MailOnline has been using header bidding, which lets multiple ad tech companies compete for its inventory simultaneously, for the last two years. It claims that programmatic revenue has risen 48 percent this year compared to the same period last year, on all display inventory sold using header bidding. It won’t reveal from what baseline, but against the challenging backdrop all publishers currently face, any increase at all is good news.

And it’s just as well. DMG Media, which owns the Daily Mail tabloid and website MailOnline (known as Dailymail.com in the U.S.), is the latest legacy media owner to announce a wave of eye-watering cuts across the business, which will see the back of 400 staff across the group. That said, the programmatic side of the business is likely to be left unscathed, given it remains in high demand from buyers, all pushing for more automated trading.

Like all new ad tech, header bidding isn’t without its headaches, and its future importance in programmatic ad trading is far from certain, but for MailOnline, it’s a keeper, for the time being at least. “It’s a stepping stone in the right direction,” said Hannah Buitekant, gm of programmatic for MailOnline.

Using it has also shed a load of ad server costs it previously had when using the more typical waterfall technique. “It used to cost me quite a lot in pass backs — the impressions that would get returned in the waterfall. Ad server costs were expensive,” she said.

The publisher is one of the more advanced users of the technique in the U.K. market, alongside eBay and Condé Nast, according Dan Owens, business development director of one of its longstanding header-bidding provider OpenX.

Part of that is down to the fact the publisher has staff with the right skill sets in its programmatic team. MailOnline has six full-time analysts that sit within its programmatic team and can test a lot of different solutions. Owens believes publishers need to hunt for developers who are commercially minded. “Publishers often inherit an ad server. That’s like opening a drawer with a load of wires which you don’t know how to connect,” he added. Not stepping on the toes of direct-sales teams, which have locked down impressions, is another challenge publishers face.

The publisher claims to be picky about who it works with. Anyone being welcomed into the header tag family is strictly vetted, said Buitekant. Demand partners need to have premium demand from advertisers, and decent heritage and relationships with agencies. “We don’t just whack anyone that has header bidding activated in, because it just makes my pages heavier,” said Buitekant. “It’s all about relationships,” she added.

That’s changed the relationship the publisher has with its vendors. It’s no longer good enough to discuss with publisher partners like MailOnline how it can use header bidding to increase revenues, conversations center much more on how header bidding will affect user experience, page-load speed, as well as yields, according to Owens.

“User experience is key thing for MailOnline, which has challenges with page-load speed because it’s so big,” said Owens. In the U.K., MailOnline gets 27 million monthly online visitors, and 72 million in the U.S, according to ComScore. “That means conversations with them are moving away from that of being a programmatic partner, to an tech partnership — acting as an adviser,” added Owens.

Yield bumps are as important to MailOnline as they are to any publisher, but Buitekant insists that sell-through rates are a more important metric for the publisher to monitor. Along with latencies or “time outs,” which refer to how long it takes for the ad to be returned to the publisher. “Are they holding the request longer than they should be, and how do they place it in the second-price auction — that’s what you need to look at. Then you check it against your site-load time: Is it efficient enough,” said Buitekant.

MailOnline keeps a strict eye on time-outs on ad requests to ensure they’re as speedy as possible. Currently, the publisher defers to the industry standard of about 1.5 to 2 milliseconds, but the plan is to drive those down further.

Currently header bidding is predominantly used for display ads, though OpenX is among the vendors that provides in-app header bidding services. MailOnline is keen to push for header-bidding tech to be extended to both its mobile in-app inventory, as well as video. “I also want to look at how we can get more done on the server side, not on our own sites, which slows things down. That’s our next priority,” added Buitekant.

Image: courtesy of Betfair.com. 

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