What’s so great about header bidding?

Posted on: Tuesday 12 July 2016

Andrew Buckman, Managing Director UK at OpenX writes about the benefits of header bidding.

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Like many programmatic technologies, header bidding is a tool everyone agrees is a hot topic but few fully understand it. The ability of header bidding to drive competition and fill rates has won the hearts of publishers — over 50% are currently using it — but buyers are still unsure what makes the technology great and where it fits into the industry’s future.

To answer these questions, OpenX gathered together a range of digital experts at this year’s Cannes Lions festival for a discussion looking at the what, why, and how of header bidding. With participants from Quantcast, Symmachia Alliance, CBS and MediaVest, the event was a feast of programmatic insight. Here are the key takeaways: 

Why header bidding matters for buyers 

Header bidding is a method of ad trading where publishers insert a piece of code into their browser that allows them to simultaneously offer inventory to multiple demand sources, before calling their ad server. This maximises scale and yield for publishers — in fact Jason White, Vice President of Programmatic Revenue at CBS, noted that it increases yield by 30-50% — but it has benefits for buyers too. 

By generating a bid request for each individual impression, header bidding also provides buyers with a complete view of all publisher inventory. This not only helps advertisers to understand exactly what is on offer, but also enables them to choose the ad space that will reach their ideal audience, improving targeting accuracy and engagement. 

Facing header bidding challenges 

The tool is not, however, without its challenges – the most prominent being the potentially negative impact on viewability. If publishers use too many header tags at once they may unwittingly create latency issues, causing page load-times to increase and driving users to leave pages before ads have a chance to be seen. Yet the good news is that there are a variety of effective solutions to this problem.

For Adrian D’Souza, Vice President of Global Operations at Quantcast, the best method was to simply “reduce latency by setting multiple header tags to fire asynchronously”, thus ensuring pages are not overloaded. Others felt the right move was to embrace new methods such as header bidding containers. 

The technology, which condenses multiple header bidding tags into one manageable tag, has already been through several phases of development. Starting out as a browser-side solution that was prone to latency, as a result of container weight or insufficient network speeds, it has now shifted to the server-side. A pioneering new technique, this approach moves trading activity from the user’s browser to the container’s server, speeding up the ad call system and minimising the risk of latency. Not only does it provide greater stability, but it also sends all bids to the ad server —ensuring ultimate transparency for publishers and advertisers.  

What’s next for digital advertising? 

With the capabilities of header bidding moving apace, it is hardly surprising that the panel’s core prediction for the digital road ahead was greater adoption of the tool. In particular, the specialists felt the ability of server-side bidding to address latency would encourage more buyers to embrace the technology, thereby amplifying its reach and extending the range of ad formats covered to include mobile and video.  

But they had one final word of warning for buyers — although header bidding can provide more choice and clarity for advertisers than ever before, to realise its full benefits they must enhance their understanding and invest in the right platform. With header bidding usage about to skyrocket, preparation will be crucial to success. 

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