StarTribune Advertising Information

Dear StarTribune online advertisers.

I think it’s great that you support Minneapolis’ major online media source. But, I think it’s worth understanding where some of your money is going.

Earlier this week, I clicked on a link to a StarTribune.com story from a Tweet or something. I’m not sure how I got there, but the point is that I found myself on a page of StarTribune.com. At that point, I realized that I didn’t have time to read the story on that page at the time so it sat idle in one of the open tabs in my FireFox browser.

As time passed, I noticed that the StarTribune kept force-refreshing the tab I didn’t have time to read, which meant that StarTribune was forcing new ads onto my browser whether I looked at them or not every 10 minutes. I can guarantee that they were seen by no one. This went on for around 4 hours, so if my calculations are correct the StarTribune forced 24 pages of ads onto my computer that someone paid for but no one saw.

The reason this ended after 4 hours is because I disconnected from the Internet at that time. My computer was still running. Ten minutes later, the tabs on my computer looked like this:

Picture 37

See the one that’s dead? That’s the StarTribune’s page that tried to force even more ads onto my browser only to find out that the Internet had been cut off.

Here’s the point: If you’re paying for space on the StarTribune.com on a CPM basis (based on ad impressions) there is no guarantee that a human saw the page you served since the StarTribune serves ads to people who have left for lunch, have more than one tab open in their browser, or who have died while their browser was open to StarTribune.com.

It’s also worth noting that the StarTribune seems to take pride in the Time On Site stats their website receives. That number is likely ridiculously skewed by people who were fired from their jobs six months ago while reading the sports section at work. Their old computers continue to run up the stats. Here is all you need to know about this: Time on site stats are based on a measure of when someone first visits a site and when they hit the last page they visit. If the StarTribune didn’t force-refresh their visitor’s browsers, would that number be lower or higher?

This isn’t to say that no one reads the StarTribune. It’s just important to understand that not all ads served by the StarTribune will be viewed by humans, so if your goal is to reach actually humans with money who may buy your (or your client’s) products, negotiate accordingly.

11 thoughts on “StarTribune Advertising Information”

  1. Kind of a vexing problem for an advertiser, no?

    I think you left out part two of this post. How would you negotiate a deal if you were looking to buy some banner action? How would you say: “Campaign X on website Y will net more than a billboard on hwy62 in Edina”?

    The people shoving money at CPM campaigns don’t seem to care that they’re being taken for a ride.

  2. I’m one of those insane people who opens up 50 tabs at a time, and yes, the Strib pages are bad.

    Their numbers aren’t just phony, they’re deliberately phony. They have the least content per page of any newspaper I read (more clicks as you go from page to page to page to page). Leaving a comment or checking on comments racks up more bogus page counts.

    If you advertise in the online Strib, you’re getting screwed.

  3. @Daniel, with a billboard, you can have a pretty good idea how many people drive by it, so there is a somewhat quantifiable value regarding how many people may have encountered your ad. Sure, the person may have been twittering while applying mascara so there is no guarantee that they saw it, but people definitely drove down that road.

    With online CPM based advertising on sites that auto-refresh ads like the StarTribune, companies are essentially lying about how many cars went down the road. If I leave a StarTribune tab open while I’m a lunch, I’ve essentially “driven by” the StarTribune’s advertiser’s ads 6 times over an hour while, in reality, no one saw the ads they charged advertisers to see.

    I’d like advertisers to understand what they’re paying for. If advertisers get a positive return on the percentage of ads that actually are seen by humans, great. In fact, the market may adjust to make up for the fraud. If, say, half the traffic isn’t seen by humans, marketers would surely be willing to pay half as much as they would on a site where humans see the ads in order to achieve the same quality of ad impressions.

  4. While tons of these advertisers are asleep at the wheel. Hopefully they are at least checking their referrals/logs for their landing pages, customized phone # tracking, etc to analyze ROI.

    In my prior job I advertised on multiple sites that featured rotating display banners. (autorefreshing-for the most part) While I didn’t like these quite as much as a pure PPA or PPC, some did have their merit. Like any advertising you look at your results and cull the poor performing ones.

    CPM might have got them in the door but it didn’t get a contract renewal.

    Contract/Ad renewal usually it went something like this:

    Ad Rep: our new CPM is this and we want to raise your rates accordingly.
    Me: What have you done for me lately? My tracking numbers show this.
    Ad Rep: These advertisers are paying this for that.
    Me: I don’t care for those numbers, In fact I’ve been thinking about making a change.
    Ad Rep: What if we could just keep you where your at?
    Me: I’ll take a look again at our numbers, when is our contract expired? How much notice do I have to give?

    After that usually the rep just doesn’t respond for about 3-6 months, the next time you meet with them…it will either be a new rep or they’ll have their Sales Manager with them.

  5. @ryanl, as I see it, the value of an ad impression would be closer to equal if sites stopped auto-refreshing their advertiser’s ads. Auto-refresh ads a level of complexity to ad buying that hurts the industry since advertisers less savvy than you will likely burn through cash when they presume, naively, that publishers will show their ads to humans rather than autorefresh them to people who leave their computers on all night.

  6. say you run a website and you have 4 ad slots on your main page. You have 16 customers willing to run ads on your site but they all want to be on the homepage. As a business person would you rather:

    a. Run ads on rotation
    b. add 12 more slots
    c. turn away 12 paying customers

  7. Here is another take on auto-refresh–the reader’s, the potential customer whose clicking makes ads marketable–I hate it and will leave websites because of it.

    If the content was interesting, but the annoying wig-wag of the refresh causes me to lose my place reading, then I might cut-n-paste the content into a text pad so I can finish reading it in peace. But usually I use this as a checkpoint and acknowledge continued reading is wasting my time and I leave.

    And sites like the Strib, who are reknown for being the most annoying users of refresh…I never read them and haven’t for at least 2 years. Turns out 99% of their content can be easily found elsewhere where page refreshes don’t exist.

    My advice is simply to ask website managers who is REALLY paying the bills. I think it is the customers/readers, so why drive them away in a vain attempt to tease them into clicking an ad when they are trying to enjoy the content of your page? Is it greed, insecurity, or plain stupidity?

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