9 Ways to Design the Best Ad Ops Team in the World

Recently I was speaking with a friend who’s heading up a new digital publishing organization that’s taking their sales in-house, and they’re shopping for all the usual trappings of ad technology, as well as standing up an Ad Ops team from scratch.

At first I thought, “good luck with that!”, but then after some more serious thought, it occurred to me what a unique opportunity he had to build a world class organization.  After all, so many organizations started their Ops teams so long ago, and have entrenched platforms, and business lines to support that they probably wouldn’t work with today if they didn’t have to.

Starting a new team in this day in age still has all the downsides of inexperience, but all the benefits of learning from everyone else’s mistakes.  After all, how many of us in the Ops community haven’t thought at one time or another, “if I could just blow it all away and start from scratch…”, oh how we’d do things differently.

It got me thinking – what would the best Ad Ops team in the world look like? (more…)

Header Bidding Implementations in the Wild

My original header bidding articles have been read by over 10,000 people since I posted them in late June of this year, and one of the most common questions I got in the comments and on other channels was where to see a header bidding integration live on a real publisher.  At the time, there wasn’t much press on the topic, but in the past months AdExchanger, Digiday, BusinessInsider, and many other sites have posted articles, and publishers have come out to talk about their experience with the technology.  So now, there are lots of examples to look at to get a better understanding of what a header bidding call actually looks like, what information it returns, and how the header bid gets into the publisher ad server.

Fortunately, using the built in developer tools in either Chrome or Firefox, we can easily see if a given publisher is using header bidding technology by searching for ad tech domains and explore the details from each call.  All we need to do is check the header bidding response and the ad server request code to see what variables are passed as custom key-values (the custom_params variable specifically in DFP), which will tell us what partners are in place. You can even see how much marketers are willing to pay for your ad space. I was able to find an example integration for every header bidding integration available on the market today by looking at the sites who were quoted in press articles (specific sources are listed at the end of this post), and screenshot both the response code from the header bidder as well as the matching parameter in the call to the ad server.  Hopefully this helps everyone understand more tactically how header bidding actually works, and what to expect if you implement this technology for your own site.

Amazon A9

Example Publisher: HotAir.com

Domain: http://aax.amazon-adsystem.com/

Keyvalue: amznslots

From what I can tell, Amazon is by far the most common header bidding implementation.  It’s often the first one publishers seem to do, and it makes sense given Amazon offers a large amount of high value retargeting demand and is very picky where they buy, preferring private exchanges.

Amazon also has some interesting nuances to their implementation – for one, they pass a variable that combines a number of pieces of information in a single value.  The structure of the variable essentially describes either a display or mobile bid, a shorthand for the size being bid on, and an encoded price value.  So, ‘a3x2p9’ can be broken down into three sections: ‘a’ is the code for an display bid; in some cases you’ll see an ‘m’ instead.  ‘3×2’ is the shorthand for the 300×250 ad size, which in some cases is not abbreviated but written out long form.  Naturally you can expect to see ‘7×9’, ‘3×6’, ‘1×6’, and other common IAB standard values here.

Additionally, ‘p9’ means ‘price tier 9’, which refers to a rate that Amazon and the publisher have agreed upon in advance and isn’t necessarily the same value from publisher to publisher.  In other words, you can’t say that a p9 value on publisher A is worth the same as a p9 value on publisher B. In this way Amazon is the one header bidder that entirely obfuscates how they value a given impression.  Other header bidders integrate to the ad server using an arbitrary value like Amazon, but the exact price they are willing to pay is typically accessible in the raw JSON response.  Finally, Amazon tries to be very standardized in their implementation in that they always return the same number of bids on every page, even if the specific template doesn’t have an ad for every bid.

Amazon Header Bidding (more…)

Ad Blocking Benchmarks for Digital Publishers

Thanks to everyone who took the ad blocking survey last week! As promised, the results are posted below.

Ad Blocking Survey Design

There were 57 participants who took part in the survey over the course of ten days. I promoted the survey through various channels, including Twitter, LinkedIn, the Ad Ops subreddit, the AdMonsters forum, and naturally on this site. The survey itself was powered by SurveyMonkey. Here’s how it breaks down in terms of respondent referral source:
Ad blocking survey respondents

Because I also ran this survey as anonymous by design, I can’t make any statement about how many of these publishers are big, premium brands, and how many are smaller shops. That said, Ad Ops tends to be a community that serves larger publisher organizations so my expectation is that we’re looking at trends that reflect professional publisher organizations and not amateur shops.

Summary: Publishers Concerned, Ill-Prepared for Ad Blocking Impact

At best, the survey results show publishers are just starting to confront the issue of ad blocking; at worst, they show publishers as woefully unprepared and without much of a strategy.  Here are the highlights: (more…)

A History of Ad Tech Acquisitions

Today I’m publishing a list of over six hundred ad technology acquisitions as a resource going forward. You can read more about the methodology on how I decide what to include and what not to include on that page, but I will be keeping it up to date moving forward, adding companies each week as transactions happen.

Pulling this list together was a ton of work, but now that I have it, we can do all kinds of interesting analysis on the trends we’ve seen over the past 15+ years.

Overall Trends

No surprises here, there’s been an explosion of acquisitions as the market has grown and capital has been cheap.  Entirely new sectors were created during this timeframe; remember – there was no such thing as mobile ad tech in 2000, no such thing as video ad tech in 2002, no such thing as social ad tech in 2004.

ad technology acquisitions

The First Ad Tech Acquisition – LinkExchange

So far as I can tell from my research, Microsoft’s $265 million dollar purchase of LinkExchange was the very first ad tech acquisition – nearly 17 years ago! LinkExchange was the very first ad network model and figured out how to monetize the then-popular concept of a web-ring. For all you whipper-snappers out there, a web-ring is a cooperative effort by many publishers to link to each others’ sites in hopes of driving traffic. Usually, they popped up in common niches, so people who had a site about robotics, or space travel, or nature photography, or the New York Yankees would all put links to other related sites. LinkExchange figured out how to build a business off that concept by allowing publishers to promote their own site across a huge web-ring in exchange for serving paid, promotional links from LinkExchange every so often.  This was good for publishers because it gave them greater exposure, and was good for LinkExchange because it enabled them to create a platform that could reach a very large percent of the internet for advertisers.

LinkExchange is also notable because it was founded by Tony Hsieh, who went on to future greatness as a thought-leader in office culture, and the founder of Zappos which he sold to Amazon ten years after LinkExchange.

Early Years (1998 – 2007)

The early years of ad tech acquisitions are not well documented, so frankly I feel less good about my data, but the dot-com bubble that collapsed in March of 2000 likely put a damper on any significant transactions.  One that just squeaked by though was the NetGravity purchase by DoubleClick for a massive $530 million in 1999.   (more…)

The Display LUMAScape Explained

Ah, the LUMAscape, who in the digital marketing world doesn’t know it as an old friend at this point?

Display LUMAScape

First debuted in 2010 by the ad tech banker Terry Kawaja, the LUMAscape has been through many iterations at this point, adding companies, changing categories and noting acquisitions over the years.  From the very beginning this image was a hit with the digital marketing set as it provided a way to understand a complex industry, as well as a symbol for how difficult it is to work in a space so complex!  The LUMAscape was a great way for ad technology people to explain the growing industry within their own companies in a visual way, as well as understand how new companies were aligned and fit together. Kawaja & team’s image was also a solid way to understand what a whole lot of companies even did, so if you were say, shopping for a data management platform, you could get a quick sense who the four or five companies in the space were.  For Kawaja’s company, LUMA Partners, the LUMAscape was also a great way to show the sheer amount of fragmentation in the industry and possibilities for consolidation through acquisitions, on which his company specializes in advising.

Whatever the motivations, the LUMAscape is an iconic image in the digital marketing industry, and a must-know resource that Kawaja’s company has generously kept up to date for nearly five years now.  But the graphic itself only tells a high-level story and can oversimplify, as the LUMA Partner’s website readily admits, so I thought it could be useful to take this image down one more level and explain some of the nuances and sub-categories within each service.  This article describes what each category coves, what a lot of the companies on the LUMAscape actually do, as well as the differences between key services within specific categories.  For those that are new to the industry, I hope this post not only demystifies this graphic, but gives you a well-rounded sense of how the digital marketing industry functions, and for industry veterans who already know the basics there’s probably still a few things to learn. (more…)