Get ready to see sponsored posts from Buzzfeed on other homepages around the web.
In October, Ad Age reported that Buzzfeed was experimenting with advertising the sponsored content of its advertisers on the homepages of other sites, including The Awl and Demand Media's Cracked.com. Earlier this month, Forbes reported that news aggregation site Fark.com was another partner running headlines linking to Buzzfeed sponsored posts.
Now, the ad network is official and Buzzfeed is pitching it to ad agencies as part of their advertisers' campaigns with Buzzfeed, according to Buzzfeed President Jon Steinberg. Buzzfeed is working with eight publisher partners in total -- niche sites with loyal audiences such as The Hairpin, Thought Catalog and Dealbreaker -- and Mr. Steinberg said he wants to double the number of sites running Buzzfeed sponsored posts on their homepages in the next few months. Advertisers don't get to choose which homepages their sponsored post headlines get distributed to.
"We always wanted the business not to be limited by the scale of our site," Mr. Steinberg said. "That means figuring out places do what we do other than on Buzzfeed.com."
The Buzzfeed sponsored posts are displayed on the publisher homepages in a similar fashion to the other stories on the page -- with a headline and image and sometimes a description of the post. They also usually include some labeling to differentiate them in some way from the editorial content on the page.
While the sponsored posts could be considered "native advertising" on Buzzfeed's own site, they aren't exactly "native" to the network sites. Other companies, such as Sharethrough, are also focusing on distributing advertiser content around the web in ways that mesh well with the rest of the content on a given site.
The idea of paying someone to send traffic to your site is nothing new. But the practice of one publisher paying another to send traffic to a publisher's native-ad content is rare. Mr. Steinberg says it pays publishers a minimum of $3 per thousand impressions for the ad space on their homepages, but some are making considerably more than that. An important metric for Buzzfeed is the percentage of the new readership that shares the post to their social networks after they read it on Buzzfeed. After all, a big part of Buzzfeed's pitch to advertisers is the "viral lift" its content will get. So Buzzfeed is willing to pay a premium to a site like Fark, whose readers share the Buzzfeed advertiser posts at a high rate; neither Mr. Steinberg or Fark founder Drew Curtis would say how much of a premium.
Buzzfeed's main ad business is helping advertisers create content that looks and feels like Buzzfeed editorial content and runs on Buzzfeed.com. Part of Buzzfeed's sell to advertisers is that its audience has a propensity to share Buzzfeed content around social networks, giving advertisers additional distribution for free– known in the ad industry as "earned media."
But Buzzfeed also buys ad space on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to drive more eyeballs to individual advertiser content on Buzzfeed.com. It also advertises the brand's content in standard IAB ad units around the web to get even more reach for an advertiser's campaign. Mr. Steinberg says the hope is that Buzzfeed will be able to eliminate the use of IAB ad units as the new homepage ad network takes hold.
One reason to no longer push advertiser post headlines into IAB units is because they don't typically convert as well as other parts of a campaign, he said. But, perhaps more importantly, there's also a perception issue; it looks bad for Buzzfeed to use IAB ad units when a big part of the site's pitch to advertisers is that it doesn't sell any traditional ads on its own site because it says it believes they aren't the right format for a brand to tell a story.
"The content tone doesn't always match exactly," John Shankman, publisher of the Awl network of sites, wrote in an email. "It happens that one of our readers might not like one of the native creatives. ... but they're certainly no worse than some of the banner ads that come over the exchanges."
It'll be interesting to see whether Buzzfeed signs up bigger media properties for their ad network. It could be a new revenue stream for these sites, but Buzzfeed is increasingly a competitor to all sorts of media organizations. Just last week it announced the hiring of its first business editor. So, yes, it would be new revenue, but at what competitive cost?
Mr. Steinberg said the Buzzfeed ad network is a small piece of the business currently -- "This is our Google apps biz as opposed to our Adsense or Adwords" -- and admitted that the company needs to automate it more if it is to expand it widely.