With header bidding enabled, the open marketplace works just fine for Advance Local.
While many publishers and buyers are moving to closed, curated programmatic environments due to brand safety, fraud and viewability concerns, Advance Local is focused on driving yield in the open marketplace. That strategy means improving viewability and giving buyers transparent URL information and the option to run brand safety tags when bidding on inventory.
The strategy is born of necessity. Buyers are more interested in its 10 local news sites, including NJ.com, Nola.com, OregonLive.com and Syracuse.com, for their audiences, not for branding campaigns.
While Advance Local employs a local direct sales team, national buyers at New York-based ad agencies usually aren’t interested in setting up private marketplaces. The sites rank high in engagement, but they lack the prestige buyers seek when setting up private marketplace deals.
“The challenge is that no one [at national brands and agencies] ever says, ‘I want to be on NJ.com,’” said Jeff Sutton, VP of ad tech and programmatic at Advance Local. “But when people want to reach specific communities, we have so much density that we are an unintentional but natural partner.”
Advance Local now huddles around its strength: delivering huge concentrations of regular readers in specific markets. Its users often browse a site before making a purchase.
“It’s hard to target someone in Syracuse, New York, and not find them on Syracuse.com,” Sutton said. “We typically have 20% to 40% of the first-party cookies as measured by Lotame in the areas where we have publications.”
When Advance Local implemented header bidding in late 2014, programmatic buyers began beating the CPMs for direct-sold campaigns.
On average, direct-sold CPMs still beat programmatic CPMs. But it’s not unusual to see CPMs for a programmatic campaign dramatically exceed what a direct-sold campaign would bring in.
“If you are in the business of selling something with a high-margin and a high-dollar value, like a ski vacation, and the person is at the moment of deciding where to book their next vacation, a 60-cent impression, which translates to a $600 CPM, is a good investment,” Sutton said.
Since implementing header bidding, buyers have rewarded the positive changes the publisher made to its site layout and load times.
“We made everything earn its way on the page, and skewered as many sacred cows as we could,” Sutton said.
Those changes improved viewability, and buyer CPMs rose in lockstep.
Advance Local used header bidding to increase competition and give more buyers equal access to inventory. It works with nine SSPs. The high partner density increased CPMs in the early days of header bidding. The publisher found that a handful of SSPs brought in similar demand so it looked for partners with differentiated demand.
At the beginning of the year, for example, it onboarded Centro, whose self-serve platform attracts a different type of buyer – regional, independent agencies – that bid on different impressions than other partners.
By diversifying its partners and speeding up its header bidding setup, Advance Local plans to continue helping direct-response advertisers willing to bid high to close a sale.
“When a brand or agency has a client deep in the CRM funnel, we want them to be able to find that reader in our universe at the right time and unlock the value of that impression,” Sutton said.