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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

How publishers can use taxonomies to maximize monetization

Analyzing and connecting content across a publisher’s entire footprint offers benefits on both the revenue and expense sides of the business.

April 8, 2024 | By Christopher Guenther, COO – ArcSpan Technologies @arcspan

It is not shocking to say that that content is the core value proposition of a publisher. However, it is shocking how frequently publishers fall short in dimensionalizing the full diversity and depth of their own content, which then undermines the potential commercial value to both the advertiser and consumer markets. The content, which could take the form of text, video, audio or even some form of a tool or utility feature, is what ultimately draws users to a publisher’s platforms. It’s what truly defines that publisher in the mind of their audience (for better or for worse).

Analyzing and connecting this content across a publisher’s own footprint offers benefits on both the revenue and expense sides of the business. Yet all too frequently media companies are challenged in establishing a granular, relevant understanding of their content. A longstanding approach to organizing content has been the use of unstructured tagging or by applying a more structured taxonomy. Unfortunately, both internal and external challenges have impacted media companies’ ability to best leverage these organizational approaches.

Internal challenges for publishers when applying a taxonomy

Internally, an effective application of a taxonomy requires connecting systems that span editorial (CMS), advertising (ad server, programmatic stack, DMP) and marketing (CDP and analytics). A level of coordination is required to ensure that all parties are aligned, which is both a technical and functional challenge. It is important that a media company collaboratively decides which kind of contextual taxonomy best addresses multiple use cases. Key questions include: What helps SEO? What helps ad targeting, especially in a post third-party cookie world? What helps provide the richest content insights? What content drives more subscribers?

The other internal challenge is to understand exactly how content is categorized. Is it done in a manual way as content first flows through the editorial process? Or are there levels of automation being applied so categorization is applied at scale in an accurate manner? During this part of the process, it’s critical to know what is being used to apply the metadata. For example, a publisher must figure out the right taxonomy (or taxonomies) to have the most leverage.

Figuring out what taxonomy is best for your media business

Most media companies have access to the IAB Contextual Taxonomy. Currently, version 2.2 is the most typically leveraged, though version 1.0 is still utilized by many parts of the media ecosystem. These offer a starting point for many publishers. However, regardless of which version deployed, the IAB Contextual Taxonomy has its limitations, almost by design. To be a broadly accepted taxonomy, it cannot be overly specific. While it contains three tiers of terms, it doesn’t necessarily offer the granularity that some publishing verticals require.

If a media company requires a more robust or specific taxonomy, there are several paths that can be taken. One option is to develop a taxonomy internally. This option has been undertaken by a number of publishers with the resources to create and manage a taxonomy. The level of effort to maintain a taxonomy can be significant in terms of time and money, especially as it needs to evolve as new terms emerge.

The other option is to work with a vendor who can offer a vertical taxonomy from their library. (These vendors can offer some level of customization aligned with the advertising, marketing and editorial needs of a customer.) These kinds of taxonomies may support a publisher in the gaming vertical, for example, that desires depth and hyper relevancy for its ad targeting (such as going several levels from “video gaming” to draw distinctions between among/across game types such as “MMOG” versus “MMORPG”).

External challenges for publishers applying a taxonomy

The primary external challenge is when some contextual providers make their own assessment of a publisher’s content. These companies do their own analysis of a publisher’s content and apply a taxonomy classification that will likely be limited at best, and inaccurate/damaging at worst.

In advertising, these taxonomy determinations then become the “truth set” on that publisher for others in the programmatic ecosystem, impacting the sell side or the buy side experience. If they do not accurately represent the full breadth and depth of a publisher’s content, this has serious revenue implications. For example, a site may be labeled broadly as “news”, while in reality the content spans “entertainment”, “travel”, “shopping”, etc. These are categories that tend to command higher CPMs than “news”.

While these factors are very real and not easy to overcome, it’s ultimately critical that publishers try to take back control of their content positioning in the market. While they may not be in a position to build or entirely manage their own taxonomy, media companies need to be the “truth set” for their own content instead of a completely disconnected third party.

The end impact of getting the house in order for publishers is operational efficiency, traffic improvements and revenue lift. A publisher just needs to remember these key questions as the review their current state:

  • Confirm which technical systems currently impact contextual tagging and where does that output flow? Who manages those systems internally?
  • How many of the current processes are manual versus how much is automated?
  • How is this contextual output flowing out of the company, whether to support SEO or productized by advertising for behavioral or contextual campaigns? On the advertising side, is the enhanced taxonomy being properly communicated to buyers and helping drive campaigns that meet KPIs?
  • Do current tagging/taxonomy practices have the right level of accuracy and granularity?

It is critical that publishers figure out their current state and then plan on how to rapidly evolve going forward. The industry is not standing still as third-party cookies disappear and AI sits poised to completely transform search. Time is of the essence so to maximize the value of the content you offer, it must be discoverable to the entire ecosystem, from users to advertisers. The growth of your bottom line is dependent on this.

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