Author: Ben Kneen

History of the Ad Exchange Landscape Part I: Rise of the Ad Networks

In this new series of articles, I will try to explain the current landscape of digital advertising as it relates to remnant monetization from the publisher perspective.  Specifically, this series covers how publishers have sought to cope with a ever-fragmenting marketplace of remnant buyers and the upstart technology companies built to help them.  I think for anyone trying to understand the current marketplace of technology vendors, data companies, and yield optimizers, it helps to know the history.

Part I: Rise of the Ad Networks

Since most major publishers can rarely sell more than a fraction of the available ad inventory on their site with a direct sales team, they historically sold off whatever was left over to a handful of ad networks, or tried to monetize the unsold space with performance-based advertising, like Google AdSense.  This pile of unsold inventory was typically sold off at fire-sale prices, as little as 5 or 10% of what the publisher might charge for the exact same ad space on a direct buy from an ad agency.  Who bought it?  Well an advertiser eventually bought it, but through a type of company called an ad network.  Ad Networks were initially setup to aggregate a number of publishers together in order to provide advertisers with low cost ads that could reach a lot of people and had very aggressive ROI goals.  Basically, they were built for direct response advertisers who were trying to sell something.  While it seemed like a good idea at the time for publishers to hand off this inventory to a network – some revenue was better than no revenue, right? – this practice started to catch up with publishers.  Agencies decided that prices were so much cheaper on networks, and the quality was pretty much the same, they could get more bang for their buck by moving more of their budgets to the ad networks, including for brand advertisers, the bread and butter of publisher sales teams.  From the publisher perspective ad networks were supposed to help monetize their inventory, but ended up cannibalizing the efforts of their sales team instead.

It was great for the networks, publishers desperately needed them to monetize their unsold inventory, and the network could change a huge margin and still be much cheaper than buying from the publisher directly.  And even though technically networks were supposed to aggregate a few publishers together to dilute the value of the ad placement, there was so much inventory available that they didn’t really need to, especially if they could charge an advertiser a bit more money to run them exclusively to one site versus a handful.  The best part was you didn’t really need any infrastructure to start an ad network, just someone to call a bunch of publishers to aggregate some cheap inventory, and someone to call a bunch of advertisers, trying to sell that inventory.  It was easy!  So easy in fact that a few hundred sprang up over the course of just a few years.  Competition drives specialization, and that’s exactly what the networks did – they started to specialize in various levels of ad quality or audiences to differentiate themselves in the marketplace, and of course, maintain their high margins.

Read More –  History of the Ad Exchange Landscape Part II: Network Fragmentation and the Ad Ops Problem

SSPs, aka Supply Side Platforms

Supply Side Platforms, or SSPs as they are commonly known in the digital advertising community, are an emerging category of technology companies that are in the business of optimizing various types of advertising demand for publishers, including demand from traditional ad network as well as the newly-minted ad exchanges using real-time bidding.  Doubleclick AdX (formerly Admeld), Appnexus, and Rubicon Project are the largest and most commonly used Supply Side Platforms, though OpenX, Index Exchange (formerly Casale), PubMatic, Sovrn and others provide similar services.

Supply Side Platform Benefits

Publishers use Supply Side Platforms for three primary purposes:

  1. To bring unsold inventory to many ad exchange markets at once
  2. To manage the complexity of ad network relationships
  3. To provide a suite of tools and reports on both sets of demand.

By using a supply side platform to represent their inventory on an ad exchange, publishers are able to sell their impressions to the highest bidder, and access thousands of new advertisers that might not ever buy from the publisher directly.  The idea for publishers is that the more sources of potential advertisers, the more revenue they can make.  Ad exchanges also make it easy to sell a variable amount of inventory at any time to a long tail of thousands of advertisers.  Because machines instead of people handle every transaction, a publisher can just as easily sell 5 impressions to a small mom and pop shop as they can 5,000,000 impressions to a global brand.

In terms of network demand, Supply Side Platforms provide a programmatic way to deal with ever-changing network fill rates and yields.  For example, many publisher have a variety of ad network buying their inventory, but are in a situation where one network will pay a $2.00 CPM but only fill 20% of the time, another network will pay $1.00 CPM and fill 70% of the time, and a final network that will only pay $0.50 but fill 100% of the time.  Each ad network might also have requirements like maximums per day, only want impressions from specific geographies, and may have different levels of latency or discrepancies.  Instead of trying to manually figure out which order is best, SSPs provide technology that predicts which network will provide the highest effective yield when all factors are considered and then constantly adjusts which tag serves on a regular basis, usually every few minutes.  This solution limits latency, increases yield, and takes a huge burden off ad operations teams.  In fact, before the days of ad exchanges and real time buying, SSPs were called Network Optimizers and dealt exclusively with managing Ad Network relationships that the publisher already had.

Key Supply Side Platform Features

Supply Side Platforms are constantly expanding their capabilities, but at their core should provide a few key services.

  • Access to multiple sources of supply: Any publisher could easily sell their inventory on an ad exchange, but SSPs add value by connecting a publisher to a broader set of demand and auction the same impression across multiple ad networks and to buyers across on multiple ad exchanges simultaneously.
  • The ability to block certain advertisers from buying their inventory:  Publishers may not want to let certain advertisers buy their inventory for a variety of reasons – perhaps the site is family friendly and doesn’t want ads for beer & liquor companies, or wants to ensure their competitors can’t place ads on their site.  Supply Side Platforms should enforce these rules and preferences on the auction process.
  • The ability to set price floors: While the second price auction theoretically provides an efficient market and encourages advertisers to bid truthfully, in some cases the publisher may want to enforce higher prices on a particular buyer.  For example, a publisher might want to ensure that their existing customers can’t buy them more cheaply through an exchange than directly.
  • A suite of reports to enable the publisher to see who is bidding, what they are paying, and how much they are buying: reporting is a key for any SSP to understand who values their inventory, and what it is worth on the open market.
  • Knowledgeable service & support staff: the ad exchange ecosystem is a complex one, and publishers would do well to put a high premium on partnering with a platform that has the time and talent on staff to help advise them on how to approach this emerging market in a way that fits their overall business needs.

AdOps Guide – Pulling 3rd Party Ad Server Reports with Daily Breakouts

Pulling 3rd Party reports is one of the key reporting needs of any publisher ad operations group, unfortunately the publisher-facing reporting interface of most 3rd party ad servers isn’t terribly intuitive.  It can be particularly difficult to extract the daily breakout, which is key to troubleshoot discrepancy or implementation issues, and usually a required attachment to any official ticket to the ad server support team.

Often times, without being able to look at a daily breakout, it is difficult to understand if a large variance in delivery between a publisher’s ad server and an advertiser’s ad server has been a problem from the very start of the campaign, or perhaps only at a certain date when new creative was added, or perhaps when the publisher added a site release.

Therefore, I’ve created a guide below on how to build a report in the major 3rd party ad servers that provide a daily breakout of delivery.

This post covers how to pull a report showing delivery by day from the following 3rd party ad servers: DART for Publishers, Atlas DMT, Pointroll, Eyeblaster / MediaMind, Mediaplex, and Eyewonder.  I will update with others as I am able and if this post turns out to be helpful.

In DART –

Go to ‘Report Central

Select ‘Queries’

Under ‘Create New Queries’ select ‘Single Advertiser’

Select an Advertiser

Under ‘Main Criteria’ select ‘Daily’ in the ‘Breakdown’ section.

Under ‘Main Criteria’ add ‘Date’ as a selected field, along with any other fields you require, such as Advertiser / Placement / Campaign Name / etc.

Run the report

Creating a daily breakout in the DART Publisher interface

In Atlas –

Note: Atlas’s UI only functions in Internet Explorer.

Things are a bit easier in the Atlas UI – there is a canned report that will likely suffice.

Select ‘Publisher Reports’

Select ‘Publisher Daily Summary Without Subtotals’. Be sure to select this report and not the one above it labeled ‘Publisher Daily Summary’, which exports the data in a format that is difficult to manipulate any further in excel.

Run the report

Creating a daily breakout report in the Atlas Publisher Interface

In Pointroll –

Select ‘Analyze’

Select ‘Reports’

Select ‘New’

Select ‘User Defined’

Select your time frame and relevant metrics

Under ‘Aggregations’, move ‘Daily’ into the ‘Selected Aggregations‘ column, along with any other items you require

Select ‘Run‘ and On the ‘Run Report Options’ pop-up, select ‘Flat Data’ if you plan to manipulate the data in Excel with a pivot table, etc.

Creating a daily breakout in the Pointroll Publisher Interface

In Eyeblaster / MediaMind –

Note: Daily breakouts are only available in MediaMind on a campaign-specific basis, and only 45 days at a time.

Select ‘Analytics’

Select ‘Delivery Analysis’ from the ‘Analytics Reports’ section

Under ‘Data Resolution’ select ‘Days’

Run the report

Creating a daily breakout report in the Eyeblaster / MediaMind Publisher Interface

In MediaPlex –

About as easy as it comes, since there is only one report available to publishers.

Select ‘Reports’

Select ‘Site Delivery’

Under ‘Time’, select ‘date’

Run the reportCreating a daily report in Mediaplex MOJO Adserver

In Eyewonder –

Eyewonder’s reporting system looks complex, but really isn’t that difficult to use.

Select ‘Custom’

Under ‘Reporting Criteria’ select ‘Impressions’

Under ‘Breakdown Criteria’ select ‘By Date Range’, and then select ‘Breakdown by Day’ from the drop-down menu

Run the report

Creating a daily breakout in Eyewonder's Publisher Reporting Interface

 

Dynamic Creative Optimization – Where Online Data Meets Advertising Creative

Dynamic Creative Optimization Basics

Dynamic creative optimization is a relatively new technology to the online advertising space, but it is sure to see tremendous growth this year.  Why?  Because dynamic creative optimization allows marketers to put the right message in front of the right consumer.  It allows them to differentiate and custom-tailor ad creative to people using data, and it is extremely effective at increasing a campaign’s performance, almost to the point of suspicion.  Many case studies show an increase to CTR well above 100% vs. non-personalized creative, and decreases in cost metrics of 60 – 70%.  Combine these two metrics and the impact to ROI is usually eye-popping.

As we’ve written before, thanks to data marketplaces and real-time bidding through ad exchanges, marketers now have very powerful tools to reach a very precise audience on the web thanks to an explosion in consumer data.  Literally hundreds of companies are in the business of qualifying people into anonymous buying segments and reselling that intent data to marketers, who then use it to target those users with ads across the web.  So technology has allowed marketers to reach the right person at the right time with fairly impressive scale and pricing efficiency.  Powerful stuff to be sure, but what about the right message?  For example, if you knew about a single, 25 year old male in California who was in the market to buy a car, the last thing you want to show him is an ad for a minivan that performs well in the snow.  He’s probably much more interested in a hybrid car that can store a surfboard on its roof.  That’s a comically extreme example, but the point is that regardless of the targeting, marketers still need compelling creative. And dynamic creative optimization is where data meets the creative message.  It’s difficult to understate how exciting this technology is – placing the right ad in front of the right person and the right time is practically a holy grail for marketers and it looks as though the online advertising industry has figured out how to do it, or at least invented the tools to do it. (more…)

Tracking Billable Impressions and 3rd Party Discrepancies with Ad-Juster

The Problem with 3rd Party Discrepancies

It’s a sad fact that after more than a decade of innovation and growth in the digital display business, virtually nothing has been done to address the cost of 3rd party discrepancies on the industry.  As I detailed in my post on how 3rd party ad serving works, because Publisher ad servers and Marketer ad servers count an impression at a different point in the technical process, there is always a variance in the numbers, and reconciling those figures to cut an invoice is a manual, time-consuming process, and a huge administrative cost on the industry.  Discrepancies are typically around 10%, but can often exceed this, especially if there is a technical problem with the ad.  In virtually all cases however, publishers simply have to accept losses due to discrepancies as the cost of doing business.

Third party ad servers have never made it easy to address this issue.  Their publisher reporting tools are woefully inadequate and in some cases comically inefficient.  For example, the leading ad server, DoubleClick’s DART product, does not provide site level reports for publishers that allows them to see everything running on their site from that ad server, but only allows publishers to get reports advertiser-by-advertiser.  That means billing departments on every major online publisher spend days pulling hundreds of reports every month out of Dart alone. That means for most operations folks, a centralized reporting database that maps 3rd party delivery to local ad server delivery at the creative or flight level and updates automatically is practically a holy grail.

The Industry’s Response: An Impression Exchange

The IAB has recommended their own solution to address the matter via the Impression Exchange project, but I find the project fundamentally flawed.  For one, the technical process the IAB uses to centralize impression reporting between systems adds another call in the ad serving process and so creates a discrepancy on the discrepancy it reports.  Additionally, it has been very slow to win adoption by the ad servers – a year and a half in and DART is the only ad server currently on board.

Ad-Juster, The Superior Solution

A far better solution is for publishers to look at a company called Ad-Juster, which has created a way to centralize third party reports and map third party delivery against their internal flights down to the creative level.  Ad-Juster has essentially mapped the schema for every ad server reporting system, figured out how to pull large data dumps from every major third party ad server on a regular basis and map it with a unique identifier back to the third party tag running on a publisher’s local ad server.  In other words, it allows them to create a unified database across lots of systems. While the system is just a read-only version of the reporting you can get yourself, the speed and automation it brings to the table is very compelling for any large publisher.

Ad-Juster offers some canned reports that actually calculate the discrepancy between systems as well as some helpful filters that automatically email you a discrepancy report on flights that launched in the last three or five days for example, which allows operations staff to quickly catch implementation or technical issues.  Since you can monitor the entire network on a regular basis, it is easy to adjust the padding that most publishers add to client goals to makeup for an expected discrepancy.  You may very well find that some third parties track closer than others, so you can reduce the padding for those campaigns.  The reports are a boon to operations folks, but also extremely useful for billing departments.  Now the billing staff doesn’t have to spend all their time waiting in an ancient publisher-facing ad server UIs, they can push bills to clients faster.

The system isn’t perfect, especially if you run the same third party tags in multiple flights (the system can have a hard time attributing the right amount of third party impressions at the flight level in that case), but in most cases it offers tremendous benefits.  Recently Ad-Juster has partnered with Solbright and Fattail to push their data into those workflow systems, but they also offer an API for clients that want to push the data to proprietary systems.

Highly recommended for large publishers seeking reporting relief.