How Ranker uses cohorts to connect advertisers with valued audiences

December 17, 2021 5 min read

  • Lauren Kroll

    Customer Success Manager, Permutive

  • Publishers are building on the direct relationship with their readers, using privacy-safe first-party data for audience insights. Los-Angeles based publisher Ranker is no exception. The worldwide leader in fan-powered rankings, Ranker’s platform is based on preference correlations from over a billion votes on its lists covering film, TV, music, sports, and more.

    To talk about first-party data and how advertisers can target high-value audiences — without relying on third-party cookies — Ranker joined AdMonsters for a fireside chat. The session featured Dana OMalley, National VP of Sales at Ranker, Lauren Kroll, Customer Success Manager at Permutive and Lynne d Johnson, Senior Editor at AdMonsters. Here are the highlights from that conversation. 

    Ranker sells advertising space both on zero-party data (information declared and consented on forms) and first-party data (mainly targeted by site browsing behaviour). Insights tracked internally and on Permutive’s Audience Platform can help make this more advanced and deeper into niche audience targeting.

    OMalley said that this approach is one that publishers should consider as valuable for sharing data with advertisers. She highlighted Accenture research, which found 83% of consumers are willing to share their data to enable a personalised experience as long as businesses are transparent about how they will use it and that customers have control over it. Ranker does this by gaining consent from its subscribers to share data with advertisers based on their site activities.

    “We are able to deliver a true picture of consumer sentiment with more than 75 data signals collected per page in real-time to help us build advanced cohorts based on reader preferences and behaviours,” OMalley explained.

    Cohorts offer added value to advertisers

    Ranker can build bespoke cohorts to deliver campaigns to their most highly valued audiences when advertisers want to reach specific audiences. 

    OMalley explained that the site allows advertisers to mirror how consumers behave when choosing high-value audiences to target by creating cohorts with modelled segments. “Cohorts let us match audience to advertiser needs and drive further scale using a multi-pronged targeting and insights strategy,” she said. “This differentiates us because we can prove to advertisers that we know what content to go deep on and help them stand out.”

    As publishers launch their first-party data platforms and create cohorts, there are calls for creating a standard taxonomy in the industry. An audience poll during the fireside chat reflected this sentiment, where 41% said that the industry needs an agreed-upon taxonomy to help build an accompanying strategy moving forward, and 33% said that alongside the taxonomy, having more proof of scale to encourage advertisers to invest in first-party data more was important.

    “Cohorts let us match audience to advertiser needs and drive further scale using a multi-pronged targeting and insights strategy” – Dana OMalley, Ranker


    Advertiser education is required

    OMalley said education is essential to encourage advertisers to run first-party data campaigns. One way to do that is through testing publishers’ first-party data. Ranker ran tests for a campaign for a streaming service, starting with contextual targeting across all the client’s audience interests in week one. While those ran, Ranker built cohorts from its higher intent audiences via Permutive, which were applied in week two and resulted in lift across the board. They saw a 31% increase in click-through rate and a 175% improvement in conversion rate.

    It’s not just about a shift in data. Gaining advertiser buy-in relies on addressing concerns on critical issues in privacy, trust, and scale. OMalley said: “It’s about resetting expectations and educating the market. Programmatic teams understand this but media buyers less so and are still asking for identifiers. We are seeing more questions around methodology and how audiences are built to guarantee accurate and privacy-compliant data. Structured and well-planned activation and continued iteration are paramount.” 

    OMalley explained: “Permutive’s platform means we collect on user devices, not in the cloud. This gives us a great ability to scale and capture data from all users, including Safari and Firefox users. Crucially, that includes passers-by who only visit once. It means we can aim to target in real-time more effectively and value the privacy-first approach Permutive is built on.”

    Revenues improve with robust first-party strategies

    Ranker’s first-party data strategy is delivering real results, including a 25% increase in RFP win rate and a 4x increase in revenues. OMalley says her team is now adding new cohorts weekly and has access to audience intelligence, coupled with new content to enable modelled cohorts.

    Publishers are at various stages of maturity with their data. When asked if they were ready to scale first-party data, 38% of the audience said they’re ‘still looking for the best ways to activate it,’ and 38% said they felt that their first-party data was ‘not organised enough to use.’ 

    “The way Ranker uses first-party data to offer advanced taxonomy and modelling informs not only editorial but also site personalisation” – Lauren Kroll, Permutive


    Permutive’s Kroll urged publishers and advertisers to take the positives from Ranker’s success and to consider how advertising must pivot to first-party data to be more future-proofed. “The way Ranker uses first-party data to offer advanced taxonomy and modelling informs not only editorial but also site personalisation,” she said. “It’s a crucial insight to collect and analyse to prove that ads are being served to legitimately interested audiences with higher propensity to buy. Being multi-pronged means you can hit audiences across all stages of the funnel and deliver meaningful results in the process.”

    Ranker’s use of first-party data offers an insight into how publishers can build direct relationships with advertisers to gain access to high-value audiences. Watch the fireside chat on-demand below for more valuable insights from the session.

    For more on how Ranker increased revenues by 4x, read the case study here.