Revealed: The advertising technologies used by news websites

Publisher tech stacks analysed: Google-owned advertising platforms dominate

advertising technologies news websites

In the latest of our series on website technologies, we look at the advertising technologies used by more than 2,000 of the world’s leading news websites. Previous stories have looked at analytics tools and content management systems.

Using data gathered by BuiltWith, a business intelligence company that creates technology profiles of websites, Press Gazette analysed the technology driving 2,409 leading, and mostly English language, news sites. Although BuiltWith’s data cannot tell us the entirety of the tech stack used by a newsroom, by inspecting a page’s source code it picks up known tech tools in use.

Nine in ten sites in our list were found to be using Google solutions which should come as little surprise given the tech giant’s dominance of online advertising. Google-owned Doubleclick.net which publishers use to display ad campaigns on users’ websites and feed back information on when ads are shown was found on 87% of sites.

Direct advertising, where clients pay to have their ads seen on a specific site, is important for news organisations especially when it comes to brand campaigns and larger spending. Data Management Platforms (DMPs) are one technology tool that can help publishers make the most of these relationships. This type of software typically uses third-party cookies to build on what a publisher already knows about a user by adding to it with further data gleaned as that user browses a site. DMPs help target audiences with online advertising campaigns.

The most popular DMP we found in our analysis was Amobee which was detected on 13% of sites including newyorker.com, buzzfeed.com and wired.com. It was followed by Adobe Audience Manager which was found on 11% of sites.

BuiltWith only detected a known DMP on a minority of sites. This may be because some publishers are experimenting with in-house tools to maximise their advertising relationships. The New York Times for example has built its own DMP that does away with the need for third-party data to boost the value it gets from its direct advertising sales, while protecting customer privacy.

Programmatic advertising appears on most news websites and it's common  to allow several sell-side platforms or ad exchanges to help fill a site’s ad inventory. Surveying a site’s ads.txt file (a bit of code companies host on their web servers saying who can sell their products or services on their site) reveals that the big-name ad exchanges such as Google, OpenX and AppNexus were found repeatedly across the vast majority of our group of sites.

The looming demise of third-party cookies looks set however to turn the digital advertising market on its head as ad exchanges, demand-side platforms and advertisers use cookie data to work out how much to bid on publisher inventory. Not all publishers will, however, be equally affected with those relying on programmatic advertising served through the types of third-party ad servers listed above likely to be impacted most.

As a result, the industry is already looking for alternatives.

Contextual advertising where ads are targeted based on keywords and the
types of content a user is accessing rather than their browser data is one form of advertising that some in the industry argue is making a comeback.

Google’s AdSense which matches the content of the web pages in its network to the keywords and topics that advertisers decide to target is easily the biggest contextual advertising tech, appearing on some nine in ten news sites. The technology uses both third and first-party cookies. More niche contextual tools that offer different functionalities, although less widespread, were also found. Affiliate marketing solution Skimlinks was found on 12% of sites including nytimes.com, businessinsider.com and mirror.com. "Brand safety" provider Grapeshot, which matches ads to content and also helps ensure that advertisers inventory does not end up alongside undesirable content such as fake news was meanwhile found on 8% of sites. (The list is dominated by Reach’s digital properties).

Sanjay Ravindran, New Statesman Media Group's chief information officer says working out how to collect first-party data from users in a legitimate and respectful fashion is going to be a key focus for him as a newsroom technologist.

"We need to have those conversations with our users so that we're providing value to them and that they see that value so the exchange is a fair one in their eyes," says Ravindran. "Every day there's going to be a new CMS tool, new plugins or add-on. We can talk about things like chatbots, supporting subscriptions and all the rest of it as well, but ultimately it is about customer data and there are new models coming on that front."