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A Publisher's Guide to Server-Side Header Bidding

Oct 11, 20237 min read
Abhilasha Sandilya
Abhilasha Sandilya, Content Marketer at Automatad
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Once in a while, a thinker or an innovation emerges that completely changes the landscape and ushers a new era. Take Geoffrey Chaucer from English literature, Galileo Galilei from astronomy, Charles Darwin from biology, and header bidding from digital advertising. Each one revolutionized their respective field.

You know that I am not exaggerating by mentioning header bidding here. After all, it completely changed the programmatic advertising world and has been the publisher’s favorite and widely adopted strategy to get a higher return on their ad inventory.

I won’t go into the nitty gritty of this technology, as today is the day to talk about a particular type of header bidding technology — server-side header bidding.

What is Server-Side Header Bidding?

Server-side header bidding is a programmatic technique where the auction happens on the ad server. Here, the JavaScript code added to your website's header sends out only one bid request to the auction server.

How Server-Side Bidding Works?

As soon as your website user lands on a page, here's what happens behind the scenes with server-side header bidding:

  1. The JavaScript wrapper sends just one request to a specialized auction server rather than reaching out to multiple ad exchanges or SSPs.
  2. This auction server efficiently communicates with multiple SSPs to gather all the bids.
  3. Once all the offers are in, the server determines which bid stands out.
  4. And just like that, the winning bid is sent back to the wrapper, and the perfect ad appears on the user's screen.

Why Do We Need Server-Side Header Bidding?

Traditional header bidding, aka client-side header bidding, has a drawback. The auction here happens in the user’s browser. This results in:

  • Unhappy users — as the page load time increases.
  • Unhappy advertisers — the more demand partners you add, the slower the ads load.
  • Unhappy publishers — you are restricted to adding fewer demand partners to avoid latency.

Server-side header bidding emerged as a great relief here. With this technology, your header tag (the JavaScript code) makes only one bidding call that goes directly to the ad server. The rest of the heavy lifting is now done on the server. So, bye-bye latency.

But does this mean that the technology is free of all drawbacks?

Server-Side Header Bidding Challenges

Server-side header bidding, while promising, has its issues.

Complex Setup

Implementing server-side header bidding isn't as straightforward as its client-side counterpart.

It demands a deep understanding of the bidding process, precise server configurations, and effective time management to ensure timely bid responses.

Transparency and Third-Party Providers Dependency

With auctions on the server, there's a diminished visibility into the bidding process. It can make it harder to identify and resolve issues.

Additionally, the reliance on third-party providers can pose risks, such as potential data discrepancies or leakage. Notably, in 2022, 57% of global internet users expressed concerns over online privacy, emphasizing the importance of transparency.

Cookie Matching

Due to the server-centric approach of server-side header bidding, it doesn't always directly access user browser cookies. This limitation can lead to reduced match rates and, consequently, the effectiveness of targeted advertising campaigns.

Cost –°onsiderations

While server-side bidding can improve page load times, it can also introduce additional costs. These include maintenance-related expenses, increased data traffic management, and fees from third-party providers.

Despite these challenges, server-side header bidding remains an attractive option for many publishers.

4 Steps to Optimize Server-Side Setups

Step #1: Choose a Reliable Server-Side Platform

Pick a platform known for effective server-side auctions, such as those supporting Prebid Server or Google's Open Bidding.

Prioritize features like robust support, transparent reporting, and strong security.

Step #2: Fine-Tune Your Server Settings

Configure your infrastructure for increased data traffic. This includes optimizing CPU usage, memory allocation, and network bandwidth.

Adjust server capacity and manage timeouts to ensure timely bid responses.

Step #3: Stay Compliant With Privacy Regulations

In the server-side header bidding realm, adhering to data privacy regulations like GDPR and CCPA is crucial.

  • Implement tools like consent management platforms (CMPs) to manage user consent.
  • Regularly review your data practices and stay updated on privacy regulations.
  • Ensure that any third-party providers you collaborate with are compliant.

Step #4: Go for Hybrid Header Bidding

A hybrid header bidding is a combination of client-side and server-side header bidding. It brings the best of both worlds - client-side transparency and higher CPM of the server-side bidding.

  • Begin with a fraction of your traffic on the server side and gradually increase as you become more comfortable.
  • Utilize real-time analytics tools like Google Analytics or Prebid Analytics to monitor performance.
  • Make data-driven adjustments based on real-time insights, such as modifying timeout settings or floor prices.

Fun Fact:

1.15% of the top one million websites (based on traffic) use Amazon Transparent Ad Marketplace, a server-side header bidding solution.

But does this mean that the technology is free of all drawbacks?

Source: Statista

Mastering Server-Side Bidding: Wrapping Up

Digital advertising thrives on innovation. Server-side header bidding is just one of the many advancements showcasing the industry's dedication to bettering user experience and revenue streams. For publishers, the key lies in continuous learning and adaptability.

In this changing landscape, staying informed is crucial. This involves a deep dive into analytics, consumer behavior, and market trends. It's a cycle of learning, applying, analyzing, and then learning again. The goal is to create a seamless user experience while maximizing revenue, which requires a commitment to excellence at every step.

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