Industry Insights
Sitting in the Driver’s Seat: on Intent-Driven Digital Advertising

matthew-stein-dmvMatthew Stein
Director of Display Advertising and Insurance

dmv-org-logo (not to be confused with is a privately held organization that helps consumers navigate the often treacherous Department of Motor Vehicles website, to save users time and money. With over 180M uniques per year and 85% organic traffic, I think it would be safe to say that both users and advertisers find your service extremely valuable. Can you share more on and the value you provide to consumers, and advertisers?

We are a small shop of about 30 people and to quote our President and COO, Bob Kurilko, “We punch well above our weight.” Meaning we are a lean team but we get A LOT done and run a very successful business.

Our focus as a business is really to provide as much value as possible both to our visitors and our advertising partners. On the visitor side, we provide content on how to complete different driving related tasks that generally involve the DMV but truly, we prepare people to get their vehicle on the road safely. We pride ourselves on keeping our information accurate and up to date so when a visitor arrives on our site they can trust they have the correct information to complete their task. This is no easy feat, as we cover all 50 states and each individual state and county laws change on a relatively frequent basis.

Furthermore, we curate value added services for our customers to meet their driving related needs. All the way from helping young adults to get their license for the first time through making sure all your family vehicles are insured. This is where strong advertising partnerships come into play because we find partners with the best products and make sure all the user’s needs are fulfilled. In kind, those partners receive enormous amounts of high quality, high intent visitors to their sites.


From an advertisers’ perspective, it seems like would be a perfect lead generation opportunity as consumers are expressing intent, and filling out forms when looking for specific information. Do you mostly work with Tier 1/2/3 auto dealers, or are there brands outside of the Automotive category that also work well with your audience?

That’s true. We have high intent audiences visiting our site everyday. What I like to share with our advertising partners is that people aren’t visiting to read our blog posts. They are there to find the information they need and then transact. This is why we see abnormally high CTRs and conversions compared to the anecdotes I’ve heard from others in the industry. We also have some very unique points of data that no one else in the auto space has access to, such as licensing and registration. We follow people through the entire lifecycle of their driving needs.

In terms of the type of advertisers we work with, it really runs the gamut of the automotive space because we reach 80% of all licensed drivers in the United States on an annual basis. However, since we cast such a wide net, there are so many different demographics and interests of our audience. We are intending to work more with Tier 1 brands who are looking to get a strong brand message out to a U.S. based audience.


What type of custom ad units do you offer? Are there any other upcoming ad formats that you think you may want to test in the future? (outstream video, video overlay bottom-right, etc)

The majority of our inventory are the standard IAB sizes. Our custom ad units are typically reserved for advertisers that are a direct one to one match with the content. For example, we have a section of our site about driver’s education. Naturally we have the largest driver’s education school, placed in a custom ad unit above the fold, front and center, because we know that users visiting those pages are specifically looking for a product to complete their driver’s education requirements.


To the extent that you can reveal, what would you say is the split of revenue for DMV between e-commerce (your DMV cheat sheet product), direct sold ads, revenue from ad networks, and that from exchanges?

While I can’t share exact numbers, many of our legacy deals with long standing advertising partners are based more on an acquisition model. Those are generally the one to one match custom ad units I mentioned earlier. Our display business is relatively new to us so we are still filling the majority of our impressions programmatically as we continue to scale the department and grow our salesforce. Our goal is for that to flip by year’s end as we are now reaching out to more agencies and advertisers directly.  


How has been your experience selling ads programmatically? (RTB or programmatic direct / private marketplace deal)

When I joined in 2013 we didn’t have a single display ad on our site. As we were following industry trends, it become our goal to scale the display department programmatically. We have put a lot of time and focus on pricing our inventory competitively while keeping our fill near 100%. We’ve also done our best to stay ahead of the curve and work with excellent vendors and demand partners to get the highest quality advertisers on our site. Much of our demand comes through the open exchanges and we’ve also facilitated some private deals as well through our partnerships.


Ad blocking has seemingly become a major issue of late, with Wired reporting that up to 20% of their audience on a given day to be using ad blockers. How do you think this whole ad blocking issue will play out?

There’s no doubt that ad blocking is an issue our industry faces and will continue to face for the foreseeable future. Based on some of the reports I’ve read, ad blocking has grown by 48% and 35% in the U.S. and Europe respectively. This is a scary proposition for most publishers. I think this growth has been driven by poor user and ad experiences, very often by everyone’s favorite clickbait sites. When a user’s path is blocked by an ad, it makes a strong case for people to download an adblocker. That and people’s data privacy concerns. It’s really the bad actors that hurt the entire industry.

My opinion is that it’s truly on us as publishers to make a case to our users through our on-site experience as well as our direct communication to our audience as to why they should whitelist our site or turn off their adblocker to view our content.

We need to let people know that we do our best to provide them with high quality content but there needs to be some sort of value exchange. I was recently in a meeting with a DMP vendor where they made the argument that ads keep the internet free. I tend to agree with that notion. Without ads we could end up in a pay to play model and the publishing landscape would be completely transformed. I don’t necessarily believe most consumers see it this way and if we let them know, we may be able to change some hearts and minds.  


How do you approach monetization on mobile?

Our current approach to mobile monetization is similar to desktop. In the short term, we plan to evaluate more mobile specific demand partners while selling more of our mobile inventory directly to advertisers. Again our mobile audience lends itself to action-oriented high intent traffic as people are trying to complete their tasks on the go.


What are your thoughts on header bidding for publishers?

Header Bidders seem to be the next wave of disruptive ad tech but I’ve seen the landscape to quickly shift towards wrappers and mediation. We leverage header bidders currently in our stack. I don’t see header bidders as a transformative technology, more of an evolution out of SSPs and competition with Enhanced dynamic allocation. However it’s certainly not a fit for all publishers. There are some latency issues that can cause drama for direct sales teams that rely on third party reporting, which makes it suboptimal for delivering in full.


What do you think are some of the biggest challenges the digital advertising industry faces today?

There are two things I see as big challenges. The first one is ad fraud. This has been prevalent in the industry since its inception however as the digital budgets grow it becomes more and more of a problem. I was at a recent Admonsters conference where I saw a presentation by Dr. Augustine Fou on bot fraud. He noted that approximately $6 Billion dollars in syphoned out of the market annually due to bot fraud. That’s a lot of coin.

The other challenge as mentioned above is adblocking. We need to find new ways to target consumers with ads that improve their browsing experience.


Are there any innovations happening now in digital or mobile advertising that excite you the most?

Mediation through machine learning. Based on our testing thus far, it appears machines are a lot better at creating dynamic price floors and targeting consumers with the right ads at the right time than humans.


Lastly, what is your take on the future of digital advertising for independent web publishers?

There are a lot of industry axioms that will continue to be a model for success. The one I would point to is “Content is king.” Keep providing value to your users and the marketplace and there will always be ways to monetize it. Smaller independent publishers have to look to build sustainable businesses and not just focus on the quick buck. This may be an idealistic viewpoint but I’m personally more than okay with being the optimist.



With over 170 million annual visitors, is a leading source across the nation for motor vehicle-related information, products, and services. For over a decade, we have organized, simplified, and worked to redefine the complex world of the DMV and motor vehicle compliance.

With driver’s tests, forms libraries, insurance, registration, office finders, and industry leading partner services, our digital publishing house empowers the driver with what they need to cut their time in line and free up more time in their lives.

We are committed to a purpose that reaches beyond profit and a vision that reaches beyond one URL. is a privately-owned digital publishing house located in Encinitas, California and works with talent across the globe. A small and growing team, brimming with talent and heart, we combine a brainy, tech-savvy approach with a common-sense human touch to reach the masses.

We are a profitable company that also places a special emphasis on people and planet. By investing our resources in safe driving habits and eco-friendly transportation initiatives, we do our part to contribute to our community and our sector of the industry, and apply the power of our wheelhouse to bettering life around us.

We are thrilled to have been selected as a 2015 Top Culture Company by and CultureIQ®.


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