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5 Questions with Brandon Dawson, Ad Ops Director at Render Media

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Render Media is an LA-based media company founded by Eytan Elbaz, who previously co-founded Applied Semantics, which later became Google AdSense.

Render Media owns and operates two rapidly growing publications: Cooking Panda and Opposing Views. Render’s properties reach 55 million unique monthly visitors, see 400 million video views per month, and have 40 million social followers.

We recently caught up with Brandon Dawson, Ad Operations Director at Render Media, whose expertise in digital marketing, brand awareness, sales, customer service and marketing has enabled him to maximize web traffic to Render’s properties and grow programmatic revenue by 20%.

In this conversation, he talks about ads.txt, ad blocking, monetization, building audience, and more.

Q1. How has ads.txt helped you?

While it is tough to see exactly who is “spoofing” our domains, we know that ads.txt cuts that out for our sites. It also helps to limit our ads to the exact types that we want to run, rather than letting someone potentially buy our inventory and run an arbitrage operation with in-banner video.

Overall, ads.txt restricts our pages to the ads we want, from the partners we want, while assuring us that no one is pretending to be our sites.

While 85% of publishers have yet to adopt ads.txt, we believe implementing ads.txt is key to long-term success as we can prioritize user experience over immediate monetization.

Q2. How did you initially build your web audience?

For our popular food property, Cooking Panda, our team specifically and strategically spent 9 months building the largest density of U.S.-based fans in the food space before going to market in late 2015.

“We want to protect and foster the visitors to our .com sites and we’re only going to achieve that through content that they will want to consume,” says Ross Cimino, CRO of Render Media. “We prioritized the time spent on building our web audience to ensure the content we publish is both compelling and engaging to the user.”

Q3. How do you monetize your sites?

We monetize our website traffic in 3 areas: branded deals, premium programmatic and tag-based partners. Our branded team is in-market selling premium, high-touch, custom video and editorial stories. This is our newest division and still scaling.

The backbone of revenue is really driven from the premium programmatic and tag-based partners across all our sites. We were early adopters of header bidding which has exponentially increased our RPMs and allowed us to access a more quality ad demand.

Our next wave of monetization will come from our mobile and smart TV apps for Opposing Views and Cooking Panda, where we run programmatic video campaigns.

Q4. What are you doing about ad blocking related revenue losses?

To address ad blocking traffic, we’ve done a few things. First, we’ve worked with some third parties to monetize ad blocking users. However, when Google releases its Chrome update, some ads will also be blocked by default. We took the necessary steps to make sure that our sites follow Google’s rules well in advance so that we don’t lose out on any potential revenue after the update.

While several big publishers failed Google’s preliminary test for “failing ads” based on the Better Ads Coalition, we passed the first time with flying colors.

Q5. What opportunities / threats do publishers need to watch out for in 2018?

Over the next year, publishers will have to watch out for fake ads.txt file generators that append fraudulent company information to the file, allowing for arbitrage to take place on their sites. It takes a little more effort but is worth it to just make your own file.

The ads.txt movement will be huge in 2018, with many industry leaders pushing for it. We expect to see a slight increase in CPMs for our ads as buyers start to realize the more “premium” inventory.