Miva Usurps Google in the Publishing Industry

Here at SES New York, I had the chance to sit down with Alex Vlasto, head of global communications for Miva. The company recently won a contextual ad deal (against Google) with Conde Nast. It is now positioned to be the exclusive contextual ad provider across the publisher’s network of magazine websites.

Miva’s focus on certain verticals and web publishers allows it to make better contextual matches, which was a big selling point for Conde Nast. This is compared to more broadly applied publisher networks. Specifically its contextual placement works well with dynamic content, such as magazines, because it has rules and filters in place that are integrated with rotating content.

“There is contextual advertising and there is content advertising,” clarified Vlasto, characterizing the latter as the more considered ad placement around magazine and newspaper content.

So what did Miva do to win Conde Nast? It took screenshots of the AdSense placements across the publisher’s websites over the course of a few weeks in order to demonstrate where contextual placements weren’t as contextual as it might hope. The Vanity Fair website, for example, had contextual ads for brands that were of a “lower class” than those the magazine wished to associate with. This comes down to a difference in a contextual match and a cultural match. Contextual advertising can accommodate the latter to the degree that rules and filters are applied.

On the advertiser side, Miva’s Precision Network will reflect this approach by being more attuned to certain verticals that advertisers can buy into. This brings more relevant traffic to vertical websites, according to Vlasto – a concept given more weigh in the online advertising space lately, as echoed in yesterday’s social networking session. In Miva’s case, this is also an attempt to provide a different price point that’s a higher margin, lower volume spend than more widely distributed contextual ad networks, which it also provides.

This strategy isn’t anything new though. Marchex has been working this angle for some time and has brought in a who’s who list of publisher partners including Business Week, USA Today and Forbes. Marchex’s Mark Peterson points out that this is in fact a strategy that was born at Industry Brains, a contextual ad outfit the company acquired in 2005.

Miva’s Precision network, taking this strategy to heart, will continue to take a vertical approach to winning publisher partners, while pursuing in parallel its sweet spot of dynamic content. More appropriate than magazines, in this sense, are newspapers. Though newspapers are traditionally slow to develop online models (and form partnerships in order to do so), their dynamic content make them appropriate subjects for more considered contextual ad placement.

“If there is a newspaper story about a train crash, you don’t want to have contextual ads for train tickets,” said Vlasto, “And this type of thing happens more than most publishers realize.”

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