Kurt Donnell is President and CEO at Freestar, passionate about building things, solving problems and closing deals with smart people who appreciate a good laugh. An attorney by training, he now spends most of his time on the business side focused on driving growth and operational excellence.
Austin Vandever is Head of Marketing and Growth at BrickSeek, experienced in building digital platforms and growth teams in both the enterprise B2B and startup B2C space. Beginning his career in product management set the foundation for his analytical approach to creating solutions, while also building deep relationships with customers and team members across the organization.
WHAT WERE THE KEY MONETIZATION SERVICE YOU PUT INTO PLACE DURING THIS PARTNERSHIP AND WHAT IMPACT DID THEY HAVE ON BRICKSEEK’S REVENUE?
Kurt Donnell: Our biggest goal with BrickSeek has been finding a balance between ads that yield high revenue while also not jeopardizing their user experience. Knowing this, we have made it a priority to implement a lighter ad layout that focuses on highly-viewable inventory. By balancing out the lighter ad footprint, we enable additional creative sizes to deliver a more competitive auction, which in turn helped increase their CPMs and fill. The trust we’ve built has allowed our inherently curious staff to consistently test new products with BrickSeek, such as video and ad block recovery to name a few. With a combination of our technology and world-class client services team, we have been able to create the ideal relationship with BrickSeek. Our main goals are to foster our relationship with BrickSeek by having an eye for the next big revenue opportunity as well as continuing to exceed their KPIs.
HOW WERE YOU ABLE TO HELP BRICKSEEK MAINTAIN SUCCESS AMID COVID-19? WHAT OBSTACLES DID YOU OVERCOME?
Kurt Donnell: Like all publishers, we started to see a dip in CPMs and fill rate starting in the middle of March and really dropping out at the start of Q2. To try to ride the choppy waters, we quickly adjusted all of their price floors and doubled down on our A/B testing. Our client services team worked closely with our revenue operations team to integrate and test new demand networks to ensure we left no stone unturned to create the best mix for BrickSeek. It was clear from these actions that certain networks performed drastically different from publisher to publisher with respect to CPMs and fill.
WHAT CAN OTHER PUBLISHERS LEVERAGING E-COMMERCE MONETIZATION LEARN FROM YOUR PARTNERSHIP WITH BRICKSEEK?
Kurt Donnell: We start by understanding our place in their ecosystem. BrickSeek is an e-commerce site, first and foremost, and we know advertising makes up a small portion of their overall revenue. From the initial onboarding process, we took extra care to start off with a fairly light-impact, basic setup. Through our consultative approach with BrickSeek (and other e-commerce sites), our offering can become more robust at their pace. As advertising makes for a more material line of business, we will pragmatically add new placements, products and/or features. One of the benefits of our technology is being able to make approved changes on-the-fly, without a code change from the site. By always having an eye on the user experience, through in-house and third party software, we have been able to grow BrickSeek’s advertising revenue without cannibalizing their other core monetization functions.
WHAT IS BRICKSEEK AND HOW LARGE IS ITS AUDIENCE?
Austin Vandever: BrickSeek is a site that helps you find deals online and in-store at the nation’s largest retailers such as Walmart, Target, Lowes, Home Depot, Amazon, etc. Our Inventory Checkers help you verify the availability and pricing of items at your local stores, and our Online Deals bring you the best bargains from across the web. In addition to allowing our users to browse and search for deals, we have a variety of tools and personalization features that look to proactively push deals to users based on what they may be looking for at that time. Our average monthly audience size can fluctuate depending on a variety of factors, but we typically see anywhere from two to three million users a month. The large majority of this includes guests and our Basic(free) membership, but we do have a growing community in our Premium and Extreme memberships.
COULD YOU SHED A BIT OF LIGHT ON YOUR REVENUE MODEL(S)?
Austin Vandever: The majority of our revenue comes from our paying members, and we are able to supplement this with ads to our non-paying audience. We also have a small amount of affiliate revenue where users purchase online items they found on BrickSeek and clicked through to the retailers site.
HOW ARE YOU WORKING WITH YOUR ADVERTISERS TO GET THROUGH THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC?
Austin Vandever: To date, we have not worked with any private advertisers and run most ads through Freestar. We’ve made a few standard improvements during this time but nothing out of the ordinary.
WHAT’S THE KEY AUDIENCE METRICS YOU DEFINE SUCCESS BY?
Austin Vandever: We don’t focus too much on metrics that are mostly out of our control such as CPM’s, and instead focus more on things like the viewability and impressions numbers. For me, this tells me more about how we can optimize the placement and types of ad units we are displaying.
YOU’VE MANAGED TO GROW IMPRESSIVELY, WHAT HAS BEEN THE SECRET SAUCE IN WORKING WITH FREESTAR? WHAT’RE SOME OF THE LESSONS LEARNT?
Austin Vandever: Making sure to sit down early on and discuss the expectations and unique nuances to our business. We are not a standard content site where our entire revenue is derived from advertising dollars, so making this clear was critical for Freestar and us to align our ad strategy. Equally as important has been establishing a great relationship with our account reps at Freestar. We have an open and clear line of communication that has allowed our feedback to be heard and their proactive recommendations put into action.
WHAT’S THE FASTEST AREA OF GROWTH YOU’RE SEEING AT THE MOMENT? WHERE DOES CREATING VIDEO PRODUCTS SIT IN THE MIX?
Austin Vandever: There haven’t been many drastic changes to our ad units as we have taken a bit more conservative approach. The sticky footer unit has proven to be the most profitable by far and we haven’t run into many complaints about how this is being displayed. Video is an area we are still working to get right as we know it’s a unit that pays well, but it can come with its own display and experiential problems for our users. As previously mentioned, we are more concerned with providing our non-paid audience with a great free experience so they are more likely to see the value in upgrading to a membership that fits their needs.
WHAT OTHER PUBLISHERS DO YOU LOOK FOR INSPIRATION?
Austin Vandever: I can’t say there is any specific publisher that we look to for inspiration, but on the flipside we do know what we don’t want to see. There are many sites out there that simply look to put ads in every available space, regardless of the user experience that provides for their audience. Since our primary source of revenue is not from being a publisher, this allows us the freedom and flexibility to put together an ad strategy that maximizes both revenue and our audiences experience.
WOULD YOU CONSIDER BRIKSEEK TO HAVE OPTIMIZED FOR BOTH MOBILE AND DESKTOP AD UNITS? IF SO, WHY?
Austin Vandever: We are in a good spot in terms of having a solid strategy for both desktop and mobile. With the layouts and above-the-fold content being very different for our desktop and mobile offering, we’ve had to optimize our mobile ad placements to display our primary content and CTA’s correctly. There is always room for growth since Freestar is constantly evaluating our site and introducing new ad units that would work well with our layout.