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By Erin Peralta Feb 18 2016 Blog

The New Long Tail Is No Long Shot

The long tail of the digital advertising beast has primarily been thought of as a weak appendage, hanging around the shadiest neighborhoods on the Internet. It was tangled with the burrs of low-quality, low-traffic sites, and to many, it wasn’t even worth the cheap impressions that it supposedly delivered. But times have changed. The beast has evolved, and the new long tail is strong, sleek, and delivers surprising bang for your buck.

Let’s look at the data. SMI reported that in 2014 and 2015, 58% of digital spending went to only 20 digital partners.

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Based on the numbers above, there’s 42% of spending left on the table, which is now spread out among more than 1,500 other digital partners. These “other” partners that now constitute the long tail are not the second-rate UGC and portal sites of yore, but high-quality sites like LinkedIn(!), Financial Times, and trusted local news properties.

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Given the nearly 50/50 spending split and the major improvement in the quality of the inventory, buying strategies for the long tail are just as important as they are for the top partners. In other words, if they aren’t part of your plan, they should be.

Three ways to buy and work with the new long tail:

Programmatic:

Whitelist Buying: This is the exact opposite of what programmatic buyers call audience buying. Instead of looking at consumer traits and buying that behavior across the entire web wherever they might be, whitelist buying targets a specific list of sites an audience is visiting.

How does it work? Simply input the list of sites into a DSP and set a relatively high-bid CPM to secure the inventory. A drawback of this method is that there is no guarantee you will appear on all sites. Delivery might skew heavily to 5 or 10 out of the list. Additionally there is quite a bit of oversight required by the programmatic buyer to ensure bids are set correctly and the campaign is delivering. If you or your client can deal with the unpredictability of this approach, the advantage to whitelist buying is that you will get inventory cheaper than you would by working directly with the sites. To really make this strategy deliver, ensure you have as many relevant sites as possible on your whitelist and complement it with traditional audience buying to hit delivery goals.

PMP: Though relatively new, private marketplace (PMP) deals have seen a lot of growth in the past year. PMPs combine elements of both traditional direct sales and programmatic buying.

How does it work? With PMPs, you have a direct relationship with the publisher and the ability to negotiate a custom deal, along with the efficiency of automated workflow and real-time, per impression targeting. PMPs typically net you slightly cheaper rates than going direct, along with the ability to streamline buying by using your preferred DSP to execute. They also usually have more creative sizes and options available than would a pure programmatic buy (though not as much creative freedom as going site direct). However, PMPs can be trickier than it seems to set up (at least at first) and there are multiple types of PMP deals, each with its own nuances, so campaign management will require extra care and attention.

Site Direct:

Site Direct (with a software assist): This is the ideal buying method for those key long-tail partners that are just outside the “top 20” list but still hold tremendous potential. Companies like Centro provide software that facilitate the buying and negotiation of site-direct, guaranteed IO deals for multiple long-tail partners.

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How does it work? You get access to all the benefits of site direct — guaranteed inventory, no limitations on creative, and make-goods on missed goals — and your team is removed from the back-and-forth communication and paperwork that eat up so much time. Using technology partners to help you manage the long tail frees up your team to invest in more profitable activities, such as reporting, research, and client management, as well as strategic and creative thinking.

The promise of high-quality, lower-cost inventory and access to prime audiences makes the long tail a strategic addition to your digital advertising plans. And when you use a smart mix of the buying strategies above, you’ll also be able to maintain successful relationships with your top partners, all while avoiding burnout and inefficiencies on your team. Whatever bad rap the long tail once carried, it’s clear those days are long over.