How BuzzFeed Gives Native Ads a Traffic Boost

The story of modern media is wrapped up in this situation: “Native advertising” sometimes needs its own advertising for people to see it.

The problem with advertiser content on BuzzFeed and other publisher sites is that users just aren’t always eager to consume it. Publishers know this and often give their sponsored posts a helping hand by purchasing traffic from elsewhere across the Web. Thanks to content ad networks, targeted Facebook ads and discovery engines like StumbleUpon, this is easier (and as cost-effective) as ever.

BuzzFeed, for example, has an entire in-house team dedicated to buying ads that drive users to its sponsored posts. Through a program it calls “Social Discovery,” the company buys traffic from a range of sources including Facebook, Twitter, and StumbleUpon, as well as other content-marketing services. It pays to have links to its sponsors’ posts show up in Facebook users’ news feeds and to force them in front of users on StumbleUpon, for example.

“This is a small percentage of BuzzFeed’s overall traffic, less than 5 percent,” BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti told Digiday. “We power-branded content campaigns that start on BuzzFeed but spread on Facebook, Twitter and Stumbleupon both organically and through paid media.”

BuzzFeed prices its native ads as part of a package. That means there isn’t necessarily the risk of price arbitrage, where a publisher will buy cheap traffic to high-priced impression-priced ads on its site.

Peretti said the company is not buying traffic to boost its numbers or meet advertiser commitments. Its brand partners are actually beginning to use its media-buying team as an agency of sorts, asking it to package posts on BuzzFeed with a paid distribution element, too. It doesn’t pay for the ads itself to boost the number of views the content it sells to advertisers gets.

“We are seeing growing revenue from brands and agencies trusting us with their social budgets,” Peretti explained. “We don’t buy traffic to BuzzFeed content to reach traffic goals but rather to integrate paid-earned-owned on BuzzFeed and beyond.”

It’s not unusual for marketers to amplify a piece of content with paid distribution, even if it is on BuzzFeed, where content is supposed to “go viral” by itself to a certain extent. But not all traffic is created equal. Dropping highly targeted ads into users’ Facebook feeds is one thing, but buying what’s essentially a page impression forced in front of a random user on StumbleUpon is another. StumbleUpon does offer audience-targeting capabilities but basically sells pageviews for between 10 cents and 20 cents each. One publishing executive described that traffic as “garbage.”

Still, if brands are aware of where the traffic is coming from and are actively paying BuzzFeed to procure it for them, perhaps they don’t mind. BuzzFeed claims its data and “proprietary technology” allow it to seed content across the social sphere more successfully than agencies. BuzzFeed refused to give specific details around what that technology is but said it’s linked to the company’s experience in finding content certain users are likely to share.

Peretti was vague about how BuzzFeed’s media business is likely to evolve, but he implied it’ll play a significant part of the company’s future. “I’m hopeful,” he said, “this program will continue to grow.”