VP Revenue Operations
For those of us not familiar with Noodle.com, please tell us a little more about your website and core audience.
Noodle is an education website helping parents and students make better decisions about learning. Using our interactive search tools, families can find the right preschool, college, tutor, or any other learning resource. In addition, they can read expert-authored articles, ask questions and get answers from some of the leading minds in education, and connect with others in their communities.
An audience searching for schools to attend are the perfect in-market candidates for education providers seeking potential students. What type of clients do you typically work with, both inside and outside of the education sector?
Our core clients are those who provide education services, and our Noodle search-focused user experience lends itself nicely for marketing them. These providers can be regionalized or can service a national audience, we work with both. Our current sales and marketing outreach is exclusively focused on growing these types of clients. From time-to-time we do partner with non-education providers that are well-aligned to present their brand messages to our audience.
Depending on who you ask, programmatic advertising has been either a blessing (or a scourge) to the industry, due to the sheer efficiency it provides, all while disintermediating the direct relationship with the advertiser the publisher has and commoditizing their inventory. How do you feel about programmatic buying, and what effect has it had on your business?
Display advertising in terms of product presentation is a commodity, and as operations professionals it is easy to see the beauty of automating a commodities business. There are however some problems that exist that cannot be ignored. First, programmatic technology considers publisher content and cookie data but cannot necessarily understand brand direction and growth. From personal experience working now for a publisher on the rise, programmatic technology makes it difficult to get advertisers invested in new marketing channels when they’re buying impressions incrementally.
One of the most exciting things about working with an advertiser directly is understanding how we can work together to deliver great advertising experiences that also delight our users. It will be interesting to see if programmatic transacting can ever reach this level of collaboration.
Second, the tools provided to publishers through their SSPs are limited in how well programmatic revenue generation can be optimized. This inefficiency has given rise to solutions like header bidding and other tactics to capture revenue left on the table.
Third, it isn’t clear what type of talent is needed to successfully run a well performing programmatic business of the future. SSPs have positioned themselves as handling the sales funnel, but publishers are finding themselves still needing to put their own sellers on programmatic deals to get them to come through the platform, which given commissions paid to the platform only adds to the cost of sale. On the ad ops side, there are questions if whether companies need to be hiring statisticians or if the platforms can truly optimize price floors dynamically; and of course it is difficult to validate auto-optimization is occurring properly without the right talent and proper report tools.
To the extent that you can share, what do you think is the % revenue breakout of that from direct sold ads, to that coming from ad networks & exchanges, of a publisher of your size or in your category?
Publishers of our size have a majority of their revenue through programmatic means but are also in tandem trying to build a salesforce. Noodle is different. Whereas most emerging publishers begin generating revenue with display advertising, Noodle focuses most of its energy on native advertising within the search experience. Emerging publishers also prefer to sell on a CPM to ensure revenue stability, and while we sell our programmatic display inventory on a CPM, our native advertising is sold direct on a CPC which forces us to continue building the best audience and ad products for users. This creates more revenue risk for us but also focuses sales and operations to be great at what we do.
Does being directly measured by a 3rd party audience measurement company like Quantcast, and having all the traffic volumes, demographics, and audience characteristics at hand, help with the media selling process?
Yes, it’s a must. As a company that caters to seasoned marketers and first-timers it is important that we can point to a source outside of Noodle regarding our statistics. When you’re an emerging brand, you want to reference these kinds of tools as a trusted way to validate the information you provide.
The Sponsored Listing ads that Noodle.com serves, above-the-fold, I believe should be considered a native ad with a userbase showing a lot of intent. Do you serve these native ads with an ad server, or did the company build an internal system to traffick, serve, and track these ads?
You are correct, we consider these our native search ads and is our core product sold through direct sales. Given our focus on this ad product it was an incredibly important decision choosing the right platform to deliver our ads. Choosing an ad server that catered towards keeping ad ops errors low when trafficking was critical. We were able to find adequate functionality with a third party vendor and this was more cost effective in our early revenue generation years as opposed to of building an ad server internally. That said, as we have grown new challenges and limitations have presented themselves so someday it may make sense to go with a homegrown solution if the needs of the business require it; the media industry changes so quickly though it’s always difficult to predict too far in advance.
What do you think are some of the biggest challenges in the educational advertising space today?
Three big ones come to mind. First is to accurately identify decision makers, and often there are different ones for different functions. Second is breaking through the noise that less analytical publishers and gamified lead gen sites have created in order to showcase the benefits of high-quality data. Third is managing the continued engagement process, which we’ve had success in through providing alternative products, services and content.
How do you think the entire ad blocking conundrum will play out over the next few years?
Noodle has a developed refined standards in terms of providing an advertising experience that is positive. This is because many content sites out there were not thoughtful about advertising placements or the user experience, and we’ve ended up with this ‘ad blocking conundrum.’ With viewability metrics now impacting media buying, it should help publishers with identifying ad experiences that are most engaging and those that might need to be reimagined. A higher quality internet is on the horizon and embracing it will be the way to win.
Lastly, what is your take on the future digital advertising within the educational space?
We continue to see in virtually all verticals that digital publishers are becoming more full-service oriented, and education will be held to that same expectation, if not already to some degree. Education publishers will be expected to not only present education products and/or services but also facilitate relevancy based on an individual’s personal characteristics. Unlike picking a restaurant for dinner incorrectly, if the wrong selection is made of an education provider it may have a long-term impact, especially financially. Considering that a significant amount of ad budget is spent at the last step in the funnel today, where learners can be ill-informed about their choices, this can lead to higher dropout and/or transfer rates that can cost providers more money in the long run on recruitment. We anticipate a strong focus here as digital marketing tools constantly get better every day in showcasing long-term ROI. The ability for education publishers to integrate relevant advertisers into the decision making conversation throughout every stage of its funnel will likely be the new norm.
Noodle is the best way to find the right school, college, tutor, or other educational resource.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution in education; what matters is finding the right path for you, based on your interests, strengths and needs. Noodle seeks to empower you with the information and tools you need to find that path—whether that’s the right preschool, college, tutor, or learning resource.
Noodle is an alternative to pointless rankings, and to lead-generation sites that simply drive students to the highest bidder. By holding our content to the highest standards, we strive to bring you the personalized, authentic, and honest information you deserve.
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