Social publisher LadBible has seen a 160% display ad revenue hike over the last six months, stemming from a smarter formula for monetizing its social audience.

The 7-year-old publisher which caters for 18- to 34 year-olds, relies on social platforms for referral traffic, with 90% of all its traffic coming from platforms, predominantly Facebook, and via mobile devices.

That model makes audience monetization tough. Readers that click through to any publisher’s article page from a social platform tend to read that one story and then leave. Known as flyby readers, they’re not classed as loyal to that publication, nor are they easy to track.

Around 16% of LadBible’s total traffic comes from Safari browsers, and 57% from Facebook Instant Articles, according to the publisher. Apple has already banned ad tracking using third-party cookies on Safari, and platforms like Facebook aren’t willing to share too much audience data. That made finding new ways to tap first-party data and figure out how was coming to its site more urgent.

To do so, the publisher introduced a first-party data management platform that can monitor who has clicked through on an article, when and from what source. It also stores who they are, and when they return, the publisher can start to piece together a profile on them that’s contextual-based and includes individuals’ purchase intent, so they can offer more interest-based segments as well as track which people are interested in what content in order to send them a related ad within seconds while they’re still on the page. It uses IBM Watson’s natural language processing tech to scan its pages to help build the profiles and determine how best to categorize them.

That has opened the door in terms of how the publisher can monetize, according to LadBible head of programmatic Macauley Lowe.

Up until four months ago, the social publisher had been dependent on ad revenue from ads bought programmatically on the open exchange. Despite having so much referral traffic, the volume of content on the LadBible sites, which include SportBible and female-skewed site Pretty52, generates between 750 million and 1 billion monthly ad impressions available depending on traffic fluctuations, according to the publisher.

However, when it came to pitching directly to agencies on wider campaign briefs that incorporate branded content as part of the package, the publisher had struggled, according to Lowe. Agencies typically demand evidence of sophisticated audience-targeting capabilities when choosing which publishers to work with. While the publisher can boast large reach, it didn’t have the granular data on who those readers were in order to convince agencies to spend more with them, added Lowe.

“It felt terrible to go into an agency and tell them we have 50 million unique users a month but we can only target 10% of them,” said Lowe. “We weren’t able to understand our own audiences on our owned and operated sites.”

The publisher has also introduced more polls on its site to ask readers their thoughts on topics or specific campaigns that are running. The results are then fed back into the DMP, supplied by Permutive, to build audience segments using declared data. That has helped improve campaign performance over the last few months because the publisher has been able to see how people are responding to live campaigns, so they can tweak the following creative on the fly so it’s more appealing to specific individuals. As a result, its click-through rates on ads have increased by an average of 40%, according to Lowe.

“Being able to unlock this audience monetization has enabled us to go out with more confidence to advertisers,” added Lowe. He added that the publisher has seen an increase in the size of deals, with more six-figure deals coming through, though he wouldn’t reveal specifics.

Previously, the publisher relied on article sections and contextual relevancy to build audience segments, but since it has unlocked more audience data, it has been able to grow its programmatic-guaranteed and direct-sales deals, he added. Open marketplace ad-buying still provides the lion’s share of ad revenue for the company. But in such a volatile digital ad market, in which platforms like Apple have restricted the ability to track third-party cookies in order to target ads, plus tighter scrutiny from data protection regulators, the company needs to diversify.

“The mission is to be able to offer larger partnerships that tie in and achieve multiple advertiser business goals,” said Lowe. “To loop up different ad mediums [like branded content and programmatic] and be a solution for a brand, not a string to their overall strategy.”

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