How We Mitigate the Impact of COVID-19 on Ad Revenue for Our Publishers?

While publishers are familiar with seasonal eCPM and revenue drops, 2020 is different. We all have to deal with COVID-19 and especially the publishers, unlike others, faced a paradox — increased user visits, but decreased ad revenue. The impact on the bottom line lasted more than expected. 

After a while, we are seeing signs of improvement across our network of publishers. Though this doesn’t mean that things are back to normal (as you know, it’s far from normal), we thought it’s time to share some of the strategies that helped us to either sustain/increase revenue up to an extent. 

Before we dive in, we already shared an extensive list of tips that could help you mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on your revenue. In this post, we are going to focus on the techniques that moved the needle for our publishers. 

Increasing Demand

Header bidding made it easy for demand partners to access and bid for your impressions. But without the right demand partners actively bidding for your impressions, you wouldn’t be able to get to the highest possible eCPM. 

With the crisis, it has become more important to increase the demand and thus the bids to intensify the competition. 

There’s a problem though. Accessing the best demand partners can get difficult for publishers. The best SSPs tend to have a high bar for onboarding a new publisher and most of them don’t disclose it. Unless you are a tier-1 media group, it’s quite tricky to directly establish partnerships with the top SSPs in the market.

So, publishers leveraged our relationships with the SSPs and Google to access the demand. For some of the publishers, we were able to grow the revenue by up to 10% once we identified the right demand stack for their supply. 

Demand Optimization

Our ad operations team also involved in a series of optimization activities including:

UPR:

Based on the geo and device, UPRs were changed periodically. Then, we analyzed the performance of the partners, eCPM, and fill rate to figure out the optimal rule sets. 

Sidenote: Unified pricing rules simplified pricing rules, but it also has a caveat. As header bidding happens before an ad server gets into the picture, it’s not possible to send the price floor information to the SSPs participating via a wrapper. This means it’s necessary to ensure that the price floor set via UPR is on par with the price floor you set for header bidding partners. 

Price Floors:

Without a doubt, we had to change the price floors based on the performance. For some inventory, we were able to increase it by 5% to 10%, for some we retained it at the more or less the same price. But for certain inventories, we had to decrease the price to reach the optimal fill rate. 

Multi-size ad requests: 

We enabled multi-size ad requests for our publishers, again based on geography and device. With multi-size requests, you can send requests for two or more ad sizes and deliver the one that pays you the highest eCPM.

Platform-level changes:

We also worked closely with SSPs to understand the changes in policies and handle demand fluctuations. For instance, we came to know that a publishing group was entirely blocked from receiving bids for a specific geo due to a sudden change in platform policies. We worked with the group and resolved the issue quickly. 

Another example is the Google Ad Manager’s update regarding COPPA

AMP Monetization

As you know, web traffic, especially from mobile devices, spiked during the first half of the year. Publishers typically use the AMP framework to rank higher on Google and deliver a fast mobile web experience. 

While AMP pages can bring in more users, monetizing the traffic hasn’t been easy. For one, AMP doesn’t support custom JS, so no header bidding. Two, loading the ads as fast as the AMP page content is difficult for publishers. 

As a preferred RTC vendor, we’ve set up a unified auction environment using Real-Time Config and Prebid cache servers and connected the supply to more demand partners. This increased eCPM and mobile ad revenue substantially

How did we maintain page load speed? With the help of data loading strategy that calls ads when it is about to be in-view and scalable cache servers distributed across the globe to reduce response times. 

Focusing on Quality

Due to the decline in eCPM, malvertising and bad ads were becoming a concern. On one hand, we’ve seen a sharp decline in premium advertisers and buyers and, on the other hand, there’s a rise of bad ads and bot traffic. To handle the situation, we integrated IVT firewall and ad-fraud filtration technologies to protect both the publishers and readers. 

Users wouldn’t see any low-quality ads or hit by a malvertising campaign and publishers don’t have to deal with bot traffic. On several occasions, we discussed with our publishers to come up with a better traffic acquisition strategy that sends in highly engaged and relevant readers. 

Maximizing Revenue per Session

If you are a regular reader, you know we tend to focus on sessions and user engagement rather than pageviews. Because of the increased appetite for news content, traffic increased noticeably for a lot of publishers. 

But what matters is how you can engage them with your content and convert that engagement into revenue. With the help of thorough content analysis, segmentation, and Active Exposure Time (AXT), we were able to monetize user engagement effectively.

You can learn more about how AXT works here

It is true that every publisher is different and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution in ad tech. That’s why we let dedicated AMs and ad ops teams work with publishers, understand the performance, and then propose actionable insights. What are the strategies that you have tried during the last few months? Share your thoughts in the comments. 

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