Yummly Builds Innovative Sponsored Recipes Ad Server

Jane O'Hara
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Yummly, an innovative recipe search engine (and a top 2,000 most trafficked US site), was looking to drive incremental revenue by displaying ads. While they already monetized from their Pro subscription, they knew that with over 5 million monthly website visitors, they were leaving money on the table by not monetizing their browsing traffic.

The only issue: the most important asset to Yummly was their users. The last thing they wanted was to add page-slowing, obtrusive banner ads to their site and app.

So Yummly built their own Sponsored Recipes ad server - leading to a new revenue stream that involved no changes to the user experience (thereby keeping users happy).


"Our user experience is our top priority - so we were looking to build a native ad product that would appeal to advertisers without annoying our users."
Winnie Lee, Sr. Product Manager

What Yummly Wanted

Yummly is a search engine for recipes, with a clean layout, thousands of recipes, and many filtering options. The recipes are supplied either internally or by approved, independent third-parties, like Handle the Heat or Betty Crocker.

yummly sponsored recipes
yummly sponsored recipes

There was no room on the website or app to throw in programmatic banners without severely changing the user experience. So they internally came up with the goal of building a Sponsored Recipes ad product, similar to that already offered by their competitor, AllRecipes.

That AllRecipes ad product enabled advertisers to:

  1. Sponsor a recipe and have their logo attached to it
  2. Incorporate their branded food item in place of a generic ingredient. For instance, instead of the recipe saying "5 eggs", it would say, "5 Everyday Value Eggs"
yummly sponsored recipes
yummly sponsored recipes

Such an innovative ad unit changes very little about the user's browsing experience, as well as very little about the page itself. But by just throwing in a relevant brand name here or there, Yummly had a huge opportunity to drive revenue that was nearly 100% margin.

What Yummly Built

Yummly fulfilled their vision by building an ad server where brands can pay to have their logos attached to specific recipes. To do this, advertisers get set up as third-party recipe providers, upload their own recipe, and then Yummly:

  1. Appends the brand's logo directly onto the recipe image
  2. Places the recipe as the #1 search result for any relevant search. For instance, if Land O'Lakes was sponsoring a brownie recipe (that used their butter as an ingredient), they could pay to be the first result for a search for "brownies recipe"

Additionally, with the platform Yummly could:

  1. Easily target sponsored recipes to specific searches and subcategories
  2. Set up campaigns that turn on and off automatically based on the advertisers' goals
  3. Use revenue optimization tools that'll automatically select the ad that'll drive the most revenue for Yummly
  4. Track the click and engagement performance for each listing
  5. Employ other targeting tactics like geography, frequency capping, day-of-week, and so on
yummly sponsored recipes
yummly sponsored recipes

Now, any brand could sponsor a recipe and pay to be in the top spot for a relevant search. Types of campaigns could include:

  • Kraft sponsoring a "mac & cheese" recipe (that calls for their brand of cheese) and having the listing appear high-up for any search involving 'pasta' or 'comfort food'
  • Oreos promoting an Oreo-based dessert in the results for "quick desserts"
  • Taco Bell sponsoring any relevant listing for a search of "midnight snack"

These campaigns would predominantly be used for brand awareness campaigns (since there's no call-to-action or external link), and advertisers would get manual reports from Yummly about the performance.


"A good native ad product is profitable, appealing to brands, and doesn't impact the user experience - and our Sponsored Recipes ad unit accomplished all three."
Winnie Lee, Sr. Product Manager

The results

Yummly saw positive results immediately upon launching:

Engagement rates Click-through-rates for these promoted listings were 40% higher on average than standard listings (likely because of the brand recognition)
Increased revenue Advertisers loved the engaging, brand-first ad units. Consumer food brands were willing to pay 20x+ higher CPMs compared to a standard ad exchange
Launch date Using Adzerk they released this product in just weeks - letting them launch 9x faster than if they had tried to do it entirely by themselves
An additional benefit of this ad platform is it it 100% compliant with international privacy regulations like GDPR and CCPA. In fact, it doesn't require any PII or cookies to still be valuable to advertisers. Instead, it relies on intent info - such as what type of food the person is searching to make (and the ingredients needed to make it). Given that, there's little risk to Yummly or their advertisers that they are running afoul of a privacy law.

How Yummly built this ad server

Yummly saw the value of a Promoted Recipes ad platform - but didn't have the resources internally to spend a year plus building it. Additionally, every month the product wasn't ready was a month of lost revenue.

So Yummly integrated with Adzerk's APIs to launch the product in just weeks. This included using Adzerk's Decision API to request ad decisions server-side so they could get around ad blocking and natively integrate the ads into their product.


"We built sponsored recipes on top of Adzerk. It took only a few weeks and has been a huge revenue driver for us."
Winnie Lee, Sr. Product Manager

Takeaways from Yummly's Sponsored Recipe's Platform

Native ad platforms - whether they're sponsored recipes or sponsored social posts or so on - can't be built in a day. But if your company commits to creating one, it's a great way to drive new revenue (at very high margins), without having to resort to obnoxious programmatic banner ads. Plus, having your own Walled Garden ad product means that you control your monetization destiny and aren't reliant on Google/other ad tech players for ad revenue.

Have you built your own native recipes ad product? We'd love to hear from you!

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Jane O'Hara

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