Ars Technica Ads Get Ahead of the Story

Tech site develops predictive platform to monetize traffic surges

In an analytics-obsessed Web climate, everyone is chasing the big story. The problem is, more often than not, big breakout traffic scoops yield attention, eyeballs and notoriety, but very few dollars. Last month, Deadspin broke the story on the Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax, netting the site nearly 4 million pageviews. But as Gawker Media mentioned publicly following the story, the company had no technical solution in place to monetize an unforeseen surge in traffic.

Gawker is not alone. Web publishers have struggled across the board with this, which is why Ars Technica has been hard at work with what could be a viable solution.

At Ars Technica, Condé Nast’s 15-year-old high-brow tech site, Ken Fisher and his small in-house team were lamenting the traffic conundrum when they decided to build a real-time dashboard geared toward examining pageviews with a predictive eye toward recently posted articles that are poised to trend.

“Within two days we found it was working really well,” explained Ars editor in chief Fisher. “We were identifying within an hour stories that would go on to do 900,000 views. And these were not pieces you’d hear by title and think, ‘That’s going to be killer.’ One was titled, Quantum Networks May Be More Realistic Than We Thought.”

Simply put, the technology employs a keen understanding of Ars’ audience and examines raw pageviews in the early minutes following a post. In time, the dashboard begins to note linked traffic visiting the site as well, and, according to Fisher, “Because our audience is so loyal, we can know after 20 or 30 minutes if organic traffic will be huge on a piece.”

Though Ars has only just begun to shop the product, which has been dubbed “the accelerator” or “the watercooler program,” advertisers will have the opportunity to buy in directly to the technology, which will place ads adjacent to Ars stories that are attracting six- and seven-figure eyeballs. Wired and Ars Technica publisher Howard Mittman touts the technology’s predictive success to be “more than 95 percent.”

If successful in the field, Condé Nast may have a unique opportunity on its hands. “Our hope is we can roll this technology out across other sites and help Condé Nast continue to grow,” Mittman told Adweek. Though they’re mum on the issue, for a legacy media company like Condé Nast, there may also be an interest in licensing the technology to other publishers, who’ve notoriously lagged behind advertisers in the analytics game.

“Marketers have been far more data driven than publishers,” said Scout Analytics svp Matt Shanahan. “The smarter advertisers get, the smarter publishers need to get. It’s an arms race. If you’re a brand advertiser, this sort of broad reach is great. We’ll continue to see new ways to segment inventory down the line.”