Header Bidding – Build vs Buy
How to Maximize Your Website’s Earnings
For anyone wishing to monetize their site with display advertisements, what seems like a simple task can lead down some very complicated rabbit holes. It’s important to understand that all display advertising is run on an auction basis, but not all auctions are equal. The industry is comprised of many ad exchanges all trying to win access to your site’s ad inventory. Structuring this demand effectively requires technology and know-how to achieve the highest earnings.
Let’s explore the options…
Using only Google
The simplest and most common way to monetize your website once you’ve decided to include ads is to sign up for a Google AdSense or Ad Manager account. There you will be able to define the ad slots you wish to include on your pages and pull code that will immediately start rendering advertisements. As long as you abide by Google’s rules, you will have a long term revenue partner that will continue to monetize your site for you for years to come.
Unfortunately, there are some challenges with this approach. The first being that you are entirely at the mercy of Google. There are countless cases where Google has paused ad fulfillment and withheld payment without giving anything other than a vague violation notice. Unless you are a very large publisher, you’re not likely to ever get a response on why your ads were deactivated. You’re even less likely to get paid.
The second major issue with Google is that when they are the only entity buying your ads, they decide what they are worth. Over time, your earnings will stagnate and may even decline. With no competition, there is no incentive to pay more.
Auction vs waterfall
The easiest method to start introducing competition to Google is to work with various Ad Networks to introduce additional demand sources.
Many ad networks will purchase your ad inventory at an attractive flat rate, and pitch you on being the best solution to monetize 100% of your traffic. What they really mean is that they will serve an ad whenever they have a campaign for it, but will otherwise pass the traffic back to your designated “Passback Tag” or back-fill the inventory with their own Google account.
What many people do to glean the most from this scenario is to line up several networks in what is called a Waterfall. Each network gets a chance to serve as long as they are above an established price floor. If they fail to exceed the floor, they must pass the traffic to the next network who then attempts to monetize before hitting their own floor. While this method does help increase revenue, it isn’t the best model because a network further down the waterfall may actually have the highest price, but never have a chance to pay it because a network in front of them serves instead. Additionally, this method causes increased ad latency and drops in ad fill with each jump between tracking platforms.
Because of this, the industry created a better method that allowed all networks AND Google to all bid equally so that only the true highest bid wins rather than the first high bid in the waterfall.
Header bidding has now become the most popular method for delivering the highest earnings for publishers who wish to monetize their sites with Display ads. However, not all header bidding is the same just as not every auction house will yield the best results for a seller of vehicles or fine art. It’s all a matter of who you have in the auction.
There are hundreds of potential Bidders to choose from. If you have too many bidders, the auctions will take too long for an ad to render in time and can slow down your page load. Too few and you lose out on revenue. Choose the wrong ones and you’ll definitely see lower results. Additionally there are many different ways to structure the auction for the best result. How are you going to build your price buckets? What are you going to use for timeout settings? How will you deliver the wrapper and bidder logic on page? And many more…
To truly earn the most from your ads through Header Bidding takes time, experience and maintenance. The question is whether you want to staff accordingly and take that on for yourself or partner with someone to do it for you.
Options for using Header Bidding
Out of the box solutions
There are many commoditized companies out there for Header Bidding. Most of these solutions have found a way to achieve scale by doing the minimum to set up bidders for new sites in a nearly automated cookie-cutter fashion, with minimal regard to the site itself or its own unique values or category. Customization is minimal and usually requires a fee to be paid. Additional ad products to compliment display and match your site are non-existent.
Furthermore, it is rare that these out of the box solutions specialize in any particular vertical/category. Ad operations, trafficking and Ad Sales are also rare for these companies, so you’re getting results based on the sum total of all the remnant network demand rather than boosts from Direct Sold deals.
Build your own
Building your own Header Bidder requires multiple levels of expertise. You will need a team who can build the wrapper, figure out the best bidders to utilize, make those connections and review those contracts, build unique ad slot IDs for each bidder, test configurations, optimize partners over time, make new connections, build more IDs, and update the bidder code as new versions or regulations are released. Line item priority settings need to be managed too, which requires the knowledge of how those settings impact the auction, yields, and header bidding.
This is further compounded by Private Marketplace Deals (PMPs) which could have negative impacts on total earnings instead of gains if set up incorrectly, due to how they operate with the open auction in terms of priority.
Ads.txt is another item that requires constant updating and compliance. Each bidder has a constantly evolving file that must be incorporated to maintain the highest levels of demand. One must also be careful to make sure only valid entries are added and that the lines are inputted correctly. Often bidder partners will send their files with notations that they are a direct source of your inventory when really they should be labelled a reseller thus diluting your sales teams ability to sell direct deals at top rates. Formatting issues and incorrect domain URLs combined with incorrect certification IDs are also common issues.
Size also matters. Depending on your website’s audience, it is possible you won’t qualify for some of the better bid partners, or if you do, you will be paid a lower rev share until your site scales.
Reporting will be a challenge. None of these platforms are connected directly and some do not even have APIs for your developers to use. There are quite a few independent analytics companies that can build a functioning system for you, but their cost may surpass your earnings.
The industry still has issues with Fraud that you will need to watch out for. There are always bad actors looking for ways to spread Malware, or who display highly inappropriate ads. Best practices for maintaining ad quality and preventing malware is another item that comes from years of experience and knowing who the likely culprits are.
Regulation is another matter that will take up your time. Several times a year the industry regulators come out with new compliance standards that need to be incorporated into your ad business. Maintaining compliance standards & adjusting to new updates takes both legal and dev resources.
Building your own header bidder means you still need a team to sell and traffic your own ad campaigns. This involves hunting down brands and agencies, multiple sales calls and meetings and often attending shows or visiting prospective clients in person. Then you need a team to build and traffic the campaigns when they are finally sold. They must be experts in both building direct campaigns as well as negotiating and setting up Private Marketplace deals through each of the various ad exchanges that make up the header bidding auction.
At a minimum, a typical staff would need to include: at least one full-time programmer, a skilled and versatile ad ops professional experienced with header bidding, use of your legal team, an ad sales team and use of your accounting team who would need to pull totals from up to 15 systems to invoice every month.
Knowledge around how to optimize placements, how to load the bidder stack, solving for latency, how to avoid campaign trafficking issues, best practices for increasing competition, best practices for campaign trafficking and more only come from experience, and experience means higher salaries and overhead that eat into your ad revenue.
Probably one of the best parts of a custom built solution is that you are working with a full team that represents you and your site rather than a pre-canned solution. Instantly, you gain a team with years of experience right out of the gate.
A typical relationship starts with a full site audit that will look at the entire website design, layout, user flow and more to determine the best ad types and placements for the site.
From there the custom approach continues by selecting bid partners that match the site’s specific niche. Much like an out of the box solution, a custom wrapper already has hundreds of relationships with the best bidders. Approvals are conducted quickly and the site gains from being under the umbrella of the wrapper, thus bypassing volume restrictions and benefiting from higher margin relationships.
This leads to rapid deployment of the bidder with a typical turnaround of under two weeks start to finish. The integration is incredibly simple with a single line of sitewide script followed by code for each placement. Once integrated, all maintenance and upkeep are handled by the partner leaving your dev team to focus on your own website and products.
Perhaps one of the more significant elements with a custom solution is that it often includes an entire ad sales team. This team will learn your site and it’s specific offerings and include your opportunities in all the relevant pitches to the many Brands and Agencies already active and in the queue. This significantly increases revenue unique to your site whether from a directly managed deal or a Private Marketplace set up.
Working with a custom team also means working with someone who understands your quality goals and concerns. Ad Quality protection is an important component to protecting your brand and keeping your users happy.
Cordless Media Specifically
With Cordless media, you have a team with 16 years experience in the online ad world and more than 5 years of header bidding research and development.
Our Real Estate focused ad stack has been tested and refined over the last 5 years. All communication with bid partners and every useful update is included with our service. Same goes for all bidder ID generation, storage, and upkeep. Given our size as a network, our rev share with Google AdX is more favorable than if you were to work with them directly. We even have work arounds for ad blockers so you can keep your inventory from being sabotaged.
Since our focus is exclusively on Real Estate, we have many more direct sold relationships with brands and services that match your consumer’s needs than our competitors. We are also finely tuned to block sensitive categories and competitors unique to the real estate vertical. Additionally, we’ve built several other ways to monetize your listings beyond simple display ads including Home Services Widgets and Mortgage Centers.
Any time we’ve been tested against other full solution providers we’ve come out on top in both quality of service and revenue produced. This includes some of the largest well known bidder/exchange platforms and custom wrappers.
We are 100% focused on long term success and operating with the highest integrity. Our team is well versed in all the nuances of our technology and our industry. Our boutique size and focused client base allows us to test quickly and pivot rapidly when needed all while providing a level of service reflecting our commitment to you as a team member and partner in revenue.
Your brand’s longevity is paramount. We take care to ensure a positive user experience by employing additional services to consistently scan all ads to monitor for bad actors. Our focus on quality ensures that your long term growth is never compromised by short term gains from poor ad practices. Our revenue model is tied to yours, so our goals always align.
We start every partnership with a full site audit where we provide you with optimized ad placements and best practices. Then we build a custom ad stack specifically for your site to maximize visual appeal and earnings. Despite the ease of implementation, we work hand in hand with your team to test each placement before launch.
With Cordless you gain tried and tested technology and a team of experts at a fraction of the overhead.
All said and done, it comes down to the following considerations.
If you want the easiest albeit fully self-serve solution, go with Google AdSense (or Google AdX if you qualify), or an out of the box header bidder. You won’t get the best earnings but you can have it up and running quickly and usually get access to some nice analytics dashboards.
For higher revenue and better service, work with a custom wrapper provider. If they are worth your time, they will perform a site audit to advise on best placements and practices and then provide you with code to implement. Most likely, they will be limited to only display ads and probably won’t specialize in your specific niche. It’s also likely that post integration, your support team will be a ticket system.
As a real estate publisher, you won’t find a better partner than Cordless Media. We say this as humbly as possible with years of results to back it up. With Cordless you will achieve the highest earnings with minimal effort and top notch service. We provide a variety of solutions and work directly with your design team to find the perfect balance of monetization and user experience. Our company is focused on a select group of clients, not taking over the world, so our ability to adapt to and specialize in what you offer is not sacrificed for efficiency and scale. When we partner with you, our goal is to be as much a part of your team as if you hired us as employees. Ultimately, that is what you are doing. Our goals, our work, our efforts all align with your success.
For more information on monetizing your real estate site, contact us today!