A new study of advertising in news by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism finds that, currently, even the top news websites in the country have had little success getting advertisers from traditional platforms to move online. The digital advertising they do get appears to be standard ads that are available across many websites. And with only a handful of exceptions, the ads on news sites tend not to be targeted based on the interests of users, the strategy that many experts consider key to the future of digital revenue.
Of the 22 news operations studied for this report, only three showed significant levels of targeting. A follow-up evaluation six months later found that two more sites had shown some movement in this direction, but only some, from virtually no targeting to a limited amount on inside pages. By contrast, highly targeted advertising is already a key component of the business model of operations such as Google and Facebook.
Overall, the analysis finds that while news organizations have tried to persuade their advertisers to buy space across multiple platforms, there was little evidence that they had succeeded. The kinds of products and services being advertised online were quite different than in legacy platforms, and often were seen across multiple websites.
Interesting findings, but the researchers were seemingly only at the front page of sites. A lot of traffic comes from search engines, directly into interior pages. Indeed, many front pages aren’t built for the human aesthetic, but rather for the search engine spiders.
Sites selling specific ad space, or clients buying ads exclusively on sports pages or on automotive stories, don’t seem to figure into this. That’s worth studying (and, professionally, worth practicing) but it would be incredibly labor intensive.