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Top 6 Benefits of Direct Digital Ads with Local Publishers

June 20th, 2024 | 4 min. read

By Kim Kovelle

Discover 4 key types of Digital Ads for your business with the free guide.
A business owner taps on a direct buy digital ad option with local publisher.

Let’s say you have a choice. Run general digital ads anywhere your prospects might be surfing. Or run “direct” ads with a local publisher partner. Which is best for you, and why?

It’s a big question for small- to mid-sized businesses looking to earn local business.

“When you buy direct with a publisher, you tend to get better engagement — and customers know it’s a trusted brand,” explains Michele Potts. She’s the sales manager for Zoe Marketing & Communications, which has run digital ads on publisher websites Metro Parent and Chicago Parent for 15+ years.

“That said, whether it’ll work for you depends. They’re not always the right choice for limited budgets — or if you’re looking for extensive reach on many sites quickly.”

How can you decide which path to take? This blog defines what direct digital ads are and details six key benefits, including:

  1. Ad viewability and engagement
  2. Brand safety and contextual relevance
  3. Cost efficiency and return on investment (ROI)
  4. Audience targeting and trust
  5. Ad fraud and transparency
  6. Customization and flexibility

You’ll gain a solid sense of how direct ads with local publishers might help your brand. And you can decide whether to explore your options as you take your next marketing steps.


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Learn how digital ads can help your business, including the tools, techniques and strategies to create successful campaigns.

What direct digital ads are

“Direct digital ads” are ads you buy directly from a publisher. “With a publisher, you’re able to get high-impact ads you can’t with general programmatic ads,” Potts says.

Depending on the publisher, the ads can be of various sizes and styles, but all have built-in audience reach from a trusted source.

For Zoe’s sister publications — Metro Parent and Chicago Parent — the options include:

Metro Chicago Parent Ad Sizes

General display ads

Display ads are stationery boxes of various sizes. They appear either as “inline” (within the content of blogs/pages) or along the margins. A few common types include

  • 300x250 pixels: an “island” tile or “medium rectangle” (mobile and desktop)
  • 728x90 pixels: a classic “banner” or “leaderboard” ad that appears on desktop only
  • 320x50 pixels: a slightly shorter “banner” or “leaderboard” that appears on mobile only

Enhanced ads

Enhanced ads include animation or motion to capture people’s attention better. Typical ads have a click-through rate (CTR) of 0.06%; these are higher. At Zoe, four common types include:

  • Billboard: This large ad “drops down” from the top of all ad-serving pages (CTR .14%)
  • Sneaker: This ad “sneaks up” from the bottom of the screen (CTR .36%)
  • Cube: A 3D rotating square midway on the “right rail” of ad-serving pages (CTR .07%)
  • Sticky Note: A “Post-It style” ad showing special offers or messages. (CTR 3%)

6 benefits of direct digital ads with local publishers

So why should you consider buying display or enhanced ads on a local publisher’s website? Some distinct advantages include viewability, engagement and customization.

1. Ad viewability and engagement

When it comes to how many people have actually seen your ads — aka viewability — direct digital ads have rates as high as 70%, Potts says. For programmatic ads (which, again, show up on various sites), it’s more like half.

Direct Ad Buys-Viewability Stat

“Direct ad buys let us control where ads are placed,” she says. “When ads are in prime locations, they naturally get more attention and interaction from the target audience.”

She adds that this can also mean 2-3 times higher engagement for ads on publisher sites. In other words, more clicks, boosts in time spent watching video ads, conversions or other factors.

2. Brand safety and contextual relevance

With direct buys, your ads are in “brand-safe” environments. “This significantly reduces your risk of appearing next to inappropriate content, or content you’re not aligned with,” Potts says.

After all, 82% of consumers say “it’s important to them that the content surrounding online ads is appropriate,” reports Integral Ad Science (IAS).

It’s all about “contextual relevance,” which is how well an ad matches the content of the site it’s on. “Your contextual relevance increases with a focused local publisher,” Potts adds, “which grows your ads’ engagement and effectiveness.”

3. Cost efficiency and return on investment (ROI)

While programmatic advertising might appear cheaper initially, hidden costs can sometimes take a bite out of those “savings.” A few things you may encounter:

  • “Low” initial costs: Automated bulk buying can make programmatic seem more cost-effective
  • Ad fraud: Issues like fake clicks and bot traffic can waste a portion of your ad budget (more on that below)
  • Non-viewable impressions: Some programmatic ads appear where users are less likely to see them
  • Hidden fees: Multiple layers in the programmatic supply chain sometimes add fees

“Direct ad buys often provide a better ROI due to higher engagement and conversion rates,” Potts notes. It’s worth noting that by 2026, programmatic ads are set to hit 86% compared to direct digital ads. “It makes sense,” Potts says, “since they’re more general.”

But for some businesses, direct buys can provide greater nuance and payoff.

Direct Ad Buys-Better ROI Michele Quote

4. Audience targeting and trust

Local publishers like Metro Parent and Chicago Parent have a deep understanding of their audience, allowing for more precise targeting. “They’ve earned deep trust, too,” Potts says. Case in point: Regarding news sources, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) notes that 84% of people feel that ads within the news either boost brand trust or at least maintain it.

“This helps explain why their engagement is higher than programmatic,” adds Potts.

5. Ad fraud and transparency

Direct digital ads can also reduce the risk of ad fraud. Again, this includes fake clicks, fake traffic and bot-generated impressions that affect your results.

While programmatic providers use safeguards such as verification services, the fast evolution of fraudulent tactics can allow some room for error.

“Direct relationships with publishers offer greater transparency for ad placements,” Potts says. “This leads to better accountability and performance tracking.”

6. Customization and flexibility

Finally, you’ll have more say in tailoring your ads for your audience and the platform — for display ads and particularly enhanced ads.

“You get more flexibility in adjusting campaigns on the fly, which allows for real-time optimization based on performance data,” Potts says.

Next steps for direct digital ads with a local publisher

While they’re often overshadowed by programmatic ads, direct digital ads can be powerful for local businesses seeking an aligned local source.

Do you think it might be right for you? Talk to us, especially if you’re trying to reach parents in the metro Detroit and Chicago markets. Zoe’s experts can help you determine whether Metro Parent or Chicago Parent could be the right fit for you.

Still undecided or researching? Find out more about:


Download Your Digital Ads Guide

Learn how digital ads can help your business, including the tools, techniques and strategies to create successful campaigns.

Kim Kovelle

As Zoe Marketing & Communications’ content manager, Kim Kovelle brings nearly 20 years of writing and editing experience in metro Detroit. She has strong roots in community journalism and a knack for making complicated topics make more sense.