Peer39 helps web ads hit their target

When advertisers want their ads to end up on the right sites – and avoid the wrong sites – they turn to the semantic solution offered by Peer39. Peer39 execs from left, Alex White (VP Product and Account Management), Andy …

When advertisers want their ads to end up on the right sites – and avoid the wrong sites – they turn to the semantic solution offered by Peer39.

Peer39 executives
Peer39 execs from left, Alex White (VP Product and Account Management), Andy Ellenthal (CEO) and Dr. Jonathan Schler (CTO and general manager-Israel).

Talk about a fish out of water. What would you say if you saw a display ad for gefilte fish on the website for Red Lobster restaurants? After all, the Internet search engines that match up ads and websites could easily consider that to be a winning combination. For obvious reasons, though, both the maker of the gefilte fish and the proprietors of Red Lobster might prefer to avoid the other on the Internet. What’s needed is a sort of traffic manager to place ads appropriately.

And for that, there’s Israel’s Peer39.

“If you run a website, you certainly don’t want the ads to draw negative attention to your content,” says Peer39 CEO Andy Ellenthal. “And if you have a product or service, you want to make sure the people looking at your online ads are going to be potential customers – and that your ad doesn’t show up at sites that would be detrimental to your reputation.”

In the old days, you would call the newspaper or media outlet in which you wanted to place your ad. But on the Internet, most of the display ads are sold by ad networks and exchanges. Advertisers choose the type of site they want to advertise on – entertainment, news, gaming, etc. — and the network distributes the ads accordingly.

However, with millions of websites competing for ad sales, the matching process is imperfect. In 2010, there were about 14 trillion display ad impressions on the Internet – about five billion in the US alone – so the chances of a mistake are “pretty good,” says Ellenthal.

Getting the matches right

Peer39′s targeted semantic ad technology aims to get matches right every time. “We analyze billions of pages each day, filtering them for objectionable content – racism, hate speech, profanity, mature content — along with classifying their content,” he says. “We also consider the site’s content, its intended audience, the kind of web surfers it attracts, its sentiment, etc.”

Once the information is collated, Peer39′s technology matches it up with the needs of advertisers, making sure that the sites where their ads are placed maximize their return on investment – and ensure that they avoid any embarrassing placements.

“If you are buying in a marketplace, you want to know you are on a content-rich page that is safe and relevant, and that’s what we find for you,” says Ellenthal.

It sounds like a simple idea, but there’s a great deal of technology behind it – patented algorithms developed in Peer39′s Petah Tikvah office, where some 30 people are employed. Funded by US and Israeli VCs (especially Evergreen Venture Capital as well as by revenue, Peer39 was founded in 2006 and has a New York sales office. Ellison, a veteran of a very young industry, says that “things are vastly more complicated now than they were when I first started in this industry.”

From 30 million ad impressions, to 30 billion

Clearly there’s a great need for targeted semantic ad placement technology – but few companies can supply it, and Peer39 is the world leader in this relatively new business.

“Last year, we were doing 30 million ad impressions a month,” says Ellenthal, “and by the end of the year we expect to be up to 30 billion a month.”

The company has won wide recognition in the tech industry. In 2008, Peer39 was named one of Ten Web Startups to Watch by MIT’s Technology Review, and in the same year it was chosen by the Silicon Valley venture organization AlwaysOn as one of the top 250 private technology companies in the world. In 2009, Peer39 was again selected by AlwaysOn, this time for its 2009 OnMedia 100 List. And in 2010, Peer39 became a finalist for the Red Herring 100 North America Award.

Ellenthal says Peer39 owes its top spot in the industry to its location. “This is a very delicate and difficult technology. It’s not easy finding people with the wide range of knowledge and experience to be able to deal with the programming, semantics and common sense needed to do this properly. I’ve worked with many engineering teams around the world,” says Ellenthal, “and I have to say that the Israelis I work with at Peer39 are very committed and driven – and they pick up what they need to know very quickly.”