More partners, more problems. Keeping header bidding 'contained'

Sponsored content by OpenX

by Tim Sheets, Senior Director of Monetization, OpenX

Header-bidding is among the most novel mechanisms to allow for the integration of programmatic demand into a publisher’s ad server, so it’s critical to get it right. For publishers, the benefits of obtaining full and fair value for all ad inventory through a competitive programmatic marketplace is clear.

It stands to reason, therefore, that adding more header-bidding partners increases competition and maximizes yield. The downside is that managing all of the highly complex required integrations creates room for error as well as a need for increased oversight, making the rush to consider container solutions understandable. Theoretically, the benefits of container solutions are compelling— they purport to organize the chaos of multiple header-bidding partners, along with providing additional controls, to manage settings globally.

The reality, however, is that the promise of alleviating the challenges of managing multiple marketplaces falls far short of expectations. Publishers are best served by evaluating their current or potential container partners against a list of key performance indicators:
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Speed And User Experience
Speed of page load is the ultimate factor in determining a user’s experience, and therefore a top priority for publishers. In order to address slow page loads caused by multiple header tags, container solutions provide a timeout option that allows publishers to set timeout parameters for each individual header-bidding partner. Unfortunately, setting timeout thresholds doesn’t actually address the underlying issue of added weight brought to the page by each additional partner managed within the container. In fact, the container itself can actually increase the utilization of the browser’s capacity, further slowing down the page.

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 Operational and Technical Complexity

Header-bidding integrations, whether operating individually or via container solutions, are operationally taxing and technically intricate. While professing to do away with this complexity, in fact, containers have the potential to add an additional layer of technical challenges.

From a technical standpoint, each individual header-bidding partner’s code interacts with the publisher’s page as well as with each of the other header-bidding partners a publisher may use. Add to that the interaction of each partner with the container code itself. This additional layer of interaction often results in challenges that compromise the performance of one or many header-bidding partners, which negatively impacts the publisher’s ability to accomplish the inherent objective of maximizing yield.

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 Proven Stable Technology

Finding a reliable, trusted container solution that can scale with a growing business can be tough. Container solutions are fairly new innovations, and the most popular are built either as open source projects or by nascent tech companies. Given the increasing prominence of header-bidding in many publishers’ revenue strategies, and the potential to disrupt user experience, a publisher must be certain that any container solution they select is demonstrably stable over long periods of time, and has been proven to work successfully across a wide variety of implementations to cover the various potential scenarios that may be encountered. 

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Trustworthy and Transparent Partner

All third party containers must operate with complete transparency. By passing all data/bids through to the ad server it’s possible to ensure fair play. However, not all containers default to this standard. A number of containers conduct an auction among the header-bidding partners, and then only pass the single winning bid into the ad server. Put simply, this means the container has the potential to favor one partner over another, limiting yield, and the publisher would never be the wiser. Outside of defending against this potential for nefarious behavior, constraining the data passed into the ad server also limits the insight into each partner’s performance that is available to the publisher. The fact is, that header-bidding emerged as a way to level the playing field, opening up access to a closed system, putting the publisher firmly back in control. Publishers must ensure that their container solution contributes to this goal rather than hinders its achievement.

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Ad Quality Safeguards

Ensuring compliance with ad quality standards is always a concern for
publishers, and with more partners competing for inventory, the risk of an undesirable ad slipping through increases. Because containers currently in the market don’t have insight into the creative that each partner is going to serve in advance of the ad actually being served, they cannot proactively block bad ads. Without such a capability, containers don’t make it any easier to prevent malicious ads from appearing on a publisher site. Rather, publishers are left to manage ad quality within each individual header-bidding partner’s system.

A robust and comprehensive container solution should ease the burden to the publisher by adding an additional layer of ad quality protection, ensuring only appropriate ads are served on a publisher’s inventory.

There is a better way

By operating as client-side solutions, current containers will inherently fail to completely address these challenges. The time has come for a new solution — a server side container. Server side solutions revolutionize the container concept transferring all the activity from the user’s browser to the container’s servers, solving for the intrinsic deficiencies of a client side solution. Historically, RTB followed a very similar progression, starting out as a client side implementation before moving to what is now the server side standard to address many of the same challenges associated with client side container solutions.

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Proven technology, minimizing activity on the user’s browser, leveraging widely adopted industry standards, increased publisher controls and insight, and transparency is what will power the next generation of ‘smart’ container solutions to further help publishers accomplish their objective of maximizing yield while enhancing their relationship with users.