about, I was doing some math, what does that look like? Or spreadsheet analysis? Starting to do these things that I otherwise would have to make some brain space for and I outsource that brain space a little bit. It’s not replacing the core function of me doing a podcast as an example, although there are some examples of people doing AI podcasts and having conversations, which is novel in itself.
One of the things that I heard you say, and I think it’s an important thing to reiterate, is what’s true today? Using that as your foundation for making decisions, not what might be true in the future, because we don’t know and like we talked about, things change on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. There’s pivots, but what’s true today? What’s true today is people connect with people. When I think of following along and learning, the places that I go to are people who have a story that they’ve been through, that they can teach me what they did. We’re still at our core humans who connect with other humans. If you can get good at figuring out how to help people or figuring out how to entertain people, there’s an opportunity for you to create things online and build a following, and I think that’s an important reminder of what’s true today. How that looks will always be changing, but your skill and ability to do that over time is what you should really refine.
Paul Bannister: I agree with all that. One funny quick story to the point of, we can’t anticipate where this will end up. A long time ago, someone who I used to work with ended up moving on to a company that was a very early creator of an aggregator of YouTube content. This was like 2008, 2007, it’s been a long time ago. I had lunch with him soon after he started there and he’s explaining to me these videos people were watching on YouTube, and I walked away from this conversation. I was like, “What are you talking about? This makes no sense.”
What literally a year and a half later I realized he was explaining unboxing videos to me. I was like, “Who would watch a person open toys.” This is the most nonsensical thing I’ve ever heard. Now, it’s this enormous business. None of us can anticipate where the world is going and what seems utterly illogical and crazy today can be a big thing. It’s already getting stressed, because some new opportunities will come and keep your eye on what’s out there and be like, “That’s really interesting. I could do that.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yes. My dad has this phrase that he always talks about or mentions in any season of stress where he talks, he says ambiguity creates stress, and I think that’s largely what is happening here is there’s a transition. The transition could potentially be significant, but it’s also ambiguous, and I think that’s the piece that’s stressful. Whereas, for a long stretch of time, there were changes, but they weren’t changes in this way, and I think this is significant enough that it creates ambiguity. But like you said, the important thing to know is out of every shift, there comes new opportunities that we never could have thought of before. We don’t know what those are until we see them, and then five years later we look back and we’re like, “Oh yeah, of course. If only I would’ve started unboxed therapy 10 years ago and then have 10 million followers or whatever by opening new like iPhones and computers,” but those opportunities will exist as well and it’s just a matter of being curious and paying attention to them.
Paul Bannister: Yep, hundred percent.
Bjork Ostrom: This one isn’t quite as juicy and not quite as maybe a big of a shift, but another big change that’s happening in the world of content is the shift from Universal Analytics to GA4. Would be curious to hear any thoughts that you have on that or just within AdThrive, thoughts that you have around that shift changing. Then, one of the questions that came up actually within that, there’s a lot of people who are excited about potentially joining, but there’s these markers around page views and numbers, and people have those as the markers they want to get to. Will that change with the shift to GA4 for what you need to get in or to be able to apply to get accepted to AdThrive? Two questions, just general thoughts around that shift, and then does that impact how you view analytics internally?
Paul Bannister: At a general level, right now, I would say we are very much in the thick of just dealing with the change ourselves. We’ve got 4400, 4500 sites we work with. They are almost all still running Universal Analytics, the old version of GA. They’re all shifting over the next couple of months to GA4, and so we had to change all of our backend systems, all of our reporting, all of our analytics, all of our things to work with the new system. Google as in normal form, the documentation isn’t that great and it’s missing and things that they say work don’t work, but then there’s no one to talk to. We’re I think dealing with a lot of the same problems that almost anybody who’s dealing with the transition themselves is dealing with and just trying to get through this window of time.
I do think that there are some interesting features that it has. It is another thing out in the world driven by privacy. A lot of the changes in GA4 are really around privacy and really protecting user data and doing all this in a way that it is much more privacy-friendly. That’s a real underlying trend on all of these things. I do think that once we all get through this transition, there’s some interesting things we can do with it and better analytics we can pull out of it and ways that ways to help. That’s my 50,000-foot view of things. In terms of our application process and those markers, we don’t plan to change them. We’re monitoring what’s going on closely. We don’t see a huge difference in terms of GA4 versus Universal Analytics’ numbers today. Maybe a couple of percent, but not enough for us to really rethink it, but as we continue down this process, down this pathway, we’re always looking at it and always trying to think about, does this make sense? Should we change what we’re doing here and make sure we’re doing it in a logical way?
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s great. For those who are listening, we have a couple of GA4 podcasts that we can link do in the show notes that we dive deep on that and also, for Food Blogger Pro members, we have some courses and information on that, so we can check that out as well. One of the things that you talked about earlier is you said video is the future. Can you talk about what that means and why you believe that?
Paul Bannister: I believe that the greatest areas of growth on the internet today are still video. YouTube continues to grow fast. TikTok is crazy. Snapchat is big. There’s Lemonade, which is a TikTok competitor. There’s another TikTok competitor out there that’s pretty big that I’m forgetting the name of, and that’s a vertical video case. Then there’s the continued rise of what’s called connected television, which is watching TV on a Roku or Apple TV or a smart TV or something like that, and the ability to, everything’s on demand, all those different things. One of the biggest trends in the digital markets and then the digital ad markets specifically, is really this continued very heavy growth in the world of video. An enormous amount of people’s time every day spent watching video in many different formats and types and much more and more of that is moving into the digital world, so that’s a really big transition and a big moment.
At a macro level, I said that because it is where people’s time is spent and it is transitioning the way it works from the old way of sitting down at 8:00 at night to watch plus CTV on NBC and watching, sitting through commercials and talking friends about it the next day to this highly fast-moving, highly decentralized world, where there’s a million shows on Netflix you can watch and a million shows on Prime and a million shows on Hulu, and then a trillion things on YouTube and a trillion things on TikTok, and everybody’s watching something different. It’s a very big transition. We are continuing to build things in video, do more things in video because we know it’s where there’s just very significant growth and a lot of people’s time is spent there.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. One of the things I love doing is zooming out, and we can do this with your story, because you had a website in 1995. Looking at the changes and the why behind it and you can hear, video is the future. Okay, well, why is that? Well, if you look at any progression of or snapshot of the web, in 1995, there was text and there were links, maybe there was images, but they would’ve load loaded really slow. Part of it is, it’s not like suddenly somebody had an idea and was like, “Oh, images, we should do images. Brilliant idea. Let’s do.” Part of it just has to do with the capability of the internet. As images became more easily distributed through faster internet, suddenly you started to see images show up more on websites and then it was maybe gifs or moving images or the pip art stuff. You’d start to see that because you could do that, and it feels like, correct me if I’m wrong on this, but it feels like within the last five years really one of the shifts that’s happened is mobile, but then also video capable mobile.
When phones were first coming out, the idea that you’d be on a cell connection and then watch a video at hi-def quality, there would’ve been a lot of difficulty delivering that video that just doesn’t exist today. Is that one of the reasons why there is this shift? It’s just because it’s now capable for a computer, a phone, a tablet, all of these devices can easily stream video and people can more easily create the video as well. Not only is the demand going up, but the supply is starting to match that demand and that’s where then advertising comes in to sit in the middle of that and say like, “Okay, a lot of people wanting to watch this, we’re going to run ads against it. There’s a decent amount of people creating it who can create income from it.” Does that feel like an accurate portrayal of the shift that’s happened?
Paul Bannister: Yeah, I think a hundred percent. It’s also, part of it’s not new, when we’re talking about this a minute ago, it’s not new time spent watching, it’s time shifting from traditional television to these new types of video as well as new moments. My family went to France for spring break a few weeks ago. We took the train at the end because we were flying out of London. We took the train from Paris to London, and so we’re going through the French countryside of 200 miles an hour and all four of us are on phones or iPads, not TV now.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, totally.
Paul Bannister: And it’s like-
Bjork Ostrom: Wait a minute-
Paul Bannister: What is this? This is unbelievable.
Bjork Ostrom: Pause.
Paul Bannister: Tell that story to somebody from 10 years ago and they would be blown away, and now you’re having a very mundane experience. To your point, it’s just the capabilities and the ability for this to work didn’t exist and now it does, and it’s creating a lot of changes and a lot of opportunities.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. If you were to go a hundred years ago, it’s not that the attention wouldn’t have been there, it just would’ve been in different places. You would’ve had a newspaper, and in the newspaper there would’ve been ads, and it’s the same general concept, it’s just that the medium is shifting to different delivery platforms and different ways of being consumed.
Paul Bannister: Hundred percent.
Bjork Ostrom: There’s also been, this is now drilling into the video world a little bit, some shifts in the world of advertising as it relates to video ads. Can you talk a little bit about what’s happened there and for creators who do have video content or even sometimes if they don’t have video content, how they can take advantage of the premium that comes with running video ads?
Paul Bannister: Yep, for sure. This is weedy because it’s technical stuff, so I’m going to keep it high-level, tell me where I’m going off track.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay.
Paul Bannister: The way video ads have worked for a number of years, to simplify, is what are called Instream ads and Outstream ads. Instream ads are, you’re watching TV and you’re watching a show, and then there’s a break and there’s commercials. Those are Instream. You see that on the web, you see that on YouTube, you see that on TikTok, you see that in different formats where there’s video content and then there’s video ads as a component of that.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and the content, we could view it as the stream of the video, and then, within in that video is an ad, so Instream. Okay.
Paul Bannister: Exactly. Then, outstream is video ads that are just ads. They don’t have any video content with them. That is, you’re on a website and you see in the middle of the text there’s just a video there, or there’s a video player that’s sticking somewhere that just has ads playing it and no video content. That’s like the other bucket and that’s the way buyers bought video ads to date, really. That’s just the way it’s worked.
Bjork Ostrom: Those two buckets. My guess is Instream is more valuable because the assumption is somebody clicks, they’re watching, you have their attention and ad runs, there’s going to be more visibility for that ad.
Paul Bannister: Yep, exactly. The challenge was there was a disconnect between what publishers thought was an Instream video and what advertisers thought was an Instream video. For publishers, they very much went by the, and us and big publishers and whatever went this way, where it was really about that content. If there’s content with video ads, that’s Instream, and if there’s not, that’s Outstream. That meant we have a video player that we make available to a lot of our publishers where you can take your video content, you can put it in our player, we will play it on your site, and then video ads will come next to it, and in many cases, those video players are just on pages. The user didn’t necessarily intend to watch that video. There’s part of the experience. Advertisers had a different perception of what Instream versus Outstream meant. For them, Instream often meant things like watching TV, where it really was the user intended to watch, they were like, “I wanted to watch this video, and that’s what it was.” That’s TV, that’s connected television.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s pressing play on a video player?
Paul Bannister: Exactly. Pressing play on a video player. If it’s a YouTube-like experience where you’re searching and then you go to a video, it’s those experiences. It’s really about intent, and so we realized that-
Bjork Ostrom: Versus scrolling past a video that starts to play.
Paul Bannister: Exactly.
Bjork Ostrom: And you may or may not see it, yeah.
Paul Bannister: Exactly. This definition gap has existed for a while. There’s an industry trade group called the IAB Tech Lab, which defines the standards for how advertising works in digital media. I’m on the board of the IAB Tech Lab. We undertook an effort to redefine those video standards to make it so it was more clear. Now, I think I’m oversimplifying to some level, now there are three kinds of video. There’s Instream, we kept the old name, which really means has content and the user really wanted to watch this. That is click-to-play video players, it is connected television, it is things like YouTube, it’s those experiences. There’s Outstream, which is just ads, no content. Then there’s this middle ground that we created called Accompanying Content. That means that it wasn’t necessarily the user’s intent to watch it, but there is content here, because, we all speak personally for me, I believe that video ads perform better when they’re connected to content, when they are something the user could be interested in watching when they are part of the experience a little bit more, and that creates that second tier.
Now that makes it so now the definition is clear for both buyers and sellers, and there’s not this definition gap anymore. That’s a brand new standard that was released two weeks ago and now there’s a process of people have to rebuild their systems and there’s going to be a little bit of a time, but I would say in about the next six months or so, all the systems will change to deal with the fact that there’s this new Middle-tier, and that will change how advertisers buy and probably pricing for things and things like that, and so that’s the weedy story.
Bjork Ostrom: Yep, that makes sense.
Paul Bannister: Hopefully, boil down in a way.
Bjork Ostrom: It reminds me a lot of when viewability became something in the traditional advertising world where they said, “If you have a traditional ad, it has to be at least 50% viewable, like 50% of it on the screen for one second.” Again, my guess is that there’s a gap where publishers were like, “Hey, I have this ad, I’m on my site, but it’s embedded in the footer, nobody ever sees it, and the advertiser’s like, ”It’s not going to make me any sales if nobody sees it,” so you have to close that gap by defining better what it actually is. It seems like a similar thing in the video world where you’re not going to pay a premium rate if it’s an autoplay video that somebody hasn’t opted into watching. It’s still valuable, there’s still something there, but it’s not as valuable as somebody putting their eyes on a video player clicking play and saying, I’m going to watch it.
Paul Bannister: Exactly.
Bjork Ostrom: What does that mean for publishers knowing that video is the future, knowing that video is important, knowing that it’s one of the best ways to create advertising revenue and will only become more important. What does that mean for us in terms of how we approach video content on our sites?
Paul Bannister: I think probably the same as what we were talking about AI in a funny way. I think for today, keep doing what you’re doing, keep making video content, keep trying to get it in front of your users. We’ve seen a lot of proof that even when a video is autoplayed, if the video matches the content of the page, that will perform better, that drives higher value in the ad format, it gets more attention from the user, so that’s a really important thing and that that’s really good.
Bjork Ostrom: Meaning, if the video is, in our world, if the video is a recipe and the recipe is the same as the one that you’re on the page for, yeah.
Paul Bannister: Exactly. Yeah. That will just do better. I don’t know if we published data on this, we’ve even seen some search benefit where, if you have matching video content and text content together, you can get the search benefit out of that too. There’s a lot of reasons why you want to make video content and get it in front of users, and then also work on experiences and what we’re doing this as well, what are experiences you can build where those click-to-play experiences can work better and get more eyeballs on them, and again, try to figure out more ways to engage your users.
Honestly, also, I think for people, this isn’t for everybody, but I think for people who are predisposed to it, YouTube is fantastic, TikTok is fantastic. These different platforms are great ways if you’ve got the voice and persona to really get out there and do that and be a part of those platforms also. There are real opportunities there that are great also, so thinking outside the box of, I’ve got a website and that’s great, but what can I do more? How do I reach my audience in different ways? Those video platforms can be really good also.
Bjork Ostrom: As a last topic, speaking of diversification of platforms, one of the things that I’ve noticed within AdThrive is diversification of revenue and starting to place an emphasis on helping creators great revenue in other ways and e-commerce type thing, subscriptions, affiliate. Can you talk a little bit about that transition away from just advertising? Maybe why it’s important for publishers to consider that and why internally those changes or improvements or enhancements are being made within AdThrive?
Paul Bannister: Yeah. Many of those are pretty early. I think affiliate might be one of the further ones along. We’ve got a bunch of sites we’re piloting things with right now and probably have more plans to roll things out later this year. From our perspective, and this gets into the much bigger picture, we view us and all of the creators and publishers we work with as competing with really big media companies. You’re doing search in other places today where for every search term you rank for, you’re competing against Conde Nast and Dotdash Meredith and Hearst and all these giant media and Disney and dotcom or whatever else, and they are ranking in search. You’re competing for audience against those sites, but you’re competing for ad dollars and we’re dealing with that. You’re competing for showing value to your audience and we think affiliate’s such an amazing way to do that where if you can actually convince someone in your audience to buy a product, that’s such a show of the trust that that person is built in you and believe and what you’re about.
That’s obviously a great way to, again, build trust with your audience but also monetize and make money. We’re building more and more of these services to help all of our creators and publishers really compete more with big media companies and really building that trust, building their audience and two more there. We think diversification is just good. We’re not changing from ad management first and that being our core, we believe in ads, we are massively invested and it’s all of our biggest teams work on that and that alone, but we know that there’s much, much more that the people we work with can do and we want to just help enable that and help kind of scale that up for people.
Bjork Ostrom: We really think about all of the potential paths you could go down, if you had the bandwidth, you have however many thousand, hundreds of thousands of people coming to your site, advertising is a great way to create income from that, capture some of the value that you’re creating. But there’s probably, 10 other ways that you could be running a business by getting traffic from search and social in addition to advertising, and it’s one of the things that we try and bring up, we probably don’t talk about it enough on the podcast is, not just thinking about how do I get more traffic but thinking about how do I create more revenue and being strategic not only about getting more of the same thing but diversifying and saying like, “Okay, if we wanted business to double a year from now but we knew that traffic couldn’t, what would we have to do in order to make that happen?”
Those thinking strategically about those other avenues of revenue is a great way to do that. We could talk for hours about all things old and new, things coming down the line, best practices, but want to be respectful of your time and really appreciate you coming on and sharing your insights. I know these are episodes that people always get a lot out of. Paul, if people want to connect with you or I know that you’re writing on the blog as well, maybe following along with news and best practices as you’re seeing it or as you and your colleagues are seeing it. Can you talk a little bit about best way to do that and how people can stay connected?
Paul Bannister: I think the best way is following our blog. I think we are trying more and more to get information out there and get all the things out there. I would say follow me on Twitter, because I do tweet a fair amount, but I also tweet about super nerdy privacy and digital ad things, which if you’re in super nerdy privacy and digital ad things, go for it. Otherwise, the blog is probably a pretty good way to do it.
Bjork Ostrom: Twitter is one of those places where you can get super niche into the strangest topics and have a community. My guess is you have your people who are also right there with you weighing in on it and commenting and giving their feedback or thoughts and opinions.
Paul Bannister: I’m going to a conference next week and we’ve already got a drink set up with a bunch of Twitter nerds to talk about in real life.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s great.
Paul Bannister: It’s a funny world.
Bjork Ostrom: Cool. We’ll link to your Twitter in the show notes, so people can check that out as well. Paul, thanks so much for coming on.
Paul Bannister: Thanks Bjork, always fantastic.
Alexa Peduzzi: Hey there, Alexa here. Thanks for tuning into this episode of the Food Blogger Pro podcast. We hope you enjoyed it. If you are sitting there thinking, “Man, someday I’m going to start my own food blog.” Or maybe you’re sitting there thinking, “I just started my food blog and I have no idea what to do next.” Don’t worry. We’ve all been there and we actually have a free e-book just for you and it’s called the Food Blogger Starter Kit and it’s full of different resources just to help you along the journey as you’re getting up and running with your very own food blog.
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