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AdExchanger | The Sell Sider

"The Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.

Today's column is written by Rachel Parkin, senior vice president of strategy and sales at CafeMedia.

Imagine if every impression could find its perfectly matched buyer. Demand-side platforms (DSPs) are the ultimate gatekeepers for screening inventory, but publishers only see which bids and buyers come through the front door. There’s a lot of valuable information publishers don’t know that keeps buyers on the other side of those gates.

Restaurants have health ratings that are clearly displayed in their windows. Consumers see the rating before walking in the door, and restaurant owners also know the results and what it takes to move from a “B” to an “A.”

Why is it the case in media that only buyers see the scorecard on a range of metrics and pre-bid filters that determine which campaigns run on a site?

A media owner’s reputation in the market is critical in driving success, yet publishers are flying blind. Publishers need to take an active role in managing their external reputations to not only maximize demand, but also enable every opportunity for advertisers to buy programmatically.

Investigate the ratings

Programmatic advertising puts buyers in the driver’s seat, giving them an incredible amount of control in achieving campaign objectives. At the same time, nearly every targeting setting in the DSP places a small hurdle between advertisers and publishers’ inventory. There are so many ways to filter in DSPs – by audience, context, viewability, brand safety, site lists – and so few ways to know how filters are opting out of publishers’ inventory.

The first step publishers can take in managing their reputations is to investigate every third-party verification tool and built-in DSP service. Publishers need to understand how these technologies generally classify inventory and the specific ratings for their properties.

One level deeper, there are many questions to ask about measurability. Do these services capture ratings for 100% of a publisher’s inventory? If not, what portion is not measured? How often are these services rating new or refreshed content? Are ratings based on the placement, page or domain level? Examining the rubric, even if imperfect, tells publishers what metrics they have control over and how to improve the score.

Everyone would agree that running on brand-safe content with highly viewable inventory is table stakes and critical to the continued shift toward programmatic buying. What’s missing is an account of how much the pre-bid filtering technologies are ruling out vs. ruling in vs. not measuring at all. It’s not even clear that DSPs track the scale of what inventory is “thrown away.”

As a result, buyers can’t see the implications of each filtering layer on inventory avails or a ratings report for URLs not bid on, leaving them in the dark too.

Be your own advocate

Publishers that want to maximize the percentage of inventory actually available to buyers need to take matters into their own hands. Paying third-party measurement companies to access a publisher’s own metrics is the best way to know how buyers see the inventory, as painful as that tax is. Even more, it gives publishers a platform to work with verification vendors to improve the quality of measurement and measurability.

Publishers need to start campaigning for change when they see something amiss or notice filters misclassifying safe content or units. No one else in the ecosystem will hold measurement vendors accountable for false negatives.

Publishers shouldn’t be afraid to encourage buyers to lean on their own data where possible, either, and to always ask buyers what thresholds they’re using. Measurement is often a blunt instrument. Every buyer has their own definition for brand safety and off-the-shelf filters can inadvertently rule out content advertisers want to align with.

DSPs and other verification services often measure viewability at the domain or device level, whereas publishers know the viewability of every placement. Tracking and sharing performance with advertisers can show the possible gains in scale without any sacrifices to key performance metrics.

The industry push for transparency must also go beyond fees. Targeting filters create a dark corner of valuable but discarded inventory pools. Publishers must urge DSPs to do a better job of shining a light on what publishers and buyers don’t know about why otherwise valuable inventory is being overlooked. While we don’t know for certain how much inventory is presently ignored by pre-bid targeting, 35% could be a reasonable guess, and that creates massive inefficiencies in the ecosystem that no one is cataloging today.

Aligning with DSP partners to create more understanding about inventory that doesn’t receive bids will ultimately set the stage to maximize avails for buyers – and help bring better pricing to buyers too.

Track your reputation

Every publisher needs to make reputation health part of their DNA. Publishers should come up with the right set of metrics to track changes in demand that may result from their externally scored reputation.

Declines in the percent of inventory receiving bids may signal a shift in inventory ratings. Swings in top buyers could reflect the use of new targeting filters. And, of course, publishers should monitor brand safety and viewability scores from verification vendors to stay ahead of red flags.

Managing reputation isn’t a passive activity. For programmatic to become the way all media delivers, everyone in the ecosystem needs to collectively embrace transparency and ownership of the ratings that dictate the value and scale of inventory on the market. Otherwise, the whole industry is taking a prescription medication without really knowing the side effects.

Follow CafeMedia (@CafeMedia_) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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