Beware the Head(er)less Horsemen – they just might kill your ad business.

by Jaan Janes
May 27th, 2015


There’s a new way of doing ad business today that’s growing quickly for leading publishers. There are many names for these new trends and buzzwords like “header tag,” “tagless,” and “code on page” are spilling out of the mouths of buyers from companies like Amazon, Casale, Sonobi and Criteo. While the lure of quick ad money is nice for now, most of these new-method buyers, let’s call them head(er)less horsemen, bear the potential of doing real harm over time.

The legend of the headless horseman has been a part of European folklore since the Middle Ages. Generally speaking, a chance meeting with this character led to unfortunate ends for all who encountered him.

Publishers today face similar dangers as these modern-day headless horseman ride up to ad operations and sales teams with the promise of new revenue. However, this short-term revenue will come with a long-term cost – they give you no new insights or data to help you grow your own in-house ad business.

There are some commonalities to these buyers. They generally deploy a Javascript tag to build data, use cookies for user matching and profile building, are integrated directly with the publisher ad server (no exchange buying), and are first in line to utilize inventory.

But here’s where things get scary. The primary motivation of these horsemen is to drive their ad decisioning and CPM bid rates by controlling first-party advertiser side data. They are on the hunt for cookie matches and really don’t care about the sales goals or business objectives of the publishers they work with. And just like that – you’ve lost your head.

Not unlike the fabled headless horseman that carries his head with him through the night, these new buyers hold on to all the intelligence about why they are ad buying. Travel to Italy cookie match? New golf putter cookie match? In-market auto intender cookie match? Will they give you the data you need to succeed in your direct buys and business objectives? Very unlikely. Publishers reap revenue but little else. What happens when the cookie matches go away and you don’t have a user looking to travel to Italy?

If there can be a challenger to the modern-day headless horsemen, it’s Yieldbot. While our methods are similar – direct integration with publisher ad servers – our philosophy is much different. Yieldbot technology builds intelligence about the user experience on a publisher site at the URL level. We mine powerful real-time data signals about consumer intent that is targeted in-session and we happily share this information with publishers. And, equally as important, we don’t do cookie matching.

We’ve become an important source of ad demand and revenue for our publisher partners and now our partners are actively using our data about their site experience to deliver true performance for advertisers that they sell directly.

And now for an example. Yieldbot has been partnered with since the earliest days of our company, driving incremental ad dollars for the site every quarter from leading advertisers. Today, is using Yieldbot data about their site to service advertisers directly and owns the advertiser and agency relationship.

“We have a buyer with specific keyword targeting and performance requirements, and we turned to our partner Yieldbot,” said Gretchen Grant, CEO of Vila Media. “Not only have we been able to satisfy the advertiser, we’ve been able to grow the monthly budget 50% and they continue to run every month, growing what had been a one-month buy.  We love that we own the direct agency relationship so that we can grow this business over time and really understand our client’s objectives.”

Publishers: don’t lose your heads. As you encounter companies who promise quick revenue, consider the head(er)less horsemen – are they helping you build your ad business, or cutting off your head?

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