Demand for online shopping has fallen closer to pre-pandemic levels following the frenzied highs of 2020. And platform changes by Apple and Google mean it’s harder for ecommerce companies to monetize their remaining audience across browsers and mobile apps.
Slickdeals, a publisher that aggregates discounts and coupon codes for online goods, is turning to data partnerships and retail media to recoup revenue that reflects its new normal.
About 91% of Slickdeals site visitors come to the site directly, rather than being referred via social media or search, said Eugene Faynberg, VP of ad operations. That means Slickdeals hasn’t been as affected by the year’s slowdown in referral traffic like other publishers.
Still, traffic is down from pandemic levels, which limits affiliate and ad revenue from its site and app. And the absence of targeting and attribution signals like third-party cookies and IP addresses in Safari and Firefox, plus the impending deprecation of these signals in Chrome, means programmatic browser ads command lower CPMs.
To cope with these changes and future-proof itself, Slickdeals has been activating its first-party data around what deals its users are looking for, said Faynberg.
That first-party data is bolstering Slickdeals’ direct sales efforts and offsetting an industry-wide decline in programmatic CPMs. That data is also making ad targeting more effective for its native retail media inventory as demand for retail ads ramps up.
Dealing in data
In April 2021, Slickdeals was looking to partner with a data management platform (DMP) in response to Apple’s AppTrackingTransparency (ATT) initiative and in anticipation of Google’s cookie deprecation plans, according to Faynberg. That led to a partnership with Audigent. Prior to that, Slickdeals relied solely on Google Audiences, which “wasn’t very sophisticated,” in terms of segmenting capabilities or tech support, Faynberg said.
Using Slickdeals’ behavioral data, Audigent packages impressions across the web and mobile app into targeting segments based on users’ product interests.
For example, a user browsing Slickdeals for discounts on laptops gets added to the Tech and Electronics audience segment. This allows Slickdeals to make organic recommendations for related items like a mouse or additional monitor. But it can also sell these first-party-data-enriched audience segments to advertisers at a premium, either through DSP integrations with The Trade Desk and LiveRamp, content curation deals conducted by SSPs or direct insertion order.
Conducting more premium direct sales has been “the only strategy” that’s worked when it comes to replacing the revenue Slickdeals used to earn on iOS in the pre-ATT days, Faynberg added.
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In addition to curating its inventory, Audigent also helps Slickdeals keep track of attribution for its affiliate business.
Slickdeals uses an Urchin Tracking Module (UTM) code in affiliate links to track as users click from its site to a third-party retailer’s. Audigent’s platform keeps track of that attribution, which can be conveyed to the advertiser to prove the effectiveness of Slickdeals’ ads, Faynberg said.
Two ad servers
The boost to Slickdeals’ direct ad sales is especially apparent in its retail media business, where it sells ads in its product recommendation feed (these paid ads are distinguished from Slickdeals’ own algorithmic recommendations by a “promoted” tag).
As of now, these ads are only sold directly through Slickdeals’ partnership team, Faynberg said.
The native placements come from an ad server maintained by Kevel, a custom ad server provider that specializes in native placements that Slickdeals has partnered with since 2019. Meanwhile, Slickdeals’ sidebar banner ads – which are sold programmatically through DSPs – are managed via Google Ad Manager (GAM).
Basically, Slickdeals uses Kevel for its retail media business and GAM for programmatic. Slickdeals opted to use a dedicated server for its retail media ads because it ensures that these native ad placements load at the same speed as the rest of its product feed, Faynberg said.
Slickdeals uses its first-party data to curate ad inventory across both servers, integrating Audigent’s DMP within both the Kevel server and GAM.
That’s not a very common use case, Faynberg said, but this dual-ad-server approach might become more widespread in the post-third-party cookie ecosystem as publishers rely more on direct-sold native ads.
Slickdeals also participates in private marketplace (PMP) deals curated by Audigent, Google, Amazon and its SSP partners. Doing so allows it to pool its inventory with other publishers’, providing the audience scale that advertisers are looking for, but that no individual publisher can provide on its own, Faynberg said.
Using its understanding of first-party data to expand its presence in PMPs will be a major priority for Slickdeals in the coming year, Faynberg added.
By curating ads, Slickdeals also wants to improve the experience for users, he said. “We’re turning what some people might find an annoyance in terms of advertising into a win/win for both advertisers and end users.”