Monetizing content beyond eyeballs and clicks: Urtak rolls out ad products to cash in on online polling

By Erin Griffith , written on June 19, 2013

From The News Desk

It's always nice when startups figure out a way to make money. Urtak, a polling platform for media outlets, has managed to get its technology implemented on 12,000 sites including Sports Illustrated, the Daily Dish, InStyle and Mashable. Now, the company, which graduated from TechStars NY in 2011 and raised a small round of $500,000 in seed funding, is rolling out a series of ad products to make some actual money.

The first upgrade is a Wordpress plugin that makes it simple for writers to implement polls into their content.

The second is the one that makes money for both Urtak and the 12,000 publishers using its polls: Sponsored polls. It is companion ad product to Urtak's polls; basically it is ad alongside the poll. The company is testing out sponsored polls and sponsored questions within polls as well. Pricewaterhouse Cooper, for example, is already testing out these functions.

Since May 1, seven percent of readers who see an Urtak question answer it. That's much higher than the percentage of people who share an article socially, or comment on an article. It is especially higher than the .01 percent of people who click on a banner ad.

Using a metric called "impression lift," Urtak shows that adding one of its polls can lead to a 50 percent rise in impressions of an article. It's not clear if slapping a brand logo on a poll helps, but it is a new place for sponsored content to live in the middle of the page. Sponsored polls cost a monthly minimum of $1000 for advertisers and Urtak splits the revenue with the publisher. But they're performing well. This post alone on TheBlaze generated $600 for the publisher.

The biggest issue digital publishers have had with all of this fabulous "engagement" we've been doing online lately is how to monetize it. Sure, engagement, by whatever definition you choose for the word, is better than basic clicks and pageviews. But we're still struggling to find a better form of ads to serve alongside them. Native platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and others have tried it to varied results.

At news organizations, the native experiment is a little trickier. Forbes or The Atlantic run sponsored advertorial-style advertisements that look no different from editorial articles save for a small "sponsored" demarcation. BuzzFeed goes so far as to use the same teams to produce content both for the site and for sponsors.

Not every old media outlet is on board with this blurring of lines: New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson recently said that the Times won't do any sort of advertising that blurs the lines between editorial and advertisement because it dilutes a media organization's editorial authority.

Urtak is offering itself as a way for publishers to monetize the content their audience products -- all that precious engagement -- that is better than a boring old banner ad but doesn't compromise the media organization's editorial authority.

Is native advertising a fad?