Header Bidding Optimization: A Comprehensive Guide

Header Bidding Optimization: A Comprehensive Guide


Header bidding optimization helps publishers meet their revenue and user experience goals. However, there’s a lot to consider and it can be a very time-consuming task.

In this guide, we’ll help you get started with header bidding optimization by sharing factors to consider in order to optimize your ad setup, metrics to track to know if it’s working, and best practices for ongoing optimization. 

Keep in mind that this post only scratches the surface of what it takes to truly optimize your header bidding processes. It takes years of experience working with many different websites and ad setups to know the best route to take to maximize revenue while maintaining a great user experience for any given website. It also takes advanced technical skills to customize your ad stack to implement a truly effective ad strategy.

That’s why we’ll also cover how Snigel handles all of it for you.

Snigel is a Google-certified publishing partner with advanced ad tech designed to squeeze every dollar out of your ad inventory while maintaining a great user experience. For a free assessment of your website, get in touch with us

8 Factors to Consider to Optimize Your Ad Setup

There are two keys to successful header bidding optimization. Firstly, you need the right ad tech in place. And, secondly, you need strategic expertise to know how and when to use it.

When it comes to ad tech, you want an ad stack with all the necessary functionalities, such as different ad formats and optimization features (e.g., ad refresh). But you also need the flexibility to customize that ad tech to ensure header bidding works for your goals and the specific layout and content of your website.

In reality, though, many header bidding solutions offer limited customization options. For example, you may not be able to have different setups for mobile and desktop users viewing the same page. (Later we cover why your ad setup should be different on each device if you want to maximize revenue and user experience.)

In terms of ad strategy, you need to know the right questions to consider. For example, to optimize in-content ads, you’ll need to decide the best ad formats to use, the type of ad refresh to run (with the right ad tech, you’ll have more options than just time-based ad refresh), which supply-side platforms (SSPs) to connect to, which lazy loading setting to apply, and much more. The answers to these questions will depend on where users are located, what devices they’re using, how good their bandwidth is and other factors.

Below, we cover eight considerations to help you get started with optimizing your header bidding strategy. 

However, if you’re interested in having someone do it for you, skip down to Snigel’s header bidding optimization service. We show you how our ad tech can be customized to fit your needs, and how our ad strategy specialists build and maintain an optimized strategy for you.

1. Desktop vs Mobile

The way ads appear to a user depends on the device they’re accessing your content from.

The difference in screen size and processing power between devices will inevitably affect the way your ads are optimized. For example, in order to maintain a good UX on mobile, ads typically need to be smaller, less frequent, and in lightweight formats. This prevents web pages slowing down or users getting frustrated by too many ads.

On the other hand, web pages viewed on desktops can typically hold more ad units without compromising the user experience. If you limit the number of ads for desktop users to the same number shown to mobile users, you could be losing out on revenue from your digital advertising.

Ultimately, for the best results, you’ll need to monitor and optimize ad setups for the two devices separately. Otherwise, the user experience and your ad revenue can suffer on either device.

2. The User’s Geolocation

The country that a given user is in can affect your header bidding setup in different ways. Just like with mobile versus desktop, each page will need different strategies and optimizations for users in different GEOs.

One of the main reasons for this is differing internet speeds in different locations. Tier 3 GEOs, for example, tend to have slower internet speeds than Tier 1 GEOs. That means, if your users are in a Tier 3 GEO, you need to take more precautions to ensure fast page load speeds than you would for users in Tier 1 GEOs.

For instance, you may need to minimize the number of bidders per auction, choose a lightweight ad stack, avoid running video ads, and switch to server-side header bidding.

Secondly, a users’ geolocation will affect which SSPs you connect to. Some SSPs specialize in attracting advertisers that perform well in certain locations, so you’ll want to match those SSPs with users in those geos. We’ll cover how to choose which SSPs to connect to in more detail later on.

3. Ad Viewability

There are a number of factors that affect the viewability of ads.

Firstly, there’s the ad format. For example, interactive ads—such as ads that include a quiz or poll—will engage users for longer. Similarly, sticky sidebar ads stay in view as users scroll down the page.

The type of ad refresh you choose is another factor. Ads conventionally load only once, when the page first loads. But, if a user spends a lot of time on your site, there’s opportunity for them to view more than one ad.

Sample of Ad Refresh

With most ad refresh technology, ads are refreshed after a certain amount of time. While this is better than static ads, you can often improve the user experience by refreshing ads based on other triggers such as user actions (e.g., when a user scrolls down and then back). That’s why, Snigel’s Smart Refresh uses multiple triggers including event-based, action-based, and time-based.

Thirdly, you’ll also need to consider ad placement. For example, you might find that moving the ad unit slightly further up the page increases your ad impressions and CPMs. Similarly, you may find that ads perform better next to popular content.

4. The Type of Content

The kinds of ad you use will depend on the type of content you publish: long-form (e.g., lifestyle blogs), short-form (e.g., weather reporting), apps, games, etc. Different ads perform better in different contexts, while others are designed specifically with particular content in mind.

For example, ad tech like lazy loading is typically a good fit for long-form content. With this, ads further down the page only load if a user scrolls. This improves your core web vitals—metrics used to assess your site’s user experience—since everything doesn’t need to load at once, you’ll have faster page load speeds and response times.

As another example, if your content is gaming, rewarded video ads can be particularly effective. These are ads where users can earn rewards, such as in-game items or a virtual currency after watching an ad.

5. The Number of Ads

Many header bidding providers overwhelm your pages with ad units without carefully considering whether it’s in the long-term interest of your site.

In theory, the more ad space you have, the more potential revenue you’ll receive. However, more ads is not always better. Too many ads can negatively affect your core web vitals, which can negatively affect your revenue through reduced SEO performance. As such, there’s no right number of ads that works best for every site.

Firstly, you should consider how tolerant of ads your users will be. Often this will depend on the demographic. For example, users over the age of 50 may be less tolerant of ads than users under 25.

Then, as a publisher, you may have certain priorities. Some publishers would prefer that users have a great experience, even if this means they have to sacrifice a little revenue (or vice versa).

You should also consider how your site works overall. Some sites inevitably load faster than others and may be able to handle more ads. On the other hand, sites with higher security, such as medical websites, or sites that use complex apps like flight trackers, tend to load more slowly. These sites will need to be more conscious of whether or not the number of ads is negatively impacting their site.

Finally, the ad tech you choose will also have an impact on page load speeds. For example, Snigel’s ad stack is lightweight and has built-in features to minimize load times, such as bid timeouts—which limit the amount of time SSPs have to bid on ad inventory.

6. The SSPs You Connect To

There are hundreds of SSPs and ad exchanges you can connect your site to and each one will have their pros and cons.

For example, some SSPs will perform better in certain geolocations or verticals. Some are open marketplaces that connect publishers to a wide variety of demand sources, while others specialize in private deals and are better for display ads or video ads.

Rarely will a publisher connect to only a single SSP. That’s because connecting each ad unit to a mix of SSPs will typically return the highest revenue. While one SSP might often outbid others, it’s unlikely that it would do so in every auction. Connecting to multiple SSPs increases the chances that you’ll receive the highest possible bids each time and ensures your auctions yield maximum revenue across different user devices and GEOs.

That said, the more SSPs you connect to, the longer the ad takes to load, as it takes longer to process the real-time auction. So you’ll want to carefully consider whether each SSP is worth the additional load. If the SSP rarely wins the bid, you may need to consider cutting them from the list. Alternatively, you can work with a header bidding partner, like Snigel, that lets you connect to many SSPs with a single request using server-side header bidding without sacrificing page load speed.

7. Bid Request and Auction Settings

You’ll also need to think about bid optimization for each bid request.

For example, you should set a price floor, which is the lowest CPM a bid will need to meet for each auction. This is necessary for you to protect the value of your inventory. But you’ll need to regularly adjust the floor price in order to protect against bid shading (a technique advertisers use to predict the lowest bid they need to win).

Additionally, some SSPs perform better with client-side header bidding, while others perform better with server-side header bidding. So you’ll need to ensure your site has the ability to switch between the two.

Other considerations that can affect the success of each auction are bid timeouts and the type of auction to run. For example, publishers can access demand partners through open marketplaces, or through private or direct deals.

8. Display vs Video Ads

While video ads often return higher CPMs than display ads, not all sites are a good fit for video ads.

There are some crucial factors to consider to determine whether video ads are right for you:

  • Time on page. For a video to be counted as viewed, it needs to be on screen for two seconds at minimum. However, for video ads to be really effective, users should stay on the page for at least 15 seconds for outstream ads and 45 seconds for instream. But the longer a user spends on the website, the better.
  • Ad unit size. Video ads should ideally be viewed as larger units, as they’re much more difficult to see when they’re small. This means they’re not always the best choice for mobile. Additionally, your site layout and ad space may not allow for larger units (even on desktop).
  • Ad unit placement. Video ads typically receive the most views when they’re placed at the top of a page or used as a sticky footer unit. So, if you don’t have enough space in that area, video ads might not be the best fit for your site.
  • User geolocation. In countries with slower internet speeds, video ads will likely not load quickly enough to be viewed. That said, some header bidding partners such as Snigel can configure your setup so that video ads show only to users in Tier 1 GEOs. This helps you increase your revenue, while maintaining the user experience for Tier 3 GEOs.
  • User tolerance. Some users may not like to see video ads, and this may affect how often they visit your site. Others may tolerate them only in small doses. Typically, this depends on the demographic of your audience.

If you’re still unsure whether video ads are right for your website or if you want to find a way to make them suitable for your website, get in touch, or learn more by reading this article: Video Ads for Publishers: In-Depth Guide + 5 Options

What Metrics Should You Track When Optimizing Header Bidding?

Fundamentally, optimization is a balancing act between increasing ad revenue and maintaining a good user experience, and you’ll need concrete, measurable metrics to track each area.

Here’s a breakdown of common metrics used to track header bidding optimization:

Revenue

Here are the most common metrics used to track revenue and a breakdown of what they’re used for:

  • Cost per mille (CPM) is the amount it costs an advertiser to have their ad shown a thousand times on a website. It’s the most common metric for tracking revenue in programmatic advertising and is particularly helpful for understanding how valuable your ad inventory is to advertisers.
  • Revenue per mille (RPM) measures how much revenue you’re receiving as a publisher per thousand page visits. CPM measures ad views, but RPM measures page views. RPM gives you a revenue value for your entire ad inventory, which is helpful for noticing overarching trends in ad inventory performance.Find out more: CPM vs RPM: Which Metric Should Publishers Focus On?
  • Revenue per auction. This metric is used across the real-time bidding (RTB) ecosystem to measure how much revenue you receive per auction on average. Typically, it’s used to see the highest bids an SSP or advertiser makes on your ad inventory. It can help you understand your most (and least) profitable SSPs.
  • Bid rate. Bid rate tells you how many bidders respond to your ad request. This is another way to determine how attractive your ad space is to advertisers. A large number of bidders is a good sign because it means there’s more competition, which drives up the CPM. On the other hand, few bidders could be a contributing factor to low CPMs.
  • Win rate. Win rate tells you how often a bidder places the winning bid and has their ad shown. If a bidder’s win rate is high, they’ll likely have a particularly profitable relationship with you. But if a bidder rarely wins, they may be slowing down your ad setup without contributing much in revenue.
  • Viewability. Viewability is one of the most important factors to advertisers when it comes to determining how valuable ad space is. They want to ensure their ads are seen by users, and so ads have to be viewed for you to get paid. That means tracking viewability is one of the most important strategies for monitoring revenue. It can be tracked per ad unit or across all ad inventory as an average.

Find out more: vCPM Guide: How to Make the Most of Your Viewable Impressions

Your header bidding platform should let you dig into these revenue metrics for individual site pages, ad formats, and ad units. This will help you know where to focus your efforts.

User Experience

Alongside revenue, there are some key metrics to monitor to assess your site’s user experience:

  • Core web vitals. This is a tool used by Google to assess sites’ UX. Google wants to send searchers to pages with a good user experience, so they use this information to inform search rankings. There are three central metrics:
    • Largest contentful paint (LCP). This refers to page load time for the user, otherwise known as page latency. This is the time between the user clicking on a link and being able to interact with a page.
    • First input delay (FID). FID measures page interactivity. This is the amount of time between a user interacting with something on your page (like a link) and the browser responding.
    • Cumulative layout shift (CLS). CLS is the name for when content on a page shifts while it’s being viewed—for example, when it moves downward as ads load. This should be kept to a minimum.
  • Traffic. You should also measure how many users are coming to your site. If this number is going up, it could mean that your UX is improving. Google could be rewarding you with better search rankings, or visitors could be returning to your site. It’s important to remember cyclical trends here though. For example, you could receive less traffic over Christmas and more in the summer.
  • Bounce rate. This is the percentage of visitors that leave your site without taking an action, such as clicking a link. If your site is receiving traffic but users are quickly leaving, it could be a sign of poor UX.

Note that these last two metrics are important to track for the sake of revenue, too. For example, low traffic or low viewability will lead to low revenue.

Best Practices for Ongoing Monitoring

Most header bidding partners use a “set and forget” approach. They’ll configure a cookie-cutter setup to start off, but they rarely return to reconfigure these settings to see how they can improve results.

Inevitably, monitoring and optimizing the performance of your site takes a considerable amount of time and effort. But by not doing it, you’ll be missing out on revenue.

For example, at Snigel, we worked with DeviceTests to optimize their ad setup. We work to implement advanced ad tech and monitor its performance, to ensure a balance of increased revenue with improved user experience. As a result, the site saw a 180% increase in ad revenue in a year. 

There are two fundamental tasks you should be continually doing to improve your ad performance: monitoring your site regularly for performance and A/B testing new options to improve results.

Firstly, you should be checking in regularly with your ad setup and monitoring its performance against the metrics we covered above. However, just how regularly you monitor it will depend on your particular situation. For instance, in the early days of a new ad setup, you might want to see how it’s running every week. But later on, you might find that you need to monitor less often, such as every three weeks.

When you look into these metrics, also take the opportunity to check for bugs or any other issues. For example, if you see that you have a very low fill rate, this could signal a configuration issue.

Secondly, ongoing optimization should also involve testing new strategies and customizations to increase your revenue. A specific way to do this is to run A/B tests each time you implement something new. This lets you see a direct comparison of which option works better.

Inevitably, both of these tasks take time and technical skills, which you may not have as a publisher. You’ll need to know how to calculate these metrics, how to diagnose and fix any configuration issues, and how to run the specific test. It’s a lot of work and typically only larger publishers have the resources to handle it all effectively.

That’s why most publishers that don’t belong to a large corporation work with a header bidding partner like Snigel.

How Snigel Handles Your Header Bidding Optimization for You

If you partner with Snigel, you don’t need to worry about handling these optimizations yourself.

Our ad ops specialists work with you to identify the right customizations to help you get the most out of your ad inventory. Meanwhile, our ad tech experts handle all aspects of your ad stack for you (from custom implementation to debugging). Plus, Snigel publishers have access to advanced ad tech that can boost their ad revenue while maintaining a great user experience.

With Snigel, you’ll benefit from our 10+ years of experience. Our team becomes an extension of your team, to help you with monitoring, troubleshooting, and testing.

Here’s how we can support you:

1. A Customized Ad Strategy Based on the Unique Needs of Your Website

Whether you want to prioritize user experience, website growth or revenue, we can create, customize and optimize an ad setup to fit your site and achieve your goals.

For example, Radiopaedia.org wanted to increase ad revenue without increasing the number of ad units. They also wanted to increase the page load speed for Tier 2 and 3 GEOs. To accomplish these goals, we implemented higher paying native video ad units, connected vertical specific SSPs to the ad units, customized auction settings for every bid request based on the user’s settings, and more. You can read the full case study here.

Instead of taking the time to test out every configuration and piece of technology yourself, you can rely on our ad ops specialists. They have 10+ years of working with publishers to create custom ad setups designed to maximize revenue while maintaining a great user experience.

While we handle all the heavy lifting for you, you’ll maintain full control over what happens on your website.

2. AI-Powered Ad Technology Built to Increase Revenue and Maintain a Great User Experience

Snigel’s ad stack includes advanced header bidding technology designed to squeeze every dollar out of your ad inventory. Plus, it was built with the user in mind, so we’ve taken special care to ensure our ad stack is lightweight and won’t negatively affect the user experience.

Snigel’s ad stack includes:

  • AI bidder optimization, to improve load speed and increase fills rates. It matches the best bidders with your ad inventory, based on the user’s geo, device, and browser. Plus, it switches bidders between client- and server-side header bidding based on which performs best. Overall, it can increase revenue for publishers by 7+%.
  • Adaptive ads, to fill ad space with whichever combination of ads that will provide the most revenue for each page visit. For example, if two smaller ads return more revenue combined than one large ad, the ad space will be filled with the smaller ad units. This can increase revenue by up to 30%.
  • Smart Refresh, to display a new ad in the same unit based on a range of triggers—for example, if a user stays on a page, scrolls up and down, or switches tabs. This can increase revenue by 6+%.
  • Adblock recovery, to switch between adblock compliant ads and higher paying ads depending on the user’s settings. You can increase revenue by 10+%.
  • AdStream, to display high-quality native video ads on your website. This can increase revenue by 23%. 

Plus, you’ll have access to AdConsent, Snigel’s Google-certified and IAB-registered consent platform that lets you easily comply with user privacy regulations and security features such as anti-malvertising, bot detection, and blocking.

Finally, we also test out new ad tech options, so you don’t miss any opportunities for further revenue in the future.

3. Connections with the Right SSPs for Your Vertical and GEO

We have deals with 40+ SSPs that we can connect you with, including Google AdX, OpenX, Amazon Publisher Services, Index Exchange, and more.

Snigel advertising partners: Transparent Ad Marketplace, AppNexus, Verizon Media, TripleLift, Rubicon Project, PubMatic, OpenX, Index Exchange, Amazon Publisher Services, Google Ad Manager 360

You won’t need to spend time working out which is best for you and how to qualify. Instead, we’ll connect you with the options that are right for your GEO and vertical.

One of the benefits of header bidding partners like Snigel is that you won’t need to negotiate revenue share deals with individual SSPs or advertisers. As we work with hundreds of publishers, we have better negotiating power than individual publishers likely have alone. And we’ll pay you on time—even if SSPs don’t pay us—which means more stable revenue for you.

4. Ongoing Monitoring of Your Ad Stack

Snigel ad tech experts will monitor your ad setup and technology to track and solve any issues related to your ads. Thanks to our ongoing monitoring, we often detect and resolve problems before you’re even aware of them.

Optimize Your Header Bidding with Snigel

Header bidding is the most effective way for publishers to monetize their sites. But, to truly benefit from your ads, you’ll need to ensure they’re optimized so they perform best for your users’ GEO and devices, and your own goals.

While you can make those customizations yourself, it will take a lot of time and resources—particularly as you’ll need to continually monitor the results. Alternatively, you can work with a header bidding partner like Snigel.

Our dedicated ad monetization specialists at Snigel will implement, optimize, monitor, and troubleshoot your ad setup to help you increase your revenue and boost your UX.

Get in touch for a free assessment with Snigel. 

About the Author

Ira is Snigel's Head Of Marketing. She supports our team and publishers by creating awesome guides on the latest adtech trends. Ira's background is in software development, communications, and media.

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