Several reports have indicated online advertising is growing exponentially since 2019, largely due to COVID-19 pandemic, which increases businesses and users of various products and services interest in remote working and shopping. During the early stage of the pandemic, businesses, governments and individuals were restricted from moving and mingling for transaction and social purposes. Hence, the use of Internet for almost every human activity.
While using the Internet, organisations and individual buyers engaged in navigational, informational and transactional search behaviours with the intent of being directed to specific sources of information, understanding and confirming what was already known, and making transactions.
Expectedly, our analyst notes that both the businesses and non-profit making organisations that believe in capturing more value during the pandemic commit part of their capital to promotion and marketing of products and services. In other words, they engaged in search advertising practice having understood that people sought specific information through the Internet as news organisations, NGOs and government establishments communicate with the public.
Our analyst points out that during the period, advertisers had access to big data in terms of searches being conducted by people. Advertisers are also having access now that things are returning to normal, providing a further thrust of adopting search advertising. One of the well-known search behaviours is people’s surfing the Internet for news stories they have interest in.
In this regard, they are expected to either type a specific news category such as sports or a particular sport for them to get the desired information. With this, our analyst notes that advertisers are expected to follow news readers with the intent of pushing advert messages in their front. This postulation was examined with the analysis of 304 searches conducted by the Nigerian Internet users, who had a keen interest in reading sports, lifestyle, crime, business, politics and health related news between April 13 and May 13, 2021.
While our analysis shows that sports, lifestyle, crime, business, politics and health were the most read news categories, 9.53% of the searches had advert messages with the specific reference of placing the ads in sports, politics, business, lifestyle and crime and no placement of the ads in education and health.
Exhibit 1: Advertisement Categories Placement in Internet Users’ News Interest
Business, Sports, Lifestyle Ads Dominate, But…
Business ads are more than 1 time positioned on top of the news headlines; more than 3 times placed at the middle of the news story; more than 11 times placed at the bottom of the news story. Sports ads and lifestyle ads are not significantly placed at any of the positioning types.
Our analysis also reveals that the more readers read business, sports and lifestyle news stories, the less businesses placed ads at the top of the news headline, at the middle of the news story and bottom of the news story. Ads were more positioned at the right and left sides of the news stories we analysed.
Exhibit 2: Advertisement Categories Positioning
Exhibit 3: Ads Placement by Newspapers’ Geography
Exhibit 4: Search Volume Versus Ads Positioning in National and Foreign Newspapers
How Businesses Can Turn Big Searches into Big Advertising Audience
From Dr. Mogaji Emmanuel, a senior lecturer in advertising and marketing communications, marketing, events and tourism at the University of Greenwich, to Professor Nnamdi Madichie of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, who specialises in marketing and entrepreneurship, the insights have implications for businesses, especially using and practicing online advertising.
Tekedia: What does it take businesses to advertise their products and services within online news stories considering the recent interest in search advertising?
Mogaji: Three points I will raise here. First. It depends on the type of product and service being offered. Fashion products may fit well within an online news stories but other high involving products like financial services may require a conscious effort to search and that is where search advertising may be very relevant. Secondly, its about the right partner to get the advertisements to the right online news stories. With huge prospects of programmatic and demand-side platforms (DSP), it is important for business to seek and work with the right partner. Third, this will also closely be related to the second point, to ensure that the advertisement is seen on the right online news stories. Often this may not be controlled since its being programmed, it may appear on irrelevant news stories and this is different to when customers are really searching for the brand.
Madichie: This is interesting. There are two things to think about here. If it is businesses advertising their offerings online, that is different from advertising within online news stories. There are numerous online news portals that would rather get their news out than create “noise” for their intended audiences. For these businesses (i.e. the news stories web portal), the revenue stream is not to allow non-aligned businesses advertise on their sites. Rather, they provide snippets or nuggets if you like, of interest to their audience. They provide you with a taster and then signpost you to their premium content in order to grant you full access. Others give you free trial periods in the hope that you would eventually subscribe. So back to your question, if a business, say Business X, is the host of the online space, a third party say Business Y must have a complementary product. For example, if you think of online academic publishers, they tend to advertise proofing services provided by a third party – this is clearly a matter of compatibility and to some extent co-branding and co-creation of content.
Tekedia: In our analysis of over 300 news searches by the Nigerian Internet Users, we discovered that ads were placed in sports, business, lifestyle news stories more than in health, education, politics and crime. What factors could you attribute to this?
Mogaji: This is basic web analytics. It shows what interest Nigerians and advertisers are flocking to these websites to advertise. The fact that many people are searching and reading about sports, nosiness a lifestyle makes those websites a better place to advert. It is however important that conversion is not guaranteed on those websites, the of products will also matter. Health products business should align more with health new stories as they are more likely to get organic and interest readers.
Madichie: It does not come as a surprise that “health, education, politics and crime” are not getting enough traction compared to say “sports, business, lifestyle news stories.” That goes to show you what makes the audience tick. Sadly, health and education are not on the priority list of most developing countries unlike what obtains in the developed world. As of Politics and Crime, these are normally absurd areas that have become absurdly normal in the context of the developing world. They are restricted to a few rather than a critical mass. Take the case of Nigeria for instance, who would be subscribing to an APC or PDP campaign on national television or their online platforms? The campaigns have been taken to the streets with palliatives for added measure – bag of rice, sugar and indomie – for votes.
Tekedia: Both national and foreign newspapers had ads that were placed within the search volume of 2000+ to 20000+ more than 50000+ to 500000+. These volumes represent the number of searches per a newsworthy event or happening nationally and globally. What are the implications for search advertising practices?
Madichie: I can’t really comment on this due to the technicality I cannot claim to be an expert in. However, I would assume that there is a difference between national and foreign newspapers who I guess have different funding models. I was privileged to explore a Nigerian Newspaper not long ago with no news but celebration of a personality’s birthday. Indeed, it was so embarrassing to the point of thinking the entire paper had been bought for that singular event. Would you buy that paper in the said week? This is clearly not normal in the context of foreign newspapers. Businesses that intend to improve their search, need to, as I have earlier pointed out, seek out outlets or news stories that align with their own value propositions. Again, taken from the familiar context of Higher Education, universities can advertise in newspapers that discuss challenges or achievements in the value of academics or awards and how any of their programmes can bring about such outcomes, be it in terms of leadership, governance or entrepreneurship programmes. They can also do memo’s paid or unpaid on how to assist struggling students and their sponsors with mental health issues brought about by the current pandemic. If you recall from my earlier comment, health and education do not seem to rank highly in this geographic space, which is really sad.
Tekedia: In our analysis, advertisements that focus on promoting business [including products and services] are more than 1 time positioned on top of the news headlines; more than 3 times placed at the middle of the news story; more than 11 times placed at the bottom of the news story. Sports ads and lifestyle ads are not significantly placed at any of the positioning type. What are the implications of these results?
Mogaji: This aligned with the prospects of programmatic and demand-side platforms (DSP) that I earlier shared. Reading to the bottom of the news gives an indication that the individual is interested in the news article, more of a genuine reader and a quality lead for the business. These spaces are targeted to those readers who engaged with the news and will be more inclined to engage with the advert if it aligns with what they have been reading. While the top on the other hand is more around quantity. To get the highest number of people reading it immediately they come unto the site even though they may bounce off after few seconds.
Madichie: Yes, I do agree that ad placement is a good thing and has been trending for some time now. However, if you already have a good and huge following, placement couldn’t bother you much. Remember that ad placement comes with price-points. Let me give you an example from UK supermarket shelves. Products placed at eye level are more readily visible so you have to do what it takes to get your brand to that level. If you are interested in other things, you have no qualms about shelve space as long as the goods are not taking up space in your warehouse. Again, in the case of the UK, the sports pages are usually dedicated to the back page of Newspapers. I guess it may be very similar in other countries – some unwritten rule, I guess? However, if it is a major or breaking news of exploits such as Champions League qualification or some history of sports achievement, you would see this on the front page. However, the detail reverts to the normal placement for sports, i.e., the back page.
Tekedia: How can artificial intelligence be used for better ads placement and positions in online news stories?
Mogaji: AI are being deployed to understand how consumers engage with advertisements and with prospects of programmatic and demand-side platforms (DSP), this will become more innovative, tech driven and there could be more competition for certain places on the news story.
Madichie: I’m not a big fan of AI, but I have been doing some reading lately and confirmed my original thinking that this is nothing new. Besides dating back to the 1950s with Alan Turig’s “Computing Machinery and Intelligence”, John McCarthy coining the term in 1956, the same year the “Logic Theorist” the first ever running AI software was created. Or is it 1967, which marked the landmark work on neural networks published in a book “Perceptrons”? In my sceptical view, AI is not yet intelligent enough to help with better ads placements, as this varies by product and target audience. I would be thinking more along the lines of co-creation and full engagement between businesses and their market in the virtual space such as social media platforms. To sum up, I would argue that, just like the TV gameshow franchise, “Who wants to be a Millionaire,” businesses should consider, as their lifeline options, prioritising “ask the audience,” and “phone a friend,” over the option of 50:50, which requires a computer to take away two wrong options from a list of four possible choices.