An ABC of Header Bidding

If you are a publisher, or a marketer for a publisher, you have certainly paid attention to programmatic ads in the last few years.  The rising demand for programmatic advertising has also put a spotlight on header bidding, an adtech auction protocol meant to increase the usage of ad inventory. Header bidding addresses the complexity of programmatic advertising, giving publishers better profitability from dynamic advertising inventory demand.

Header bidding works by alerting ad exchanges that an impression on a publisher site is available to be filled with an ad. The ad exchanges are alerted simultaneously, leading to simultaneous bidding for a given ad inventory at a given instant.

This differs from how digital ads have traditionally been served. Most ad inventory is treated as a series of availability conditions – if ad space is available, for example, an ad exchange will bid for that space. Another exchange would bid when the previous bid had been considered and rejected; then the next exchange in a similar fashion; and so forth. Industry insiders call this approach a “waterfall.” But the end result has been limited ability to fill available spaces. 

That limitation was critical for ads that appear in the header. The header of a page is coveted territory. Ads apprearing there usually attract a reader’s eye when a page first loads. But space in the header is limited.

Header bidding assesses changing availability conditions upfront to reduce the latency in bidding associated with a “waterfall” arrangement.  This permits publishers a better buy/sell flexibility to match inventory opportunities to a variety of ad requests. This helps maximize personalization for a visitor and profitability for publishers.

Header bidding offers publishers particular value in getting visibility into their network.  By allowing multiple ad exchanges to bid on a sole impression, the publisher gains a better view of the ad exchanges it is conducting business with. That information can improve the customer experience by increasing the likelihood that the ads are contextually relevant to the publisher’s content.    

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when deploying header bidding in your marketing plan:

  1. Some header bidders are essentially an open source JavaScript script.  Since JavaScript is a language familiar to web developers, marketing teams or agencies with developer resources can implement and manage a bidder element just like any website element, eliminating a stretch in resources and budget.
  2. Many companies offer publishers header-bidding technology packaged as a tech stack.  Notable options can range from vendors such as AppNexus to open source frameworks like PubFood.js from YieldBot.
  3. When header bidder is installed on a page, developer teams should verify that other scripts in the head of the page do not adversely affect page load. The verification ensures that interference among the scripts is avoided.
  4. Publishers should also monitor a bidding partners’ performance. Publishers should look for response rate, bid rate, and win rate metrics.  These indicate if the program is yielding meaningful results.           

Header bidding has been mainstream for a few years, but a variation of it, called server-to-server header bidding, is on the horizon. Server-to-server header bidding fills ad inventory dynamically in the same way as the page-header arrangement I described (which is technically called client-to-server header bidding). 

But the difference lies in how the call from the publisher page is sent. A single call goes to a separate third-party server that, in turn, calls the ad exchanges. This reduces the page load concerns as well as addressing bidding latency.

A publisher’s main mission is to maximize ad inventory.  Programmatic advertising has made that mission complex for publishers.   But by placing advertisers in front of their desired audience, header bidding is helping put publishers a step closer to mission accomplished.

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