How the Pandemic Helped Pubs Think More Strategically About Latency

2021 is already shaping up to be an improvement over last year, crippling snowstorms and vaccine shortage be damned. For pubs, the year also presents something of a fresh start. 

“It was like a magic reset button or a pause, one pub said at a recent Think Tank with AdPushup. “Everything had stopped. So let’s redo our website. Let’s make it faster, let’s go through and do that. And one of the resulting things has been a little bit more strategic conversation.”

As the Think Tank progressed, it became clear that pubs are truly taking a ‘nowhere to go but up’ mentality this year, making most of the dregs befalling ad tech to conduct thorough audits of their partners, re-evaluate their place in the client-side vs server-side header bidding ecosystem, improve their Google Core Web Vital scores and, ultimately, offset revenue losses from 2020.

AdPushup is a leading ad revenue optimization platform and Google Certified Publishing Partner (GCPP) that helps web publishers, media companies, and e-commerce platforms accelerate their revenue growth. The platform currently optimizes 4 billion ad impressions every month for 300+ publishers.

Pandemic Times Allow for Thoughtful Latency Audits 

Asked how they see latency affecting revenue in days leading up to the cookie’s demise, one pub joked, “All I know is that, instead of 10 SSPs hitting me up to get integrated, now I have 10 ID solutions hitting me up to get integrated.”

He added that he believes ID solutions are the right way to move, but that there needs to be more consolidation.

Another pub agreed, explaining how the pandemic allowed his team to reset with the dev team and show them what was truly valuable to them now.

“Ad dollars had slowed down for a time period, and [it allowed us]  to really strategize a roadmap that really kind of helped benefit us in the second half of the year,” they said.

“All the advertising dollars kind of came back to us. We pushed our sales team to really dive into programmatic and guaranteed a lot of lean on our efficiencies there. And it really worked out for us. And we’re seeing this year start off really strong already. So that pause, seeing who is benefiting us and optimizing our stack was a big benefit of this.”

For mobile-first publishers like Ed Arrandale, Head of Programmatic at WeatherBug, figuring out an ID solution, and how that will impact the user experience, as we move closer to entering a post-IDFA world has been top of mind. “We’ve looked at pretty much every identity solution there is and talked to every partner that we could talk to. And really for iOS, there is no perfect solution. We think realistically it’s going to be in the 20% range [of users] that will actually say yes, and that is with a thoughtful prompt and being a brand with dedicated loyal users.”

Overall though, consolidation was a big theme of the Think Tank, with a focus on pandemic audits and a re-evaluation of the partners who will help pubs better navigate latency, particularly as it impacts revenue.

Reassessing Latency Around Google Core Vitals 

One pub said that an audit of his prebid stack with 10-15 demand partners prompted the question, “why do we need so many resellers?”

“So we’re kind of going down that path of speed, supply path optimization, as well as making sure the ads don’t do that fun CLS thing for Core Web Vitals, and a couple of other things just to make sure the ads aren’t slowing down the page.”

For this publisher, over the past nine months, it’s been important to take the approach of quality over quantity when it comes to speed and efficiency.

So we're kind of going down that path of speed, supply path optimization, as well as making sure the ads don't do that fun CLS thing for Core Web Vitals, and a couple of other things just to make sure the ads aren't slowing down the page.

Another pub explained how the Google Core Web Vitals conversation also ties back to their team conducting a lot of A/B testing. Some of that testing has included looking at how ads load on page and making sure they’re loading separately from content.

They explained how the site has a right rail with additional sponsored content suggestions that are being populated by an internal algorithm.

“Our site is not always sponsored, but it’s sort of recommended reading for everyone and that was starting to push the ads down, which also then pushed the rest of the content down,” they explained. “And so we actually had to go back and reconfigure that part of our sites, because not only did it affect our Google Web Vitals score, but it actually completely killed my CPRs for my half-page ad. So we told them that that wasn’t gonna work.”

Another pub said that they’re finding success with Google by making sure all ad placements have a fixed height, no matter what they contain. 

We actually took out our 970 x 250 in favor of a 720 x 90 in the masthead, which didn’t really impact revenue that much,” they said. “Most of our traffic is mobile. So it was hurting us on desktop. It wasn’t a huge portion of what was being sold. And, you know, as we have direct sales coming, that will probably need to come back. But we’ll just figure out how we need to do it because it was all about CLS and speed.

Why There’s No Set Healthy Number of Prebid Partners

One publisher, acknowledging his privilege of having a Google team he could go to audit his site and provide the dev team with a list of action items so that those things could be fixed on the site. He acknowledged that the dev team is great, but has different ideas about how things should work compared to how Google thinks things should work. 

When it comes to A/B testing, the pub discovered that creating custom high-impact units they could sell became a problem, especially with page latency and Google-heavy ads. It was important to create different versions of these units that work within the guidelines from Google. This involves multiple testing templates, such as biweekly updates to individual ad units based on what the reporting might say. 

It's really just being able to have enough data and identify where you can make updates rather than having some overall look at what Google says on latency.

Also by working with Pubmatic’s OpenWrap for Prebid, they have built-in A/B testing on any wrapper.

I can go into any site across our network and say that I want to test a new time out for 10%, or 25% of the traffic on just this site for this time frame,” the pub said. “And they automatically are able to filter that traffic. So to create an A/B testing scenario for me, I don’t have to work on my dev team at all. I’m also able to do it with other SSP partners.”

“It’s really just being able to have enough data and identify where you can make updates rather than having some overall look at what Google says on latency,” he added.

The same pub went on to say that working with OpenWrap has allowed them to see, for instance, if one partner is timing out much higher than others. This ultimately helps them better consolidate partners within Prebid, making for a simple and effective way to reduce latency on page.

He added that there shouldn’t necessarily be some arbitrary rule for how many are on page, because every site is different.

For AdPushup, the future lies in building optimization back for pubs. They’ll build rule engines, marry their research and analytics to the machine learning they have for their testing algorithms.

Right now there is a lot of manual testing going on in the Prebid stack,” said Dikshant Joshi, Director of Publishing Development, AdPushup. “But marrying the data that we bring into the analytic solution and the capabilities to test it out with machine learning algorithms is something that we are looking at as something beyond the standard Prebid conversations.”

Moving Toward a Hybrid Solution For Client-Side and Server-Side Bidding

Another pub said that they see pros and cons to working using client-side and the server-side, and as such, they use both.

“We have a complex setup where we kind of tap into different partners in different places,” they said.

Other pubs agreed with this approach. “I think that the solution for publishers is just [having] as much data as you can, look at it, and see what works best for you,” another added. “And I’m definitely confused sometimes because I do hear this conversation and I have vendors reaching out to me, [saying] that the benefit of using them is their server-side.”

And if you’re thinking one of the benefits of Prebid is that Amazon isn’t involved, you might want to rethink that.

According to one pub, Amazon’s demand is enough of a benefit to stay with them. “They just kill it on the open exchange,” they said. “So even if I just stop using TAM, I would just keep Amazon’s demand up there if I could.” 

“I think the hybrid solution is something that you’re indicating towards, with Amazon running client-side bidding and open bidding that’s all configured,” said AdPushup’s Joshi.

“Yeah, it’s kind of unfortunate that we do have to have all these integrations, though” replied the pub. “It would be nice to have more consolidated solutions, but we’ve created this ecosystem where we’ve had to have all this diversification and if you don’t have it, then that’s when you get hurt the most.”