Comparison shopping site turns to native advertising to reach online shoppers

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As most observers of the Internet know, the world of online digital marketing is ever-evolving. Ongoing revolutions in search algorithms, device technologies and the ingenuity of software engineers produce a steady flow of new concepts to promote, present and sell products online.

Examples seem to be growing exponentially — both new sites and refinements of older ones. And often, partnerships between two or more online entities can produce a marketing dynamo. Online comparison shopping site NexTag represents a recent entry into this area.

Universal reach

NexTag made its debut in 1999, and has gradually grown in sophistication. The site does not actually sell merchandise; it operates in a way similar to travel websites, where the consumer inputs some basic information (date, time, destination — or style, color and size) and search algorithms locate the item prioritized by price (or alternative products, in descending order of similarity) with a link to the merchant’s site for purchase.

Purveyors include purely online sources like Amazon and eBay, as well as websites with bricks-and-mortar counterparts such as Target and JCPenney.

NexTag currently directs 30 million shoppers each month to the very best deals on almost anything — from cameras to clothes, books to garden supplies. To maintain its status as the “go-to” resource for online shopping, the company was looking to attract qualified traffic to its site, with the goal of converting visitors into customers.

Although NexTag has longstanding affiliations with Google, Bing and Facebook for online advertising, a longstanding partnership with Yahoo made that platform its logical choice for moving to the next level.

NexTag’s new approach utilizes “responsive” formatting, ads that are formatted to be compatible with the technology platform they’re being viewed on.

“If the ad is on a PC, it might contain video, where on a smartphone it might just be text,” says Courtney McKlveen, vice president and industry lead for Yahoo.

“The constant is that it’s all content created by a marketer that is native to the environment it is being used in.”

The ads are also “native,” meaning they are universal in their reach. As opposed to search advertising, native ads are present on a given site whenever a click occurs. Yahoo Gemini brings the worlds of native and search together.

“Yahoo Gemini is the only ad platform that is search and native together,” McKlveen says.

It is accomplished by taking the user’s historical search data (relying heavily on keywords) and converting it to native style ads. The balance includes Yahoo data and the customer’s data, should they decide to share it.

For the NexTag campaign, the wide swath of information was effectively harnessed to “leverage the richness of [the users’] search programs” to yield targeted ads that are successful, McKlveen says.

Capturing intent

How does this model differ from what competing search engines such as Google and Bing might use? The Yahoo concept captures the indicators of a customer’s intent, which is one of the strongest signs of potential sales, and maximizes the opportunity.

Leveraging a marketer’s supply footprint by using keywords is a challenge Yahoo is uniquely capable of, given the mammoth size of its databases.

So in a nutshell, the data drives the show — and the algorithms used to manage it do so masterfully.

As for results, McKlveen says that different clients look to different statistics to ascertain their progress toward maximizing sales — the total number of visitors, for instance, or the return on ad spending.

According to Prakash Chandra, manager of online marketing operations for NexTag, tallying the click-through rate is the key.

“We track click-through rates on our site as well as sales conversions at our merchants’ site as success metrics,” he says. “We have observed multifold growth on both metrics from Yahoo’s search ads on native supply compared to standard native ads.”

“The results were very impressive,” says Rajneesh Gupta, NexTag’s vice president for marketing. “We saw significant lift in every benchmark compared with standard search and native campaigns.”

These included a 106 percent increase in return on ad spending compared with conventional native approaches, a 25 percent savings in cost per acquisition and — most significantly — a 450 percent increase in sales.

Impressive results such as these create an online version of the “multiplier effect.”

“From a retailer’s perspective, it’s about driving qualified traffic,” McKlveen says, “which drives the return on ad spend, which further drives cost savings in a cost per acquisition model.”

“Delivering search ads on native supply with Yahoo Gemini has been a driving force behind the continued success of our campaigns,” Gupta says. “We’re very happy with the quality of the audience we are reaching and we’re already working with Yahoo to extend this to more of our standard search campaigns.”

When viewing these stats in light of NexTag’s enormous customer base, it quickly becomes apparent just how lucrative strategic advertising on the web can be.

Detroit-based Paul Vachon writes for various trade publications, in addition to feature stories for consumer magazines and books on Michigan history and travel.

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