Commentary

How Publishers And Ad-Tech Companies Can Stem Ad Blocking

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, January 6, 2016
With the threat of ad blocking looming ominously over both publishers and ad-tech companies, it would be an easy way out to pin the blame on Flash or rich media — the very tools whose ad revenues have long allowed publishers to thrive.

Although this easy scapegoat exists, the ad-tech industry seems to understand that the real key to maintain the advertising monetization model is improving the user experience -- doing something along the lines of the new L.E.A.N. approach by the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

But the truth is, there’s a silent technical factor still ruining the online user experience, and it is client-side bidding.

Client-side bidding is painful for users, since browsers by their very nature are limited (and even more so on mobile) and can only output several http requests at a time. So generating a lot of simultaneous calls results in blocking browsers’ ability to render Web pages smoothly. Furthermore, loading big code objects (SWF or JS) to perform the complex logic of auctioning a placement is also something odd to do on the client side.

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It may seem surprising to talk about client-side bidding now, since it seems as though RTB has been with us for a while and that all programmatic transactions are already server-side RTB. However, in the video ad delivery chain, client-side integration is still very prevalent.

Client side offers some advantages including pre-bid transparency: therefore, video exchanges are more likely to be RTB-integrated with their demand partners than with their supply partners.

Client-side bidding needs to change. And, luckily the tides are turning. User experience should be everyone’s top concern and pre-bid transparency can be mitigated with post-bid validation.

Here are some steps to take toward that end:

1.     Publishers must improve their programmatic footprint monitoring. They can no longer take for granted the ad they’ve just presented their precious user is a well-behaved one, so they must verify that each and every ad is not disrupting the user experience. Using tools such as RISKIQ, GeoEdge and ClarityAd, publishers must monitor what type of ads run in their ad placements (e.g. display, rich-media, in banner video) and check if they adhere to the site’s policy (e.g. sound on click, sound on hover, autoplay).

2.     The savviest publishers have already implemented the first step. That’s a good start, but it’s not sufficient. Next, publishers have to start measuring ads by CPU consumption, number of HTTP ad calls they generate, file sizes and the effect an ad has on browser’s frame rate. These metrics are directly related to user experience.

Beyond a certain threshold (too many ad calls, files that are too large) Web pages become less responsive to user action such as scrolling (the technical term for this is jank). This is a difficult task. User experience depends on many factors such as bandwidth and parallel tabs and processes, not just on the ad. Therefore, research needs to be done to establish the thresholds beyond which ads are likely to interfere with user experience. Publishers can’t do it alone; the ad-tech industry has to come up with the next generation of ad-monitor tools.

3.    As noted, it’s not solely up to publishers. Video ad-tech companies have to adjust as well. If a company is using client-side bidding it must limit the number of parallel client side calls and rely more on sequential call methods. With an investment in machine learning and predictive analytics, sequential methods can be almost as efficient as a parallel auction.

4.     Finally, video ad-tech companies have to steer away from client-side calls altogether. The main benefit of client-side calls is that the ad vendor can check the ad placement prior to bidding. From within the client, the ad vendor can verify the domain, the placement or player dimensions and make a real-time call to a fraud vendor. Instead, ad vendors will have to rely on the information passed on to the RTB ad request. Then, after the vendor has won the bid and the ad loads on the page, the ad-tech vendor makes sure the information passed was true and accurate.

Some ad-tech vendors are reluctant to make this change right now, as our industry is fraught with fraud. However, as we advance in the fight against fraud, we will also be able to start minimizing our impact on the user experience.

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