How One of Digital Media’s Little Guys Discovered Programmatic
Independent publishers lack the bandwidth to make sense of the digital advertising industry – most are just trying to stay afloat.
Chrome Unboxed, which started in 2015 as a YouTube channel to unbox videos featuring Google’s Chromebook products, is emblematic of the early struggles newbie publishers faced to monetize their content.
His path to ad-supported profitability shows there’s still hope for the little guys in digital media.
As the Chrome Unboxed channel grew, its founder, Robby Payne, launched a website to host the videos. He and two partners added written content, including how-to guides for Google and Chrome apps and features. The content mix has grown to include audio and video podcasts, email newsletters and a social media presence. The site now attracts 1.6 million monthly visitors.
While the Chrome Unboxed team is confident in its approach to creating content, it’s less confident in its ability to monetize that content, said Joe Humphrey, partner at Chrome Unboxed. At first, the publisher’s monetization strategy centered around Google AdSense, as is the case with most long-tail publishers.
“We were writing articles and shooting videos after work, so we didn’t have time to dig into programmatic ads or direct sales,” Humphrey said. “We had AdSense before they started running auto ads, so we were placing ads on the site as best we could, but we needed a partner to help us have a better ad experience.”
Monetization platform Ezoic saw the potential in Chrome Unboxed and recruited it into its publisher network in 2018, Humphrey said. Ezoic offers managed services to help publishers monetize through ads and improve user experience.
Chrome Unboxed initially saw working with Ezoic as an opportunity to attract more premium advertisers by moving from Google AdSense to Google AdX (and Google Ad Manager), Humphrey said.
The start of this partnership coincided with pandemic-related changes at work and school. Interest in laptops like Chromebooks has grown, along with the site’s audience.
From September 2018 to September 2021, Chrome Unboxed’s average daily ad revenue increased by 313%. Revenue per 1,000 visitors increased by 85%.
But Chrome Unboxed didn’t just pile on ads; it reduced its number of ads by 23% over the past three and a half years, from September 2018 to June 2022. And over that same period, Chrome Unboxed reduced its programmatic risk by 40%, since it no longer prioritized a source of demand for the majority of its programmatic revenue.
Programmatic and direct sales on the open web contribute the majority of Chrome Unboxed’s ad revenue.
The publisher pays a monthly subscription to Ezoic, Humphrey said. Last year, Ezoic introduced subscriber tiers based on monthly visits and total revenue. Chrome Unboxed is at the VIP level – the highest level reserved for a limited selection of publishers.
“You pay a little more each time you go up a level, but the net income also increases,” Humphrey said.
Besides programmatic, Chrome Unboxed monetizes its newsletters and podcasts through direct brand sponsorships offered at Ezoic’s VIP level.
Ezoic does not receive revenue share from direct ad sales, said Tyler Bishop, CMO of Ezoic. However, subscription fees increase as revenue increases, so it might be considered revenue sharing by another name.
The only Chrome Unboxed revenue stream that Ezoic doesn’t manage is its affiliate marketing business, which is key to monetizing certain website content, as well as newsletters and podcasts, Humphrey said.
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Instead of just focusing on squeezing revenue from existing page views, Ezoic offers publishers account support to grow audiences, as an aid to SEO optimization.
Chrome Unboxed had the option to optimize for revenue generation or a clean user experience.
After many tweaks, Chrome Unboxed opted for a “moderate” number of ads, Humphrey said. “We don’t want a website that’s heavily advertised, because that’s not the type of content we like to consume,” he said.
In addition to setting an overall ad baseline, Ezoic may adjust ads based on the user’s perceived value and ad tolerance.
In addition to Ezoic’s ad management and SEO optimization services, Chrome Unboxed received approximately 1% of the $12.4 million Ezoic set aside in interest-free loans for its 10,000+ publishers to incentivize them. expand their monetizable inventory.
Chrome Unboxed hired two full-time content creators — a digital media producer and a personal writer — with its grant, growing its headcount from four to six.
“Chrome Unboxed reflects what a healthy open web looks like – a publisher that started its business using technology to keep overhead low and sustain profitability,” Bishop said. “It’s a great reflection of how well the advertising model is working.”