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Publishers Grapple With High Clicks But Low Prices In Pandemic

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By Jaan Janes, VP, Publisher Partnerships
April 3, 2020

The programmatic strategies that once worked before the COVID-19 pandemic may not be working so well now. Internet browsing is up as more segments of the global population are ordered to remain home and are thus spending more of their day online. However, this surge in traffic is not always a good thing for publishers, as many are finding it hard to monetize on that traffic.

Several categories of advertisers have cut back on their ad spend in this uncertain climate. My team recently found that travel, sports, and science advertisers have had some of the biggest drops in ad spend since the global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic hit the industry.

One of the most frequent comments we’ve heard from publishers over the past weeks is that their private marketplaces (PMPs) and direct businesses have taken the biggest hit. To help mitigate the risk to monetization, publishers should do a health check on their programmatic setup to maximize demand.

Revisit your floor strategy

Floor prices (that is, the lowest rate you’ll accept for an ad) play an important role in your programmatic strategy, ensuring that your impressions are monetized at an acceptable level. However, given the changing buyer landscape due to the coronavirus pandemic, it would be wise for publishers to re-evaluate their floor strategies to ensure they are not missing out on opportunities to monetize. Look at which floor prices you’ve implemented in each of the different systems you use to sell your inventory, and ask yourself what the impetus was for setting it. Price protection? Higher yield? Fill rate optimization? Then assess whether those remain the right decisions in light of the current bidding environment. Pay special attention to video floors; with prices dropping quickly, you don’t want to miss out on potential buyers who are bidding slightly lower rates.

Synergize your floors across integrations

Once you’ve determined your floor strategy, it is important to examine how that strategy is implemented across all supply-side platform (SSP) partners in your wrapper or ad server. Many publishers have optimized their floor setups based on historical performance metrics. However, as the bidding environment continues to evolve, you should ensure whatever changes you make within your ad server are implemented across your header bidding SSP partner platforms as well.

Check your ad server prioritization

Many publishers have their ad servers configured to prioritize direct sales and PMP bids, and for good reason. The preferred nature of the deal structure often warranted higher prices, which in turn warranted the prioritized status. However, as PMP bids and direct spend are dropping and monetization is becoming more challenging, it is important that you check to ensure the prioritizations still make sense for your business. Are you prioritizing any partners that are not yielding results? For example, are one partner’s $2 PMP bids prioritized over another that is bidding $4 on the open exchange?

Reassess advertiser and category blocks

The impact of the coronavirus on ad spend is impacting some categories of advertisers disproportionately more than others. My team found that travel ad spend was down 65% between the beginning of March and the middle of the month (once the largest impact of the pandemic hit the global ad industry). Other categories, such as news, online services, delivery services, and hobbies and interest experienced greater spend over the same period as demand for their services increased. As publishers look to boost their revenue over the coming months, it will be important to revisit these category and advertiser blocks to see if there is room to adjust within a publisher’s brand safety guidelines.

Maximize competition for your inventory

The header bidding boom of the past few years has taught us definitively that more competition yields higher revenue for publishers. As you look to improve monetization of your properties, it may be wise to revisit your demand-side platform (DSP) and buyer mix and potentially re-enable DSPs you may previously have blocked. This could drive more demand for your inventory, boosting monetization potential. Of course, there is increased risk given the uncertain economic climate, and it is important you maintain credit diligence and optimize your DSP partners accordingly. You may also want to consider adding additional wrapper integrations, and more SSPs within each wrapper, to further increase demand.

Finally, integrating third-party identity solutions (such as IAB Digitrust, The Trade Desk Unified ID, ID5, and LiveIntentthat) so that ad buyers can better target your audience can drive increased CPMs. If you use a prebid wrapper, consider opting for a prebid user ID module.

Overall, publishers should consider the coming weeks and months as an extremely fluid time, where one strategy might work in the short term but soon need to be re-evaluated at viewing habits around the world shift and advertisers alter their media plans. Even small tweaks can help you maximize performance in a difficult time.

Jaan Janes is VP of Customer Success for the US at supply-side platform at PubMatic.