May 12, 2017 Last Updated 10:08 am

Header bidding and digital content: New realities and new challenges for publishers

Guest column: In the second of a two part series from Joe Alderson, Director of Ad Operators for Valnet, recommends digital content and advertising strategies in the new competitive environment

Now that header bidding has quickly become a standard practice for maximizing the ad value of digital content, digital publishers are faced with the challenge of updating and revising their content placement strategies.

The emergence of new programmatic header bidding platforms and players in the past two years has been a needed change for the industry, but it also has created more work for content creators and publishers. Recently, AdExchanger.com described 2016 as “the year that header bidding crossed over and became a disruptive force in the ad industry.”

There’s a lesson for digital publishers in this new competitive bidding marketplace: Be constantly on your toes. Content bidding is now more real time and more demanding – but it is capable of delivering more valuable results on the other side.

In waterfalling’s wake…

As a backdrop, the once near-universal process of relying on Google’s DoubleClick for Publishers (DFP) platform for positioning digital content, and Google’s AdSense platform for pairing advertisers with targeted content, has been upended by new (non-Google) platforms and new technologies.
Instead of Google dominating the bidding process for prime content and then filtering (or “waterfalling”) remaining content to other advertisers at rates based on historical data, new programmatic header-bidding platforms now index available content in real time, unifying the bidding process and making it more competitive for all publishers and advertisers.

Some of the new header bidding players are start-ups or smaller firms, while others are larger or well-established technology, advertising or digital companies (e.g., AOL, Amazon, Sovrn) that realized the potential of competitive header bidding when it first emerged several years ago. At Valnet, for example, we rely on a smaller Montreal company, District M, for programmatic bidding.

In this new bidding environment, publishers gain more flexibility in where to place their content, and they encounter fewer instances of rebidding the same content. They can take advantage of more predictability and less behind-the-scenes complexity as they offer their content to advertisers. They can be more confident in their placement choices because ad rates are offered in real time, not based on historical averages.

Key steps for content and ad strategies in this new environment
Digital content and advertising strategies in this new competitive environment are not easy, and our company has worked for 18 months or more to align and fine-tune our strategies – and it’s still a work in progress. Today, digital publishers must devise more detailed strategies, especially if their content themes, formats and topics vary widely and include multiple target audiences. What we’ve learned is this:

  • First, create a profile for the advertisers and placements that are best suited for your content. Know where and how you are mostly likely to bid content, and build your strategy around the profile. If the profile changes, update the strategy. If your content themes, formats and topics vary greatly across different properties, build flexibility into your profiles and strategies, and update them frequently.
  • Determine which route you will use to leverage these new technologies and bidding platforms. Your strategy will be based on a number of factors, including how large your company is, the scope of your advertising stack, the partners with whom you want to maintain relationships, and partners with whom you might make other agreements as other opportunities arise.
  • Learn from your mistakes and stay sharp. If you have not updated your content placement and advertising skills since learning about DFP and AdSense, update them quickly. The industry has changed dramatically in recent years, represented by new players, new platforms, new formulas and new technologies that give publishers a lot more flexibility and choices. But publishers and those tasked with content placement must understand the nuances of the process and find the platforms that best fit their needs. For example, you might have to be faster, more nimble or informed by different strategies or even different types of content, depending on your goal or desired revenues.
  • Be sure to include content creators and editors in strategy planning, profiling and processes, so they know from the start how to write, optimize, design and position copy for optimum online placement and results.

Yes, header bidding has been a disruptive force in digital publishing and advertising as of late, but it is here to stay. Digital publishers who survive in this new environment will do their best to keep up with industry trends and learn the ins-and-outs of the latest platforms, technologies and bidding strategies that will position their content in front of the largest audiences and bring in optimum revenues.

Joe Alderson is Director of Advertising Operators for Valnet, a digital publisher that owns nine websites and a YouTube business, including The Sportster, BabyGaga, The Talko, The Richest, The Things, CBS, The Clever, The Gamer and Little Angel. He can be reached by email here.


Joe Alderson’s previous column, The Formula for Digital Publishing Success: Flexibility, Vigilance and a Focus on Value, can be found here.

Home Page Photo: Typing by Hillary used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

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