Social Targeting Doubles the Performance of Paid Media

The digital media landscape is so saturated that virtually any niche is hotly contested. In courting educated, upwardly mobile women in their 30s, PureWow is taking on some of the world’s most popular, powerful, and motivated brands. Paid social media targeting has given the upstart a new competitive edge. By turning to sophisticated, high-speed algorithms to narrowly target Facebook audiences, PureWow is doubling the performance of its other paid media placements.

With the publishing landscape so dense and the channel mix so complex and diverse, PureWow places a high premium on the most time-tested of all digital channels: email, which was the company’s only distribution channel when first founded in 2010. “Email traffic is highly engaged, so being able to capture unique visitors from social and convert them to email is extremely valuable,” says Anna Lee, senior director of marketing at PureWow.

When Lee joined PureWow in 2014, the company was in the midst of a major push to attract new visitors and convert them to email subscribers. To reach new, demographically appealing consumers, the publisher invested heavily in paid media. But the investment was all with a single broker, and results were ambiguous. PureWow wanted email conversions, not just clicks and visits. “It’s important to me, especially if we’re paying for it, that the traffic be of the highest quality,” Lee says. “I need to find the right audience for each piece of content, at a cost per click (CPC) that’s efficient for me.”

Paid social media placement offered PureWow a chance to engage with age-appropriate audiences with suitable interests, but building targeting profiles by hand is costly and inefficient. Audiences for the obvious key topics in PureWow’s fashion, beauty, home, travel, and food segments are in heavy demand, inflating CPCs and diluting results, and humans can only test so many different combinations of off-beat topics with lower CPCs. “There’s no way my social media director can test every single piece of content every single day,” she says.

To find new, relevant audiences in a cost-effective, automated fashion, PureWow engaged Keywee. The intermediary analyzes PureWow content and algorithmically targets and tests a wide range of audiences, searching for both high-value social engagement (likes, shares, and comments), as well as email conversions. PureWow defines a maximum CPC for each post, and the Keywee algorithm goes to work.

Keywee’s content analysis algorithm can find associations and affinities that might be impossible to discover by human guess-and-test, and it can find more ways to exploit those connections. For example, a marketer might, through research or blind chance, reach the conclusion that Facebook fans of the Game of Thrones television series also want to read about cabernet sauvignon. Keywee can not only automate the process of making such unlikely discoveries, but also target readers who have interacted with a character’s hashtag, or follow the show on Reddit.

Keywee’s terms of service typically keep the exact mix of audience characteristics concealed, even from clients. However, to illustrate PureWow’s success it disclosed the top performers for a recent article on “8 Models with Healthy Bodies,” profiling fashion models outside the typical skinny mold. Some of the top-performing audiences had intuitive connections to the topic, including Facebook users who “like” fashion magazines and one of the models profiled in the piece. But audiences who “like” the documentary Forks Over Knives also delivered outsized performance, despite having no immediate connection to the world of fashion or modeling.

PureWow articles promoted through Keywee’s algorithm deliver click-through rates up to 50 times higher than other paid media sources. Crucially, the conversion rate to email signup is twice as high as PureWow’s next highest-performing campaign.

The robots have not entirely replaced human judgment. Editorial discretion still plays an important role in social promotion. PureWow’s Facebook audience skews younger than its core readership, so the marketing team is more likely to select lists and celebrity items for social promotion. And Lee has made a strategic decision to target paid social exclusively at desktop readers, a seemingly contrarian move when so much traffic is now mobile. “We know that we get more page engagement in the desktop, and more email signups on desktop,” Lee says. “Mobile is certainly not something we ignore, but when paying for traffic, we focus on the desktop.”

The rapid algorithmic testing frees the upstart publisher to focus on high-level strategic matters, letting the algorithm do the heavy lifting of discovering and optimizing new audiences. “It’s saving us a ton of time,” she adds, “and we know that every piece of content gets a fair shot.”

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