How To Choose A Server-Side Programmatic Partner

Header bidding has had a good run in its short life span. Publishers have used header-bidding tags to break out of the programmatic ad server waterfall, and gain more control over programmatic optimization. But there is a reason that many people in the digital advertising industry have insisted that it is merely a transitional technology, and that server side (or S2S) bidding will soon take its place, since the latter is faster and interferes less with consumer experience.

It is still early for server-side technology. And not all solutions on the market today are created equal. Smaller companies won’t offer as much demand, but might be more flexible when you ask for new integrations. Bigger partners like Google can wield too much power and not play well with others.

When selecting a partner, we carefully weighed the positives and negatives. For us, the largest problem with header bidding was on mobile. While header bidding was valuable for desktop, we decided not to add header bidding to mobile due to the strength of our other monetization efforts. Other publishers have told me header bidding is not very effective for their video advertising. We wanted to find a S2S offering that covered a larger share of our inventory.

When we set out to select the right partner, we also knew we wanted to improve page weight and load times, which is not a single lever to pull. There is a balance between optimal consumer experience and maximum revenue. Optimal load times are different on different channels and even for different page templates. We wanted a server-side solution that could quickly secure more bids from our partners on all different template types, including articles, galleries, listicles, and more.

When vetting various partners, we also weighed the benefits of using a platform that integrated with other exchanges and supply-side platforms.  Some platforms leverage existing agreements with exchanges to match their demand with your supply at a managed service fee.  This frees up internal development resources from maintaining connections or creating new partner integrations.  It allows developers to build new products and create revenue streams in other ways.

With this all in mind, we asked each vendor the following questions:
-- What exchanges are you currently integrated with?
-- Is there a fee for this service?  What’s the business model?
-- What development resources are required to implement, and how much maintenance is there required on our side?
-- What’s the average bid response rate? What timeouts do you suggest based on working with other publishers?
-- What level of transparency and reporting exists for publishers re: auctions?

It was immediately clear that fees, features and reporting vary widely across vendors. Publishers should evaluate partners across these elements and ask probing questions. Some vendors were more open to creating custom reporting, for example.  While one might seem to have a better fee structure, if they don’t have the right timing, or limited optimization capabilities, revenue could suffer. Of course, simply ensuring that all of the correct technical dimensions and data fields can be accommodated is another key factor to consider.

Ultimately, the best configuration is one that provides the greatest long-term return, and that includes both advertiser revenue and consumer engagement.

Premium brand advertisers may look at the digital advertising world as a vast untapped reservoir of audiences and ad placement, but for premium publishers it is just the opposite. We only have so much real estate, and so many people to engage. We want to get the most for our inventory, but we need to balance our choice across both revenue and consumer experience.

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