Posterous theme by Cory Watilo

Filed under: content

See all posts on Posterous with this tag »

We Love the Mess of Ad Tech and Wouldn’t Want it Any Other Way

My introduction to ad tech (roughly): “Ad networks are a mess, you wouldn’t believe what a technical mess the industry is”.

That was in my first meeting with David Cancel (then at Lookery, who since founded Performable, acquired by Hubspot) as I was bouncing an idea off of him that touched on the edges of the ad tech space.

Fast forward 6 months from then (almost exactly two years ago), I got a Twitter DM from David: “Friend is starting a new startup in the ad space. Looking for a CTO and/or help. Any interest?”

About a month later I was the CTO of Yieldbot.

Two years on I can say he was definitely right, ad tech is a mess. Part of it is how it’s evolved and part of it is structural and baked into its nature.

I’ll step it up and say this: ad serving may be the most complex distributed application there is.

The proof is in explaining why.

You Control Almost Nothing

There are so many degrees of freedom it can make your head spin.

You basically have a micro-application running embedded in a variety of site architectures each with their own particular constraints, whose users are distributed around the world running all manner of execution environments (browsers).

When you have your own site or application you still have to deal with (or choose what to support of) the myriad browsers and browser versions, complete with differences in language (javascript) version (or even whether javascript is enabled) and issues like what fonts are available on client systems.

If you are creating a destination site, that keeps your team’s hands full. If you’re serving ads, that’s just a warmup. Because you also don’t control the site architecture that you are embedded in.

You might need to sit behind any number of ad servers the publisher might be running everything through.

You might be in iframes on the page.

You might need to execute code in specific places relative to other ad serving technology also embedded on the page.

Navigation through the site may or may not involve full page refreshes.

But that’s not all…

Distributed Worldwide with Time Constraints

Remember those environments you don’t control? They are the customers’ websites, and they don’t want their users’ UX degraded.

Serve ads, optimize it for relevance, and don’t slow down page load times.

Most websites have some level of focused geographic distribution to their users. Even if it’s as broad as US or even US+Europe.

But for ad serving, your user base is the set of users aggregated across all of the sites using your service. The world is your oyster. And the footprint of what you need to service. Quickly.

But wait! There’s more!

Content Relevant To The User At That Moment

At least if you want to be as cool as Yieldbot.

Look, a CDN serving up a static image can satisfy all of the above if all you want to do is serve the same image to every user across all of your customers’ websites.

Scattershot low value ads picked fairly at random would approximate that level of ease as well.

But there’s no sport (or value) in that!

Our goal here is actually to serve content that is the most relevant to what the user is doing at that particular moment. When done right (we do), everyone wins.

So – simply serve the content that best fits what the user is doing at that moment, where they came from, and what they’ve expressed interest in *right now*, on whatever they happen to be running on, and wherever they happen to be. And make it snappy, would ya?

We Wouldn’t Want It Any Other Way

So, that’s what I signed up for – and I love it. And so does the rest of the Yieldbot team.

We started our first intent-based ad serving on a live site a couple months after coding started and started learning real world lessons immediately. And 20 months later it’s still going.

I’ve always loved to work on systems with complex dynamics, so considering all of the above it’s not that surprising I ended up finding my way to ad tech.

What I love about building Yieldbot technology? All of the above is only half the story. We also do Big Data(tm) analytics for our system to learn the intent of the users coming to our publishers’ sites. We provide them visualizations and data views that teaches them what the intent to their site is. And *then* we enable them to serve ads that make that intent actionable.

#winning

 

Why Publishers are the Bread in the Intent Sandwich

Katz-pastrami
There are few main theses that I’ve spent my 14 year career online successfully operating under. The most successful one has always been to leverage the fact that the web is the only user controlled medium. The more ability you give for visitor events to define run-time or dynamic rules the better your ability to deliver relevance. Put another way, there is no better segmentation than self-segmentation.

In marketing terms this means pull instead of push. The best representative example of this is, of course, Search. A visitor action provides an input (query) and everything else processes based off that rule*. Relevance is delivered (and the most successful advertising technology is born) by pulling content to data input rules. Dynamic landing page optimization works the same way.

So why does this matter to publishers whose business is one of “pushing” content? It matters because of one incredible fact about Search that seems to get lost on Publishers. Neither the intent that precipitates the query or the content used to deliver relevance to it belongs to Search. People bring their intent to Search and Search sends it to content created by digital publishers.

Search maybe the meat in the intent sandwich but you can’t have a sandwich without bread. Bread is the media generating intent and receiving intent. Publishers are the bread in the intent sandwich and bread is what publishers have been leaving on the table.

Two years ago I wrote about the opportunity to build an intent harvesting platform for publishers and Chris Dixon followed up with a piece Why Content Sites are Getting Ripped Off. In the ensuing time our team went ahead and built that platform. Because of the complex level of intelligence and scale needed it has taken until now to bring Yieldbot to market. In fact we spent a full-year in invite only beta doing nothing but learning. Now that we’ve released Yieldbot we’re finding out even more amazing things about intent on the Publisher side and the opportunities are obvious and bode very, very well for the future of ad supported publishers.

The most important thing may be that publisher inventory for realtime intent dwarfs Search. As David Koretz figured out a couple years ago the top 200 pubs generate 2000% more pageviews than Google. We see that dichotomy everyday in our data. The amount of inventory using first party (better) data also dwarfs third-party data as Chris O’Hara at Traffiq recently pointed out.

"You have an entire ecosystem built around audience targeting using 3rd party data. The problem? The companies with better and deeper first-party data have a lot more audience"

We also see that most of the advertisers who are buying this intent in Search are not buying from the Pubs that have the exact same intent on their site. Even better the pubs intent is more down-funnel, has greater context, is less competitive and has the influential power of being in a branded domain and can leverage creative in ways search cannot. Publisher side intent should be more valuable to advertisers than Search with its SERP landscape of crowded text link ads and arcane rules.

As we work with pubs to understand this information arbitrage opportunity it’s clear that intent matched with timing and context can improve visit monetization by an order of magnitude. And why shouldn’t it? Yieldbot structures the data from the page that is clicked on and the subsequent pages that are clicked to. This scenario happens millions of times a day on large sites and these (click) streams of data provide rich realtime intent data that fuel our intent classifications and matching rules.

The bottom line is publishers are in the unique position to both classify the intent on their sites and use pull rules once that intent is recognized to deliver the highest levels of relevance in realtime - just like Search. Even better, they never lose ownership of their data and can monetize it directly with advertisers - even using their own ad server. This is game changing. This is the bread in the Intent sandwich. This is Yieldbot.

The Yieldbot team will be writing a lot more about our data and technology right here on our blog. We hope you join the conversation about the power shift to publishers and their data in the ad ecosystem.

* there are additional rules that are used with the query as well such as geo, temporal, query number, however the query itself is the primary rule.