How To Choose Profitable Publishers For Your Display Campaigns

How To Choose Profitable Publishers For Your Display Campaigns

Looking to scale your display campaigns or just see better results in general?

There are three basic types of targeting strategies when it comes to scaling your campaigns and picking new publishers and placements:

  • Contextual
  • Demographic
  • Psychographic

All three should be part of your media planning strategy.

Today’s post covers these targeting methods in detail.

Plus, you’ll see examples of advertisers who know their stuff when it comes to using one or a combination of these methods to scale their campaigns.

Method #1: Contextual Targeting

Contextual advertising is when the content of the ad is related to the content of the publisher that the user is browsing.


  • Advertising your golf products on a golf news site.
  • Advertising your weight loss supplement on a fitness and wellness site.
  • Advertising your designer jacket shop on a major fashion blog.

Pretty straightforward, right?

There are a couple of ways to do this.

The first way — the way most people do it — is by using targeting capabilities in Google Adwords or other ad networks. An example would be adding contextual keywords in a campaign related to the product (e.g. golf equipment, golf instruction, golf news, etc.).

Google runs these keywords through their algorithm and puts your ads on relevant pages.


This can work.

However, Google’s algorithm is not perfect. You’ll often see your ads placed on pages irrelevant to the content of the keywords you selected.

You’ll often see your ads placed on pages irrelevant to the content of your keywords.

The other way — and the way many big brands do it — is to buy inventory directly from a publisher. This is known as a direct buy. A direct buy involves contacting a publisher and negotiating a rate. This is the way many Big Brands advertise online.

If we look inside Adbeat, we see that Ford directly buys inventory on sites related to cars.

Here is one of their ads on


Another example is KB Home, a homebuilding company. They buy inventory directly from, a large residential real estate listing site.



Another example…

Fidelity Investments buys inventory directly on’s Roth IRA calculator page, for — you guessed it — their Fidelity Rollover IRA:


Why You Should Use Contextual Targeting.

Contextual targeting works because your prospect is browsing a site with content related to your product. They are more likely to click on your ads since your product fits ‘the conversation already going on in their mind’. 

Most beginner display advertisers run their campaigns solely with contextual specific targeting.  However, there’s one problem with this: contextual targeting by itself can be hard to scale. There are only so few golf sites out there that have inventory for purchase.

Yet, there’s a way expert display advertisers scale their campaigns through content specific targeting while still keeping their ads in line with the thoughts going through the prospect’s mind.

Expand To Larger Publishers While Keeping The Content Relevant

You don’t have to choose a site 100% dedicated to content related to your product in order to keep your ads relevant. There are ways to scale your campaigns to larger publishers and keep your ads related to the content.


By purchasing ads on specific pages/placements on Q&A sites like Yahoo! Answers,, or on “content farms” like LIVESTRONG, WikiHow and eHow.

One great example is Instaflex, a health company that sells a supplement to relieve joint pain.

Instaflex buys inventory on articles and pages related to joint pain and health.

Here’s an example of their ad on an article on meniscus tears on WikiHow:


Someone reading an article on how to heal a meniscus tear (a common and very painful knee injury) is on target for a supplement that helps improve knee health.

These sites get millions, if not billions, of page views per month. They get so much traffic because they tend to have amazing SEO. You may find yourself getting more impressions, clicks, and conversions from a single placement of one high traffic article on one of these major publishers than on an entire site dedicated to a specific niche.

Here’s another example of a company called “The Dog Training Secret.”

They sell an info product for dog training.

Here is one of their ads on a on a Yahoo! Answers question page:


A prospect who wants their dog to stop barking is on target for an ad about stopping their dog from barking.

The “Stop Dog Barking” ad is also a great example of really dialing in the copy of the ad to the content of the article. Notice that this isn’t just a general “train-your-dog” style ad. It’s not about house training your dog. It’s specifically about how to stop your dog from barking, which is the exact question on this Yahoo! Answers page.

Another place to look for these types of placements is on the specific channels of large publishers like MSN, and the Huffington Post. These sites have different subdomains for specific topics.  For example, has the subdomain This section contains information all about coin collecting, values of precious metals and investing in precious metals.

Lear Capital — a company that sells products and services related to investing in precious metals — buys inventory directly on


East & Cost Effective… But Hard to Scale

As we said before, this type of targeting can be hard to scale once you reach a certain point.

There are only so many sites dedicated to a specific niche, and these niche sites tend to get less traffic than larger news publishers like Huffington Post, The New York Times or PlayBuzz.

These larger publishers provide advertisers with a nearly unlimited amount of traffic.

However, it’s harder to get the targeting right on a big news publisher.

Do it incorrectly, and your ads will end up in front of the wrong demographic.

This is where many display advertisers fail and one of the reasons why people say claim display advertising doesn’t work.  Their ads get placed in front of the wrong pair of eyes, they get charged for irrelevant impressions and clicks, and the critics claim banner advertising is the devil.

So how do you scale your campaigns without blowing your budget on useless traffic?

With demographic and psychographic targeting.

Method #2: Demographic Targeting

Demographic targeting is when you show an ad to someone based on their age, sex, economic status, or any other factual based piece of information about them.


  • Age
  • Ethnicity
  • Marital Status
  • Gender
  • Employment Status
  • Education

The best way to do this?

Create a “persona” of your ideal customer based on the characteristics above.

Then, ask yourself where this particular person tends to hang out online. Or — even better — look where other advertisers who cater to this demographic are advertising and test out those networks/placements.

One great example of demographic targeting comes from Zulily, an eCommerce site for women’s clothing.

Zulily buys ads on


Now, gardening has nothing to do with fashion.

However, Zulily sells mostly female clothing and gardening tends to be a predominantly female hobby.

In fact, if we enter in — a great, mostly free, source of demographic data — we’ll see that Alexa’s data supports our hypothesis that’s audience is mostly female.


Zulily no longer has to limit themselves to just clothing sites. They can scale their campaigns to publishers with an audience that fits this demographic.

Another example comes from Calvin Klein.

Here, we see them advertising their new male fragrance on Men’s Health:


Or Olay advertising their skin care products on Women’s Health.


This Olay ad is also a great example of combining two different kids of targeting, specifically contextual and demographic targeting. This article is contextually related — make-up and skin care products — and the audience who reads Women’s Health fits the demographic of people that would be interested in female skin care products.

Do you see how these targeting methods can be combined?

Let’s go even deeper.

Method #3: Psychographic Targeting

Psychographic targeting is choosing a publisher based on their audience’s specific values, attitudes, personality, or beliefs.


  • Political views (Progressive vs. Conservative)
  • Values
  • Hobbies
  • Attitudes
  • Prejudices

Demographics can often be a window into the psychographics of your target market (and vice-versa). For example, studies show that wealthier, older folks tend to vote Republican.

How would I target based on this information?

Well, let’s take a look at the top advertisers on, a conservative news site.

The top 3 advertisers on Newsmax are:

  • Get Test X — a natural testosterone booster.
  • The Clever Owl — a native landing page for the “Peak Life Prostate” supplement.
  • Crown Atlantic — a retirement planning service.

What do all three of these products have in common?

They’re meant for an older, wealthier audience.

And since older generations tend to be more conservative (according to the political research firm Gallup), then is likely a very good publisher for these sorts of products/services.

Get Test X on NewsMax

Get Test X on NewsMax

In fact, let’s take a look in Adbeat again.

We see that Instaflex (a joint health supplement from part 1) has bought ads on, another conservative news site similar to Newsmax.


And on the other end of the political spectrum.

Advanced Bio Diesel buys ads on, a large progressive news publisher.


Progressive policies tend to focus on renewable energy. Biodiesel is one source of renewable energy.

This type of targeting can open up completely new sources of traffic that many advertisers don’t ever think about.

Large publishers like the Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, NBC affiliates, etc.

These are publishers that can double or even triple your traffic levels overnight.

You’re going to see amazing results when you can match up the demographics and psychographics of your target market to these larger publishers.


You’ve seen three types of targeting in today’s post. Neither is inherently better than the other, but all three have their place in your display strategy. Anyone who wants to run the most profitable display campaign possible should be testing out variations and combinations of all three targeting strategies.


  1. Another epic post on the AdBeat blog (one of my personal favourites on the net full stop).

    If you were taking a new product to market, already looked at your competitors on AdBeat, saw which publishers they were buying media on for their display and you’d seen their creative they were using, how similar would you make your graphics to the ones which are already working?

    Would you use the same look & feel and adjust the copy and design? Would love your take on that.


    • Hey Stephen,

      I would use the general concept.

      Take a look at what color schemes they’re using, what kind of copy(does it evoke a positive or negative emotion?), the layout (where are the headline, picture, call-to-action, etc.) and then design an ad with a similar feel.

      Thanks for your comment!

  2. How accurate is Alexa when it comes to demographics? According to Alexa, Newsmax is a website with an audience of very young females:

    Does not fit the profile of “Wealthy, older audience”.



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