Advertising Digital Publishing
5 mins read

How the Stylist Group doubled advertising yield by boosting targetable inventory to 100%

team working around table

One of the key issues facing publishers is that a significant percentage of their ad inventory can’t be effectively monetised because audience traffic originates from the ‘hidden web’, that part of the internet whose contents are not indexed by standard web search engines and can’t be tracked effectively.

Given that Google indexes no more than 16 percent of the surface web and misses all of the hidden web, the problem for publishers is clear – how do you effectively serve up ads to an audience you know nothing about when they arrive at a site? Moreover, how do you persuade brand advertising partners to pay a premium for traffic that can’t be attributed? In such environments, ad yields plummet and publisher revenue drops steeply.

Women’s lifestyle digital publisher and platform, the Stylist Group, is no exception, with 50% of the group’s audience coming from Google and Facebook (as well as browsers including Safari and Firefox that block third-party cookies by default). Recently, however, the Group has made significant inroads into addressing the problem – its new data strategy has seen its targetable inventory soar from 45% to almost 100% of its audience. 

The result has been telling. Not only can the publisher, which reaches over four million people a month, serve personalised advertising to its entire audience at a far higher yield due to the increased value of its audience data, but it has also led to a significant increase in rebookings from advertisers due to the increased level of insight it can offer.

WNIP caught up Stylist Group’s Programmatic, Data and Technology Director, David Hayter, to get deeper insights into how the publisher has achieved this.

WNIP: Could you give us further background into the original issue you faced?

The Stylist Group previously only had visibility of 45% of its audience in our Data Management Platform (DMP). This meant that we were producing audience segments that were not commercially viable. As a result, my Sales and Ops teams lost confidence in audience targeting and it became a bit of a joke internally. 

Added to which there was a whole host of data points we wanted to collect that we couldn’t collect with our incumbent DMP without some heavy customisation on both sides. 

WNIP: What strategy did you pursue to address it?

We tried to get our original solution to work. When it became clear that the data I wanted was likely to be months of work we switched DMPs to start using Permutive, a cutting edge publisher data platform that earlier this summer picked up ‘Best Sell Side Innovation’ at The Drum’s Digital Advertising Awards for its work with Immediate Media. 

The position I have at Stylist means that I see a lot of different technologies and get pitched by companies all the time, all claiming to have the next thing that will revolutionise my business. The vast majority of these I don’t work with and I’ll never give a second thought to. When the opportunity came to onboard Permutive we could see the strides they had made in the product and didn’t think twice. 

WNIP: How does the new data tech actually work in practice?

From signing to integrating to going live with Permutive took about 3 days – the quickest integration we’ve ever completed at Stylist. By the end of day one we had custom events mapped, by the end of day two we had Permutive on a staging site for QA, and by day 3 we’d integrated Permutive and Google Ad Manager, set it live and off we started… 

We’ve since integrated Permutive into every delivery and analytics platform Stylist works with. This means that regardless of the type of campaign we’re able to use our 1st party audience data to drive better results for advertisers. 

Permutive sits high up in our critical path and due to the fact that it is built using edge computing, we’re able to make a call to Permutive to retrieve all the segments a user is a part of in real-time. These responses are normally returned in sub 100ms. For Stylist this means we can pass out segment IDs to all our ad servers and SSPs before the initial call to them is made and (hopefully) serve a more personalised ad experience to our users. 

From a sales perspective we have stock segments that are available to use but I prefer my team to build custom segments for advertisers as we find these often yield better results. Getting this process in place took about 4 weeks but it’s now second-nature across all of my team and they are able to build an audience segment that is pushed out to all ad servers, SSPs and media-buying platforms in a matter of minutes. 

WNIP: Did you test the strategy or roll it out immediately?

We were able to fully interrogate the Permutive product before agreeing to work with them so for Stylist the risk was minimal. Feedback from peers and friends at other publishers also convinced me that we were in safe hands.

Our original plan was to run our incumbent DMP alongside Permutive for a couple of months before switching fully. However, within two weeks we had more users counted than we had ever seen in our existing DMP, so we forged ahead with Permutive as our sole partner.

WNIP: Is the audience coming from the hidden web the same as that which comes from the surface web, or is it significantly different?

We haven’t noticed a difference in the audience.

WNIP: What figures can you disclose in terms of uplift of CPMs/ad rates etc

We’ve seen a 2x increase in yield. 

WNIP: What figures can you disclose as to bottom line revenue uplift for the Group?

Branded content revenue has grown 60% and programmatic revenue has grown 40%. Whilst this growth isn’t solely due to our use of Permutive, they have played a notable part in Stylist being able to make sense of its audience and using this data to make better decisions when delivering campaigns for advertisers. 

WNIP: What is your strategy moving forwards? How will it evolve?

Our product roadmap has sped up by about 9-12 months and the rate at which we’ve been able to evolve our use of the platform has been breath-taking. 

Two of the many projects we’re working on is a unified customer view and being able to provide a greater level of insights for our advertisers, particularly across branded content which is our main area of growth. 

The culture of innovation at Stylist means that anyone across the business could come up with an idea on how to use our new DMP and if there is some merit in the suggestion we’ll explore whether it’s possible. Chances are we’ve not yet uncovered the biggest piece of work we’ll undertake with Permutive. 

Thank you.