Avoiding the Big Red Button: Ad Network Transparency and Speed

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redbutton_smallADOTAS – Beware of the Big Red Button. That’s something we learned from one of our customers, AdCloud.com, an independent advertising technology company handling billions of ads a month.

“One of the big publishers we work with has within their content management system a big red button they can press to instantly remove all the ads from the site if responses times are not fast enough,” said AdCloud founder Oliver Thylmann. “We didn’t want to be the reason that button was pressed.”

The Big Red Button is something that publishers increasingly deploy and advertising networks increasingly face the threat of — by extension, that means advertisers face the same threat. The very existence of a Big Red Button implies that the status quo of advertising networks is no longer good enough. Clearly, advertisers and publishers alike have grown dissatisfied with the traditional “black box” approach deployed by most advertising networks.

In the past, ad networks have been unwilling or technologically unable to disclose where ads were being delivered geographically, at what times of day and on what Web destinations. Ad load times, likewise, were a mystery. Ad buyers were able to track impressions and clicks over the entire ad network but not much else. But tracking clicks alone provided extremely limited possibilities for optimization of advertising results on different networks — or even within the same network.

Today, advertisers can and should demand a whole lot more than click counts. “Advertisers should want full transparency into where their ads are running and how their ads perform,” claims AdCloud’s Thylmann, “They also should have the capability to run on multiple networks or publishers with one ad buy, where they can make a CPM bid over the entire network or the parts of the network they like and run a fully-tracked campaign all the way down to real, hard conversions on their own sites.”

Let’s unpack those statements. Full transparency means an advertiser should be able to go to a dashboard and view exactly which one of its ads are running on which Web properties within various advertising networks or publishers. Such transparency allows advertisers to quickly shift resources to the appropriate sites or networks.

So if TechCrunch is trending up after a big story break, for example, ad buyers can quickly jump on the buzz or if the San Francisco Giants win the worldseries, advertisers can tweak their campaigns to quickly pivot around the news. This may sound simple but it’s actually not.

Making a CPM bid over an entire network or over parts of a network means an advertiser should be able to run ads over an entire network, identify properties where CPX (CPA, CPC, whatever the goal is) is the most advantageous, and put ads on those properties while avoiding less efficient ones.

This does not happen today for two reasons. First, publishers do not like to allow advertising networks to break out a menu of participating sites for the same reason that hotels and airlines do not allow Priceline to publish lowest bid offers for specific requests. This allegedly takes away pricing control from the publishers and cheapens their premium inventory. For the same reason, many advertising networks want to sell a CPM campaign across their whole inventory rather than provide price transparency to advertisers.

A second reason, however, is that many advertising networks can’t even tell advertisers in a timely manner where their campaigns are active because the data isn’t aggregated and made presentable anywhere, or in a timely fashion. That’s changing fast. The newer generation of advertising networks can easily pull out this information and allow advertisers to gain greater understanding of their campaigns. This in turn helps advertisers grow smarter about their future ad buys.

Lastly, speed of ad delivery is critical, especially for publishers, for whom slow ads mean less revenue. In an era of higher speed broadband, end users have become less tolerant of ad latency on content sites. This is why Google spends many millions to shave milliseconds of query return times, and why Cotendo partnered with Google to provide seamless code optimization for Websites and integrated this technology capability into our CDN, in part to speed ad delivery acceleration for our ad network clients.

Slow ads correspond to less money for publishers. But advertising networks, loath to lose inventory, hate to disclose how fast their ads are serving and generally refuse to allow customers to see real-time data on ad serving speeds and fill-rates. Not only should advertisers demand speed data but also correlate speed closely to hard conversions. This is really the critical metric.

Advertisers should demand detailed insights into all traceable interactions a user has with the ads, including conversions and how many times their ads are viewed. (Likewise, publishers can and should demand detailed, timely page-load speed data from ad networks to make sure ads are being served properly.) This is why we developed our technology to deliver real-time data to our ad network clients so that their customers can quickly and nimbly adjust ad delivery strategies.

Ultimately, advertisers equipped with more granular information provided to them in real-time instead of hours or days could make far more informed decisions about placing ads on networks. Most important, advertisers can avoid the Big Red Button during peak advertising seasons when the majority of retail sales or other transactions occur and when a unilateral shut down of ad campaigns by an angry publisher would be particularly damaging.

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