Only three news sites – CNN, Yahoo News and The New York Times – out of 22 appeared to use high levels of ad targeting, according to a Pew Research Center study. In these cases, 45 percent or more of the ads were different from one user to the next.
"By contrast, highly targeted advertising is already a key component of the business model of operations such as Google and Facebook," the study found.
The study noted that Google had a strong advertising presence on news sites:
A popular style of ad on these sites, accounting for 38% of all ads captured, is the sponsored link box-small boxed-in ads that usually have between three and seven lines of text. On most sites this box is powered by Google.
Three other news sites - CBS, USA Today, and MSNBC – exhibited moderate levels of targeting where between 29 percent and 40 percent of the ads were different across users.
Sites with low levels or no apparent targeting included FoxNews.com, WashingtonPost.com, Time.com, and Newsweek.com.
When researchers revisited the sites in January, they found that two - latimes.com and theatlantic.com - showed slightly higher levels of ad targeting.
By not targeting ads, news sites miss an opportunity to serve up more relevant ads to website visitors; these targeted ads potentially command higher prices and bring more revenue to publishers.
The center, which studied 22 news sites, identified other trends:
- 21 percent of the ads observed in the study were in-house ads, which are ads that sell a news organization's own products such as subscriptions to print magazines or newspapers.
- 18 percent of the ads were from financial services, more than any other industry sector observed in the study.
- 46 percent of the ads on news sites were static banner ads. The Wall Street Journal had the highest percentage of these ads (100 percent) while the Washington Post relied less on banner ads (18 percent). Instead, Washington Post used sponsored links far more than others, 66 percent.
- 1.3 percent of the ads on news sites studied had stand-alone video ads.
- None of the top stories were in a video format, even on sites linked to television-based legacy media. As a consequence, there were no pre- or post-roll video ads. However, since the study Yahoo News created a content partnership with ABC News that includes plans to feature more video amid Yahoo News’ top news stories.
- Discount or coupon advertising such as Groupon was fairly limited.
For the study, Pew Research analyzed 5,381 advertisements on the main websites and legacy outlets of 22 different news organizations - including national and local newspapers, broadcast, and online media in late June 2011. In January 2012, the researchers revisited the sites to review the levels of ad targeting.