How Publishers Can Improve Header Bidding Performance with Prebid

Mike Chowla
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The contraction in ad revenue that most publishers are experiencing due to the COVID-19 pandemic and associated economic disruptions has many publishers thinking about how to improve their ad stacks to boost ad yields.

Prebid has been enormously successful in providing publishers a flexible, transparent, and open-source header bidding solution.

Indeed, according to Adzerk’s Header Bidding Index, Prebid is the base code for 72% of all header bidding wrappers found in the Top 10K US and UK sites.

In this uncertain environment, I’m hearing both from publishers who are looking to switch to Prebid from another heading bidder solution and from publishers rethinking how to manage their current Prebid implementations often due to needing to operate with reduced staff.

For publishers looking to make improvements to header bidding setups, here are three areas to consider:

Consider a managed service

Prebid is an amazingly flexible piece of software and that extensibility means it can satisfy almost every publisher’s needs — and present more considerations during implementation.

Publishers with developers who are knowledgeable about ad monetization and have a skilled ad ops team are well-positioned to implement Prebid themselves and do it well. But even with the skills in-house, does it make sense for publishers to go the do-it-yourself (DIY) route, implementing and maintaining Prebid themselves?

I’ve talked with publishers who have done complex custom implementations that are optimized to their unique needs. Publishers who are willing and able to do that level of customization get added benefits from a DIY route. However, many publishers have more standard Prebid implementations, and going the DIY route can consume a large amount of developer time that can otherwise be allocated to other priorities.

There are vendors who offer Prebid managed service products. Working with a vendor gives publishers access to deep expertise built up over many implementations. Additionally, most managed service offerings have features that ease both initial implementation and maintenance.

One of those common features is easy upgrading to new Prebid versions. Otherwise, doing these version upgrades yourself often becomes a maintenance headache. And as a result, publishers frequently defer upgrades, which hurts monetization as they are missing the latest features and optimizations of Prebid.

Another common managed service feature is analytics, which helps publishers understand and improve their performance. Without robust analytics functionality, publishers are missing the data they need to optimize their Prebid implementations.

Every vendor (including myself) wants to tell you why their managed service offering is the best.

One piece of impartial advice I’d like to offer publishers considering a Prebid managed service is to use one from a vendor who is a member of Prebid.org.

Member companies have all agreed to Prebid.org’s Wrapper Code of Conduct, which establishes standards to ensure auctions are fair and transparent. Prebid.org maintains a list of managed service offerings by member companies.

Get ready for server-to-server

Prebid.js offers the option to send bids to demand partners directly from the browser, often referred to as client-side or via Prebid Server, also known as server-side or server-to-server. Prebid Server’s first release was back in 2017 but adoption was slow at first.

Several recent developments have increased the popularity of Prebid Server. Prebid Server now has 65 bidders available so publishers have a wide number of demand partners available. Perhaps the most important development is that the benefits of faster page renders have become apparent. Reducing ad load time means both higher viewability scores and a better user experience.

Having to call multiple bidders directly from the browser slows down page loads; Prebid Server, on the other hand, makes a single call, which then pings all bidders serve-side.

The biggest concern for publishers about switching to server-side bidding is addressability and revenue impacts, as cookie match rates are slightly lower with server-side bidding; a result of an additional cookie sync being needed between each bidder and the Prebid server.

As the end of third-party cookies on Chrome is less than two years away (and already exists on Safari), the match rate benefit of client-side bidding is going away anyway.

Once cookies disappear, server-side bidding will likely eclipse client-side bidding given its speed.

Publishers can of course run their own Prebid Server but running a service in the cloud is yet another task for publisher’s operations teams to take on. Most services offer a hosted Prebid Server offering which is another reason to seriously consider a managed service.

Experiment with identity providers

The upcoming end of third-party cookies means publishers need alternative mechanisms to help advertisers find their audiences. There’s uncertainty about how many of the basic building blocks of ad campaigns (including targeting, bid optimization, frequency capping, and attribution) will work in the post-cookie world. Prebid is helping publishers prepare for the post-cookie future by offering identity modules that connect to identity providers. As of this article’s publication, there are already 10 modules available in Prebid, and there will be more in the future.

Although there’s a lot of speculation and punditry about what ad tech will look like in 2022, when the cookie completely disappears, no one can predict with any certainty what exact actions publishers should do today to prepare for it.

The best way to future-proof your ad stack is to start testing identity solutions now.

Different identity solutions will make sense for different publishers. Publishers who have a large percentage of their traffic with authenticated users are likely to see value in the identity providers that leverage logged-in user identifiers. There are also likely to be regional differences, with identity vendors being stronger in different geographic areas.

Getting started now in trying out the various identity solutions available through Prebid is the best way to prepare for the cookie-less future.

Share your Prebid perspective

Have you made any of these header bidding improvements — or do you have experience with Prebid? Click the link below to share your thoughts with the Ad.Product community on LinkedIn.

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Mike Chowla

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