Ad Serving 101: Where Advertisers Meet Publishers
Ad serving is a combination of technology and services that place ads on the website, mobile app, CTV or any other digital platform. It includes the range of functions from delivering ads and targeting users to ad performance reporting and optimizing campaigns based on the results. Previously, we described the key components of the programmatic ecosystem.
To choose the most effective way of monetizing the inventory or buying audiences at scale, it is vital to understand which adtech solutions will better fit your business model and goals.
The appropriate solution for publishers depends on the size, traffic volume, integrations and partnerships. Large-scale publishers need a comprehensive solution to manage various segments of their ad inventory and audiences, while small publishers are better off with a more basic solution. Similarly, there are distinct ad serving models for a single advertiser, and for the agency that represents multiple brands.
For this reason, we are going to explore various connections between publishers and advertisers and break down SaaS products and technical solutions that can accommodate them.
Technical ad serving solutions
Ad tags are used both for programmatic media buying and direct ad serving.
How do ad tags work?
- An initial ad tag is generated by the ad server. It’s installed on the web page to deliver ad requests to adserver.
- When a user lands on a website, the browser sends the ad tag with information about the user and ad placement to the ad server.
- The ad server may forward the request to DMP to get more information about the user and show the right ad.
- The ad server checks if the request matches with current ad campaigns or gets bids from external DSPs if connected.
- Adserver defines the most appropriate ad to be shown (decision made by auction or priority model)
- Finally, the ad server returns the creative to be served to the user.
This is a simplified process of ad serving that usually happens in direct media buying. Yet, publishers can also add the partner supply-side platform (SSP) in the interface of the primary ad server to sell remnant traffic and connect additional monetization sources.
SSP adds the publisher’s ad space to the list of inventory available for sale. When a user visits the publisher’s website, the ad tag passes the ad request to the SSP, informing it about the user and his characteristics, to match it with the appropriate ad from the advertiser.
Video advertising ad tags (VAST and VPAID)
Ad tags used for video ad serving have to be more specific than the regular tags for banner ads. Just a few years ago, the advertiser who wanted to display a video ad, had to check if their video serving protocol was compatible with the publisher’s ad player. However, since then, the industry has moved toward standardization eliminating redundant work.
Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) has developed a unified protocol for video ads – Video ad-serving template (VAST). Now, ad tags for video-surfing have to comply with VAST. This industry-standard eliminated the cumbersome and time-consuming synchronization and enabled advertisers to serve video ads across a multitude of publishers’ sites.
VAST by itself supports only relatively simple in-stream video formats and doesn’t provide capabilities for interaction.
For this reason, IAB introduced Video Player Ad Interface Definition (VPAID) – a common communication protocol between video players and ad units, enabling diverse interactive in-stream ad experience. This shared interface allows advertisers to have more control over their video campaigns. VPAID is turning obsolete because it is highly susceptible to fraud. The advertising market is gradually abandoning this protocol and searching for new industry standards.
Audio advertising ad tags (DAAST)
Audio advertising exists in various environments and previously faced issues with adopting programmatic due to the fragmented nature of this market. For this reason, IAB released Digital Audio Ad Serving Template (DAAST), an industry-standard for video ad serving. DAAST defined the principal guidelines for audio ad delivery, reporting, and attribution for major platforms and devices.
DAAST laid down the groundwork for scaling this ad format across various environments, by filling the gaps in the ad serving infrastructure. For instance, it addresses the needs of mobile audio apps and in-car radios where access to a web browser is limited, which complicates ad and play tracking functionality.
To adopt DAAST, publishers need to comply with its requirements, and support linear ads and optionally companion ads, ad pods, or skippable ads.
OpenRTB is a method of sequentially selling the publishers’ inventory, requesting demand sources in turns. OpenRTB connects to the publisher’s website via SSP platforms through the system of endpoints. RTB endpoints are locations in the publisher network that connect it to the programmatic ecosystem. Publishers conduct a series of real-time auctions until all of their ad inventory is sold.
Publishers offer the inventory in series to the demand partners according to the yield from previous actions, or in a predefined order.
OpenRTB works via the second-price auction model. The winning bidder pays the price offered by the second-highest bidder plus $0.01.
Header bidding is a programmatic buying method that enables publishers to simultaneously collect multiple bids from a number of demand sources on all of their ad inventory prior to a sale. In header bidding instead of the separate auction for each demand partner, ad exchanges can bid at the same time in the wrapper on the web page. Header-bidding uses a more straightforward first-price auction model.
The prebid connection is implemented through a header wrapper, which is installed into the page code. It significantly speeds up the ad serving process.
A header wrapper is not a single tag, but rather a repository of tags. With the ordinary ad tag, you would have to alter the code each time you add a new demand partner, but not with the header wrapper. A header wrapper significantly simplifies the management of the demand partners for publishers. The technology organizes buyers and sets up timeout rules for the RTB auctions and collects multiple bid responses.
The open-source header wrapper technology was developed by Prebid.org, a nonprofit organization, creating adtech solutions. Based on the wrapper, Admixer created its own solution, which by default, has an adapter connecting it to HB demand from Admixer.SSP.
Each time a page loads, demand sources can bid on each impression on that page, even if some or all of the inventory has already been sold through direct deals between an advertiser and the publisher.
There is also a hybrid model that merges features of header-bidding and OpenRTB to maximize yield from each impression. The server initiates the OpenRTB second-price auction and then conducts the Header Bidding first-price auction.
The winning bids compete in an additional auction that determines the best price offer. The hybrid model increases the chances of getting higher bids and amplifies monetization. To deploy hybrid model, publisher need to insert Admixer tag directly into their website
Ad SDK for in-app advertising
In-app ad spaces need a different type of connection. To connect a mobile application to an ad network, publishers need to implement an Ad SDK (Advertisement Software Development Kit). It is a software library that is incorporated into the app to enable ad networks to serve ads.
Additionally, instead of cookies, for in-app ads, advertisers employ user-resettable identifiers provided by the mobile device’s operating system, AdID for Android and IDFA for Apple.
Those IDs allow media buyers to match their user profiles with the impression received from the publisher.
Mobile advertising IDs work similarly to cookies and enable advertisers to measure the performance of their campaigns effectively, track user activity, and facilitate attribution, frequency capping, and re-marketing.
How publishers and advertisers connect to the programmatic ecosystem with Admixer
Publishers and advertisers can start trading traffic by connecting to the programmatic ecosystem. Depending on the type of business and its scale, they should use different technical solutions:
Small and medium-sized publishers
SaaS solution: ad server Admixer.Publisher
Connection via: ad tags (VAST/DAAST/JS) and header bidding
Buying method: waterfall or header bidding for sale of the inventory
Small publishers that want to start serving ads, but don’t need the functionality of the ad network need an ad server, for instance, Admixer.Publisher. It is a full-scale solution for impression monetization from direct ad sales and ad exchanges.
Admixer.Publisher has a free plan for small publishers. Want to give it a try?Try for free
With ad server, publishers connect to advertisers via ad tags and/or header wrapper and sell their inventory via water-falling or header bidding. They have to set up campaigns and upload creatives manually. Ad server provides limited options for trading inventory programmatically and automating ad placement and creatives adjustments.
Large-scale publishers, ad networks, and media houses
SaaS solution: Enterprise-level ad management solution Admixer.Network
- for connection with publishers: ad tags (JS and VAST tags) and header bidding;
- for demand integration: direct campaign creation by uploading creatives or adding external tags; connection to DSPs (own partner demand providers – DSPs/SSPs or/and Admixer.SSP) via OpenRTB protocol and header bidding.
Buying method: programmatic buying methods
Large-scale publishers, ad networks, and media houses need diverse options for selling and monetizing their inventory – more comprehensive capabilities of the Admixer.Network.
In this solution, network owners can set up self-service individual trade desks for advertisers or agencies to purchase inventory and manage their advertising campaigns. This way, advertisers get a self-service platform and don’t need to invoke the ad network owner each time they need to update creatives in their campaign.
A network owner can add additional modules to enhance their ad serving, for instance, DMP to gather and analyze first-party data, Creatives for building WOW-banners or video/audio player with built-in monetization.
You can create and manage your ad network with Admixer.Network solution. It connects all dots in the programmatic ecosystem. The structure may look like this:
Want to learn more about Admixer Network or request a demo?Learn more
Ad agencies and media buyers
SaaS solution: DSP trading desk Admixer.DSP
Buying method: direct deals and programmatic buying methods
Agencies and media buyers can use DSP to purchase inventory at scale and manage their ad campaigns. DSP allows brands to buy audiences from the diverse inventory of supply, measure, and optimize marketing campaigns in real-time.
For instance, brands can use Admixer.DSP, which has diverse functionality. It provides access to the global market of premium supply (large-scale direct publishers, ad exchanges, SSPs, and ad networks), numerous targeting options, reporting, and analytics.
SaaS solution: Agency Tech Stack Admixer.ATS
Buying method: direct deals and programmatic buying methods
Admixer provides a special SaaS solution for global advertising agencies – ATS. An owner sets up trade desks in ATS for other agencies and partners, so they can access and buy ad placements on the platform. Basically, it is an ad network for the demand side, with an ability to connect modules with additional features.
On top of the DSP module, agencies can connect DMP for the advanced campaigns analytics, and integration of the 3rd party data,
With a Marketplace module, ATS can get access to the inventory of Admixer.SSP, or if they want external inventory – set up agreements with publishers and networks via direct deals. ATS can generate a string of code for the direct ad serving on the publisher’s website.
To sum up
You should carefully weigh out all the options and choose the SaaS solution that better fits your business model.
- If you are a niche publisher with specific audiences, you can just set up an ad server (Admixer.Publisher) and sell impressions directly to advertisers in your industry.
- If you are a large-scale publisher with a diverse audience, media house or ad network with multiple publishers, you need Admixer.Network to diversify your demand partners and maximize fill rate. With the solution, you can connect to ad exchanges to sell excessive inventory programmatically, set up a private marketplace, collect and monetize user data.
- If you are an agency, you may use Admixer.DSP to purchase ads from diverse sources, including premium Admixer.SSP inventory and manage your ad campaigns.
- If you’re a large-scale agency and need an effective solution to deliver inventory to your clients, as well as ensure reliable supply – Agency Tech Stack is the best option out there.
The Renaissance of Advertising Networks
Non-futuristic look for a programmatic market – what could be expected as the next effective model.
Programmatic, called a few years ago as “the apex of advertising technologies,” is a rapidly growing market expanding 20% a year on average. According to eMarketer, in 2020, more than 82% of U.S. display ads will be purchased using programmatic. By 2021, US digital display advertisers will invest nearly $80 billion in programmatic advertising.
But, despite irresistible market growth, the participants of the programmatic ecosystem face multiple problems, which may lead to new market configuration and combined selling models sooner or later.
What goes wrong?
Programmatic bottlenecks are lying on the surface for content producers which attract end-users. In this the article we’ll consider all issues from the publisher’s point of view.
Programmatic advertising has grown from a tiny part of a publisher’s advertising activity. Three years ago top publishers received from programmatic advertising only 10% of their total digital ad revenues, according to Operative survey. Three years passed, but it has been a little change. According to the study by Digiday, only 35% of the editors rated programmatic as the significant source of revenue.
It is hard to believe, until seeing another estimation from marketing-intelligence firm Warc. It claims that of every dollar spent by advertisers worldwide last year on programmatic – just 0.40 cents on average came to a publisher. Advertisers spend 60% of their budgets for a “tech tax” to the sophisticated chain of vendors between them and publishers. This brings us to the most natural publishers’ desire: to sell inventory (especially premium inventory) on much more fair conditions. And programmatic can offer it for now.
Programmatic is not automatic
To avoid selling premium inventory via Open auctions for non-predictable results most publishers are now setting up programmatic direct or private marketplaces (PMP deals). This lets them keep advertising quality and ensure advertisers brand safety. Besides, leveraging PMPs, publishers control which of buyers can enter their inventory and at what price. In 2020, the combined share of these two transaction types reached 51.2% of the total programmatic pie, which blurs the line between direct and programmatic sales even further.
Increasingly, publishers also adopt Header Bidding model, the part of the programmatic advertising process where publishers offer inventory simultaneously to multiple buyers before addressing their ad server. This model gives publishers a lot more control over the process, including the choice of buyers. It shortens the supply chain, but still has some limitations, e.g., it can get down the site’s speed.
From a technical point of view, publishers have two main options to join and operate at the programmatic ecosystem. Both of them are, again, far from ideal:
- To sell independently to numerous demand sources (DSPs). This is a significant waste of time and human resources for manual technical and processing management. Building PMPs, in fact, is the same handiwork, as processing direct campaigns in an old-fashion manner
- To join some SSPs and rely on their decency, hoping for a fair profit and accepting that there are no ways to control profits level (except for Bid floors).
Getting back to premium inventory, programmatic (Header Bidding included) still doesn’t propose the variety of creative ad formats. This leaves advertisers with standard and simple ads attracting less user attention, and publishers – losing their apparent profits. The bottom line is – one side is quite satisfied.
Summarizing all programmatic bottlenecks above, here are approaches letting publishers sale effectively in the new market reality:
- shorten of the supply chain – the closer advertiser is – the better for all parts;
- an effective combination of different selling models (direct, different programmatic models, Header Bidding);
- financial transparency and reliable buying partners (less is better);
- simplicity in execution and management;
- wider use of non-standard creative ad formats.
A way out?
Technically, an “effective combination of different selling models” leads us back to not-quite-well forgotten waterfall model. The concept of the waterfall is in dividing publishers inventory into to multi-level slices, each of which then is sold for highest CPMs. Premium inventory goes to direct (if sold by their own) or nearly direct advertisers with minimum middlemen in between. Less premium and remnant are sold automatically through PMPs and open auctions to multiple demand sources.
To manage inventory this way, publishers, again, have two options:
- To sell independently. This option is open for a minority of Top publishers who could afford own sales, tech and integrational teams. Practically, this means building own ad network with owned media and attracting external sources.
- To join some vendor who can offer both direct and programmatic demand with transparent financial terms.
In any case, a publisher has to be armed with an effective ad serving solution allowing to build the “new-waterfall” of direct, RTBs, and Header Bidding. Perfectly if tech vendor provides publisher access to demand, guides and leads their monetization, and offers advancements, including:
- the minimum supply chain with access to multiple demand sources
- transparent financial conditions
- different selling models: direct, RTBs (PMPs, guaranteed, open auction), Header Bidding, etc.
- opportunity to optimize all demand from mentioned sources and models semi-automatically
- support of all required media (desktop, apps, video, CTV, etc.)
- premium ad formats
- multiple targeting options
- data management tools
- as an option, a full-service outstaffing model when a vendor takes full control of publishers` monetization
New ad networks approach
Before Programmatic Era, ad networks just connected the myriad of Advertisers and Publishers, acting as brokers between the supply and demand. Now, when this process was programmatically automated, some believe the role of ad networks has diminished.
But, how strange it may sounds, the number of ad networks is continuously growing. Ad networks, as a source of added value to direct advertising, now re-become the substantial part of the programmatic ecosystem. Today a combination of two is a key, as ad networks provide manual management that can’t be replaced even programmatic tech excellence.
New Ad Networks place in the programmatic ecosystem
Here’s what a modern model for ad networks is. Along with being a direct broker between two sides, ad network also becomes a full-service vendor and ad tech provider. Its purpose is to fully meet the needs of participating publishers and give them all-inclusive approach. The ad network is a combination of direct management and programmatic, having in its core technology, advanced waterfall model, and support for different selling options
For small and mid-size publishers it must become a one-stop shop, solving all their monetization issues. For top publishers, ad network becomes a provider of maximum possible services and technologies, also giving them a chance to participate effectively with their demand partners.
To meet such market expectations, a modern ad network should provide the following must-haves:
- Effective monetization. Ad network linked to a large variety of demand sources (direct advertisers, marketplaces, exchanges, and other networks) should offer up to 100% fill at the most optimal rate. Also, based on high-end technology ad networks should effectively measure inventory, like viewability, data gathering, predictability, and other tools. This allows ad networks to sell publisher’s inventory at the highest-valued CPM.
- Transparent financial conditions. Publishers feel safe when they have one monetization gateway taking all their risks. This includes all ways of interplay with multiple demand sources).
- Support of all existing inventory types. Including display, mobile, video, native, CTV, and many more and enabling publishers to run all their activity in one place
- Ad serving option for publishers. This includes all possible ad management tools and different targeting options for campaigns. Also, publishers should have access to semi-automatic demand optimization.
- Own DMP. A proper tech vendor should give a possibility to operate your own data the way you want. Depending less on data about users provided by global suppliers and managing their money is the must-have for publishers. They need to freely collect user’s data, segment it, and build look-alike audiences. Publishers also have to easily onboard advertiser’s and 3rd party data to enrich existing segments.
- Brand/inventory protection. Advertising networks also have to add extra protection for the publishers and their users concerning quality assurance and brand safety. Since programmatic is still unsafe, publishers require more control who can buy their inventory and what ads they promote.
- System accounts for supply-side and demand-side with detailed reports for performance control.
- Personal assistance. Though the digital world is becoming more automated and technology-based, the human touch is still required. There’s always the need to make corrections, customize, and take advantage of all opportunities.
- Localized (or local-based) ad networks. Localization always works for better cooperation: customer support, billing, or financial aspects. Read a case study about how how to build and grow your ad network Admixer Blog.
To provide such level of service, an ad network company should have a robust and reliable ad tech provider. Ideally, a provider should offer a proprietary programmatic and ad management ecosystem. You can find a detailed description in the article: How to choose a technology for digital ad network?
To sum it up
Ad networks must adapt to the new market reality, using programmatic as an additional demand source. Their primary focus should stick to technology having optimization, customization, brand safety, and localization in its core. Also, an important role remains for personal assistance to participants.
From a point of the global market, such ad networks can compete in their niches or local markets with global leaders due to closer relations with advertisers and better client-oriented approach to the publishers.
And don’t let the tech-evangelists to scare you with global automation and overall programmatic-forces. There will always be businesses where a human and personalized approach is still required. Until AI will take care of everything, of course 🙂
Admixer.Network Releases oRTB Demand
Admixer.Network has announced the launch of the oRTB demand. Now White Label .Network owners will have an opportunity to monetize their inventory through programmatic.
Previously, the platform supported only direct ad campaigns and campaigns with tags for external sources. With rolling out the update, it will also allow adding of external DSPs via oRTB protocol. oRTB, or Open Real-Time Bidding, is a way to buy and sell ad impressions through real-time programmatic auction.
Launching of oRTB demand sources will let ad networks owners increase % of their inventory fill rate bringing them and their publishers significant revenue growth.
Here’s what we’ve implemented.
Adding DSP as a demand source
In present-day realities, ad networks can hardly bring their participants, particularly publishers, prosperity without using programmatic as an additional demand source. For most publishers attempts to join DSPs directly is a long and thorny path. Here’s where ad network can (and ideally should) bring value to their participants. Serving as a supply-side platform, ad network can partner with numerous DSPs and provide its publishers with high-quality monetization sources.
Find out more, what an effective ad network should have, in our recent article on ad networks renaissance in the programmatic era.
To help ad networks’ owners bring their partners maximum efficiency and revenue, we’ve implemented an opportunity to add external DSPs. To start the process, ad network owners first should negotiate and coordinate integration opportunity with DSP . As the next step, they initiate cookie-matching with DSP in model where data storage is performed on the DSP’s side.
Getting started with DSP
To start using DSP as a demand source, ad network owner should create a campaign setting up the following parameters:
- a limit on the specific time frame
- a limit on impressions during the specific time frame
- QPS by geo
- an auction type (1st, 2nd) or direct deal
- a limit on the maximum bid
Targeting types available
This type of campaigns supports standard targeting options:
- targeting by geography
- and more
Reporting and analytics
To provide publishers and advertisers with relevant analytics on their campaigns performance, we’ve added reporting providing the following metrics:
- a number of Bid requests
- a number of Win/ Lost bids
- bids and all other data needed for deep programmatic analysis
Admixer regularly implements a huge number of technical integrations with DSPs for Admixer.SSP platform. Using the same technology for Admixer.Network makes it totally ready for all kinds of integrations and allows to eliminate any issues which ad network owners could experience.
Availability and billing
Opportunity to add DSP demand sources is now available only to White Label Network owners. This new functionality can be activated upon request.
Ad networks, using this module, will be billed additionally per Million Ad Requests. In this, the cost for Ad Impressions will be decreased accordingly to the cost of Ad Requests.
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