#042 Monetize Mastery with Susanne Sperling
Maximizing Earnings for Online Publishers
Guest & Host
Susanne Sperling & Thomas Miltschuh
Welcome to Speak Revenue, the podcast where we emphasize that revenue is not just a goal; it's a result. In this show, we shift our focus from the output to the inputs. We engage in conversations with sales leaders and entrepreneurs about their remarkable journeys. Our mission? To uncover the true root causes of success. Join us on the latest episode of Speak Revenue as we dive into the intricacies of monetizing online content with Susanne Sperling, founder of Stratechmedia. Discover the untapped potential of online media revenue streams and the secrets behind successful content monetization. From programmatic advertising insights to strategic optimization tips, Susanne shares her journey and expertise in helping publishers maximize their earnings. Don't miss this insightful conversation on navigating the path to revenue success in the dynamic world of online media.
November 16th, 2023
Thomas Miltschuh: Welcome to our new episode of Speak Revenue. Remember, revenue is not the goal. It's a result! But a result of what? In this show, we turn our eyes from the output towards the inputs. We speak to sales leaders and entrepreneurs about their journeys. Join us on our quest to uncover and learn the root causes of success. Let's unpack what works for them. And what didn't. Today with our guest, Susanne Sperling. Hi, Susanne. Great to meet you. Welcome to the show.
Susanne Sperling: Hi. Thank you. I'm glad to be here.
Thomas Miltschuh: Nice. Awesome. So let us know who you are, what do you do? What makes it so successful?
Susanne Sperling: I'm the founder of Stratechmedia. It's a company that helps online publishers. I see myself as a publisher ambassador. I wanna help out smaller media websites making more money on their content. I have a background in online media. I've been working at bold.dk football website for the last 15 years in Denmark. I ended my tenure there as Chief Commercial Officer and also as the CFO. I have for 15 years worked in programmatic advertising and figured out the best way to monetize the website traffic that we have. Figured out what sort of revenue streams an online media use and what not to use, what works, what doesn't work, and how to optimize in general, for online media.
Thomas Miltschuh: Great. May we know how or why you follow this path to found your own business and consult other companies?
Susanne Sperling: Over the years I have met a lot of different publishers who create really amazing content. But I actually didn't know much about how to monetize that content. What they're good at is creating good stories and for people to come and read. Maybe they're really good at focusing on the CEO and how to find them, but not really understanding so much on how you make money on the traffic. Also because it's really hard or it could be difficult to understand how to do so. And I have helped some of those publishers along the way during my time at bold. And I've always thought that it was a bit sad that they didn't understand it better or I always felt like. I could help them out or that if they knew just a little bit more, they would probably be better off in terms of revenue generation. And I think for me, after, by, after ending at bold.dk, I thought that maybe that's what I should do, because I actually really love ad tech and I love programmatic. And I love optimization. So I was like, and these are the things that I'm really good at. So maybe I should help other people make more money or at least try to understand how they could make more money.
Thomas Miltschuh: Sounds great. Why do you think that monetizing content is not a core skill of publishers? Why is it maybe underestimated?
Susanne Sperling: I think it's underestimating in general. I, it's not a, you can go to school and you can have marketing and what does that mean? It means how do you brand yourself and how do you get how to create advertising? But the thing is for publishers is once those advertising are created, how do they get on your website? So this is not a subject ever, like how to optimize on revenue on a website that is not a subject being taught. When I started out at bold, I think it was a lot easier. It probably took a little bit more manpower, but it's more like we got like a fax, right? And be like, hi, I would buy 1 million impressions of this and this brand for this and this period. And you put it in a system, and that's it, right? That was a little bit difficult in itself, but it was only like a desktop. And then like we started with mobile and we started with all these different things and this whole cookie and third party cookies and finding users at the right time and all these sort of things just evolved. It became more and more complex. So today it is not about just putting in some banner. You need to have permission. You need to have GDPR. You need to find the users. You need it. There's so many different things that need to be able to do and understand, and there's so many tech solutions and there are so many things that you have to put on your website, and I think that could be a lot to do. So most people will, or most publishers would go to an agency to have that handled.
Thomas Miltschuh: Let's say I'm a publisher with no idea on how to monetize my content. What would be the first steps you need to look at and the first optimization steps to start to monetize.
Susanne Sperling: Firstly, you would probably find an agency because you will have to have some sort of code on your website and figuring out where to put your ads and so on. But what I would do if I looked at your website, there were ads on it. I think I would try to understand like, what prices are you getting for your ads? What has been tested? Are you sold out and it's sold out? Now you're saying like, revenue is a result, right? For me, selling out is not a goal in itself because that is just, then you're sold too cheap, right? So what balance and how many banners at what price is the optimum for you? And try to have a play on that. Those would be the first things I would look at. When you go to a lot of websites, you see a lot of ads, and it's that story that the more ads, the more money you're making. But you shouldn't really look at the ads in itself. You should look at the page view or itself, like how much money can you make on this? And maybe let's say you could only have one banner or one ad on your website, but you got 1 trillion for it, right? What if that was sold out? What was the highest price you could get? And then figure it out that way from there. Okay, then we add a little bit more. Is that an incremental value? Yes or no? And I think there's a lot of ads that are non-incremental value on websites. And what does it do? It actually probably annoys the users a little bit more than it does give you revenue or, and, that in itself could maybe have the users read less. So what you wanna do is find that balance of creating new patriots and having the ads by, not annoying, but just, supporting the content.
Thomas Miltschuh: So that's how you start optimizing. Is there any framework or personal approach you follow on optimization in general?
Susanne Sperling: Yeah I always look at like, where does the user go? How far on your site does it scroll? Have you thought about, are people scrolling down? When will you call your ads? How much of an ad should you see? Are you choosing ad sizes that are the standard? So how would that be if, make sure to have that? Is it mobile friendly? A lot of people still look at the desktop, right? But most traffic is from mobile. Mobile has an issue because it has less space. Less ad space to make sure that they are placed correct and the viewability of the ads. It is really important that all ads are 70% viewable. So what does that mean? You have to see 70% of the ad or like in general, right? In order for it to make money. I think for most of the people creating content, they have a contextual targeting that they're not maybe necessarily thinking about. They are sending a contextual signal and should try to find out which ads would make most sense for them and also talking to their agency about that if there's something they can do there. Yeah.
Thomas Miltschuh: What is your strategic advice on targeting the ICP or get the right target group on your website or on any publisher's website?
Susanne Sperling: I think it's hard because you can't, right. And I think anyone who would tell you that you could, find someone who likes small dogs or something like that. If someone has bought that, they've just been lied to. So as a publisher, you should figure out like, what is my core? What do I know about my users? And this is the whole first party data that everyone is talking about now and finding a strategy for that. What is it that you have? And find a way to position that and sell that. So if you're writing about computer articles, of course, like what are these sort of people. What could work here, what ads would go best here and not just getting random ads in. So I think for publishers, this whole idea about understanding their users and trying to tell that story better will be key for them, but also for the agencies or for the marketing people because they can't keep finding people.
Thomas Miltschuh: Do you think this is one of the main challenges to target the ICP or are the other main challenges your clients are facing?
Susanne Sperling: I think that is a huge challenge. And if everyone is in this challenge of figuring out how to get ads in front of people. How can we do this with the consents? And so therefore, you also have so many people who do subscription models and pay whiles because it's getting harder and harder to get the revenue from the advertisers to pay enough. And so we must find another way to make money on our revenue or on our content. So a lot of brands, if you're big enough, can try a subscription because then you get first party data and have that as something that you could position yourself as having. Or paywall. However I am a free internet believer. I will still vote for hope that a lot of websites choose not to do paywall. I don't have a subscription in itself, like just signing in and logging in. If you can get someone to do that for free and I get free content on that, I think it's amazing and you should definitely do that because having that is. very important and crucial, but I think for a lot of publishers having someone signing up and giving away your data is just not something that we're ready to do at this moment. And for them, it will still be advertising or digital advertising that needs to support them.
Thomas Miltschuh: Yeah, It's really difficult because I've seen news sites that are only publishing to subscribers. So if you want to watch any of those news articles, it's behind a paywall. It is just, not just able to see the first five sentences. But I don't even know how good the quality is and I think it's really hard. Maybe, they believe that the fact that there is a subscription signals that quality is higher. But as a user I'm just not sure. That there must be some basic model to try out and see what the actual content looks like, right?
Susanne Sperling: Yeah, I agree. And like I, I think they'll do it because they believe it's premium content. However, I think I would like to. Oh, maybe read about this, but why don't I be given an option of watching an ad instead I would do it. And maybe they could monetize on that. And I think it's for a lot of the big publishers, this is something you can do. And, we've all been paying for newspapers when we're younger and getting that in the mail. So it's normal that we pay for news. But for me now, it's everywhere. But it's mostly news that is blocked. So I think it's also something like, all the information that people are spending their time on, on creating and giving. This is not just, not for everyone everywhere, right? And there is a limit to how many things we can subscribe to. There is a money limit for most people, and then for most people just being like, okay, I'm not watching it, or I'm not reading it, or, I'll find my news somewhere else. And then we're back to what sort of news are we then finding?
Thomas Miltschuh: Yeah. That it's, it just adds up. There's Netflix and maybe Apple TV and maybe the preferred news site that Yeah. Sure. It's limited and I see some analogy to startups or SaaS businesses actually, because it can be hard to get people. Pay from the beginning on. So there is a strategy that works to give things for free as much as possible. And just bill for the things that are really valuable. So many companies, not only startup apps, but also established SaaS companies like Gong are going this way, giving so much material for free that can help sales teams to become more efficient. What do we think is there some analogy with that respect to the publishing sector?
Susanne Sperling: I'm not sure. Here the analogy of making money is, is always there…
Thomas Miltschuh: Just the basic thought of giving things for free to build trust and to prove the in this case content is really valuable to get people to really buy the product in the end.
Susanne Sperling: What I've seen is for SaaS products or I've been buying a lot of SaaS for many years. And that process in itself has changed a lot because I used to, I'd be like, yeah, sure. Let me try that. I. Oh, please. And like the meetings were longer and it was easier to say yes to meetings. It's been harder for me to say yes to meetings because. Money was tight or I had a lot of knowledge, so they needed to approach me in a different way, and a lot of time they would just show me something and be like, I know more about this than you do. Or, not necessarily, but you need to come up with a little bit more knowledge or show me the value really quick. Because if I had to choose, there's so many products to choose from, right? So in that way, I think they're struggling a lot and they have a lot of free periods and they have changed their sales processes a lot, to optimize on that. I definitely believe that could have been an issue for them, right? But for publishers. Also have so many different people approaching them and saying I can sell this. I can sell that, or Let me help you with that. And it is a vast jungle to figure out a way of choosing the right tech for your website. Definitely.
Thomas Miltschuh: Yeah, as you've mentioned, it becomes more and more complex to monetize content with different devices, different technologies, evolving, maybe even AI has an impact on that as well. What is and maybe apart from subscription models or ads, any innovative approach you have in mind to monetize content for publishers? Something new coming up?
Susanne Sperling: No, it's flatlined now. I think it's actually still the same. It's weird. Ads will never go away, but I think it's always about finding out how to find a new way to position it. And I was just briefly discussed before newsletters were funny enough back, they were a huge thing in 10, 11, then it went away, and then the newsletter came back. And I think a lot of publishers are focusing on that. That is again, the sign up, but it's getting into position ads in front of people and getting their emails right. The data monetization has been talked about a lot, but not really happening yet, but the first party data of showing what kind of users and selling that and in a privacy legal way. Native advertising and sponsored content has been around for a long time. However, we will see more and more about it because once you get that on your website, it is so tailored to your website and the contextual targeting or contextual situation that the brand will be in is so relatable and has a bigger impact for the brands. And for brands in order to make sure that they're advertising it on the website or get to the users that they want to, contextual targeting will be the best way to do that in the future. So if you are the sue, kids' family and like how do you find kids', family? If there's something, kids are us. Or something like people writing about kids stuff, you'll make sure that kids advertisements get there or something like that. That these are families looking at those websites. So I think we'll just see more of that.
Thomas Miltschuh: Okay. Yeah. So it's rather about already established methods, but they are evolving and orchestrated in different ways.
Susanne Sperling: Yeah, and I think like right now you, we are talking a lot about retail media will be up and coming. And then the next one would be Commerce Media, whereas Commerce Media is like a blend of content. E-commerce and digital advertising, that's blending it all away. So let's say you have a cooking website or a what's called recipe website, right? Should you have a web shop? Probably, yeah, because you might use some ingredients. What kind of pants are you using? What kind of pots? And using a special salt. Is that something that you should be able to buy? Should the ads be there for them to buy that? And should you be able to shop the ingredients at some online store and the whole like mesh of all this, it was called Commerce Media, and I think that will be the next, it will be the next step. That is something to talk about now, right? So you just have to look at your website as more than just providing news.
Thomas Miltschuh: I think it's an interesting question. If somebody doesn't know how to monetize, but knows hey, my USP is, I'm a good writer, but I need to monetize somehow, I need to pay my bills. Are the publishers, in general, really willing to apply new methods to really monetize or are they rather hesitating because it's not their core business?
Susanne Sperling: I think once you get to talk to them, I think they find it very interesting and are more interested in what can I improve? How can I do that? Because at the end of the day, they wanna make more money or they want to, generate more revenue for themself, hopefully, or most likely. And of course it's about time, hopefully, or I don't know if I hope for that, but it makes more sense. I think a lot of them it's about time and having that understanding. So I think that as a self-proclaimed publisher ambassador, what I wanna do is try to find a way to educate publishers so that they can be better in charge of the revenue, because at the end of the day they're outsourcing their whole revenue stream, which seems a bit extreme. They know what they're really good at, but. The making the money part, if they don't understand that at all, that's a very vulnerable situation and can't be taken advantage of very easily.
Thomas Miltschuh: Yeah, it can really be difficult because there's so many jobs. Yeah, like publishers or also let's say pharmacists or doctors, all of them running a business actually, but they don't have big business knowledge and it can be hard to really make them aware that it's important.
Susanne Sperling: Yeah. But it's also about what are you doing? Do you like making a business or growing a business, or are you running a business? You know what I mean? So if you're running a business, you're sort of like doing everything yourself and figure that out and I think that's fine. If you're growing a business, of course it's fine to outsource some of these things, but making sure you understand why you are doing it and how to do that best so you can take a step back and actually have that time. But if you're running it yourself, learn how to do it. I am a startup and there are many things I have no clue about what to do, but. Thankfully for me, like I really know what I'm not good at, right? So I know what I need help with today, right? That is my forte, right?
Thomas Miltschuh: You've been ACFO.
Susanne Sperling: That's always a start.
Thomas Miltschuh: Pretty good thing.
Susanne Sperling: It's a pretty good thing. And I also like when I talk to publishers and like my role as a Chief commercial officer and the CFO is a weird thing. So I'm money and, and the CFO, but what this means for me is all about the optimization. So are we spending more money and then just earning more money? That's not a goal, right? So it's like, how can we earn more money and not spend more, or like the incremental value of making more money should always be there. We have AI now, we talked a little about AI earlier. What that can do for publishers and how maybe it can create some content, but there's also like for a mini website, maybe have a forum. You can use it for moderation. Maybe you can help them with that. Like AI can use you for different things. So is that a monetization strategy? Yes. But it could also be a cost saving strategy. And that is in my book, just as valuable because I'm looking at the website as a total
Thomas Miltschuh: Great. I think the deeper we go into this topic the more I would like to continue maybe one last question. Is there anything you would like to share on Yeah. Like basic guidance for publishers, something they should really be aware of.
Susanne Sperling: I think they should actually try to take the time and go into whatever dashboard it is that they are using the tool to monetize their website and try to see if they actually understand what's in there. Check a quiz or understand what is CPM or what is the ECPC and the VCPM and the DMD and the CDR or GDPI. What are these things? Do they understand them? And if they're not, go to their agency, go to the platform, have them walk them through them so they equip themselves better to understand how to make money or what is working on their website. It could be that some of their traffic or some of their websites or. You are spending a lot of time reading an article of people or staying longer there, but you're not refreshing your ads, then refresh your ads on that one. So you make double the money. Maybe you shouldn't be on the front page because people are not spending time there. Try to see if there's just some small adjustment that you can do and understand that, and then see how far that will get to you. But I think it's just trying to understand this a little bit or get back some of the power so that you are able to be like, why is my CPM so low? Or What are you doing for this and this? Can we do cookie list banners? How many of my ads are served on Safari with no cookies? How much are we depending on chrome traffic? Such questions, I think, are so important because a lot of the advertising money is actually going in Chrome and not in safari browsers because of the cookies. Yeah.
Thomas Miltschuh: So really understand your business. Analyze, check the root causes of successes or failures as well. Yeah.
Susanne Sperling: Yeah, I actually do. So right. It, revenue is the result, but it's the result of you equipping yourself to ask the right questions, right? What is working at my website and what is not working? When am I doing well? Why was, why are we doing good here, right? Yeah.
Thomas Miltschuh: Awesome. Thank you so much. I think that brings us to the end of the episode. So I want to thank our guest Susanne Sperling, for joining us today. I. Sharing such valuable insights. Huge shout out to all our listeners. Your support means the world to us. Remember to check out our website: speakrevenue.com for a full transcript and additional resources. If you enjoyed the show, please leave us a review on Apple Podcast or wherever you go for your listening needs really helps get the word out. Also, follow us on LinkedIn and Instagram or on YouTube. We'll be soon with another great guest. Until then, stay curious and keep listening.