This week I met with Dick Costolo, the CEO of Feedburner, and he clued me in on some odd but interesting insights his company is learning about ads and RSS. Feedburner manages, measures, and helps place ads in RSS feeds for big and small publisheres alike. The startup now handles 11 million subscriptions a day, up from 250,000 a year ago.
Contextual targeting gets turned upside down, it seems. Wouldn't it seem like a no brainer that you would put BlackBerry ads into the feed for, say, the RIMarkable BlackBerry blog? If you go to any blog about BlackBerry, you see ads for that gadget along with ads for rival devices and email services. Typically, popular niche sites can demand a pretty penny for ads on their sites because they reach a targeted audience.
Apparently this logic falls apart when it comes to RSS feeds. When Feedburner started testing contextual ads, it found that they didn't do well. So, they switched gears and started targeting ads at a site's demographic of the site, whether it's 30-year old geeks or 40-year old lawyers, or even 50 year old doctors who visit, say, a Dr. BlackBerry blog.
The lesson? It appears that the people who visit a site through a search engine or a link are a different bunch than those who subscribe through an RSS feed. The people who go to the site through a browser might be shopping around for a wireless device so they would respond to an ad for wireless gadgets. But someone who subscribes a feed already has a BlackBerry and the gear that goes with it. An ad encouraging them to buy a BlackBerry or even to dump the device for a Treo wouldn't work.