It’s Time for Publishers to Embrace SPO

If you’re at all familiar with the digital advertising supply chain, the image that springs to mind when you hear the words “ad supply chain” will surely involve a whole lot of chain links.

You have SSPs partnered with publishers, DSPs and agency trading desks partnered with advertisers, resellers and other intermediaries the platforms partner with to meet business objectives, vendors providing specialized solutions – it makes SPO (supply path optimization) sound very appealing. What would you want to do with complex, opaque supply paths, other than optimize them?

Weighing the benefits

Well, for publishers, SPO hasn’t necessarily been great smooth sailing. Reducing intermediaries can reduce take fees and allow publishers to pocket a greater share of the winning bid price. But publishers raised valid concerns about how advertisers and their buying partners were making these decisions without consultation. And publishers know buyers’ unilateral SPO decisions, informed by research that has its own blind spots, could lead to their high-quality inventory missing out on bids because the buyer has cut out one or more of their preferred SSPs. 

But SPO has real benefits for publishers who do have inventory and audiences that advertisers value. SPO can cut off bids on inventory from low-quality, even fraudulent sites, and direct a greater share of ad spend to trustworthy publishers. And it can draw advertisers closer to publishers who offer a positive UX and good ad quality standards. But publishers will need to advocate for themselves – and to create DPO (demand-path optimization) strategies in turn.

Lets talk origin 

Widespread adoption of header bidding was the inflection point for SPO. It allowed all of a publisher’s demand partners to send bid requests simultaneously on every impression made available to them. But that meant the DSP would see the same impression would show up on multiple SSPs. In some cases, the same DSP would unintentionally bid against itself. Buyers took it upon themselves to locate the ad partners who delivered the best value and ROI, to remove extra links from the chain, to reduce vendors’ take fees, to avoid fraudulent selling and misrepresentation of who’s doing the selling, and to gain more meaningful insights for their campaigns (including brand suitability).

Clearly, there are a lot of cases where the publisher is left out of these conversations. Buyers, without full transparency into the whole supply chain, can easily end up making SPO decisions that backfire and compromise their own objectives. Publishers need to remember they’re best equipped to share meaningful guidance with buyers. But that can be challenging unless they know the specific buyer’s preferences and goals. Publishers need to focus on what they can control in the SPO conversation. 

Look for unnecessary intermediaries. Publishers need to audit their ad tech stacks to assess where they’re getting the most value. Keep in mind an excess of header bids led buyers to SPO in the first place. Fewer demand partners means more oversight and transparency.

Look to ad quality partners for insights on keeping or removing intermediaries. Experienced ad quality partners will be able to understand whether the incoming ads are safe, trustworthy, and suitable for the page environment and your audiences. They’ll be able to pinpoint frequent ad quality offenders and provide insights the publisher can use to prioritize (or remove) tech partners. If the offending partner is an indirect one, the publisher can advise the direct partner on how to manage that intermediary. 

Look to your demand partners and other publishers for guidance on DPO. DPO is the flip side of SPO – it involves the publisher making its own demand paths more efficient and transparent. Communicate to your preferred buyers how you want them to locate and bid on your inventory.

Consider advanced programmatic strategies, such as programmatic direct and private marketplaces. These more direct strategies are what many advertisers want, themselves – they get the efficiencies of the programmatic auction, and transparency into where their ads will be displayed. 

Audit your ads.txt files, and make sure your demand partners are auditing their sellers.json files. Ads.txt and sellers.json were initially launched in the spirit of transparency, to eliminate unauthorized resellers and arbitrageurs. But buy-siders and sell-siders alike have pointed out that they’re seeing some long, convoluted lists in those files. Keep those files current, accurate and reliable.

In all of this, it’s crucial to consider the role of ad quality. An experienced, sophisticated ad quality partner will have a broad view of the programmatic ecosystem, and will pinpoint sources of bad ads. QA varies from one demand source to another, so it’s extremely important to have oversight from a dedicated ad quality partner to consistently uphold your ad standards. And an important part of the SPO/DPO endgame for a publisher is to be considered desirable by buyers. High-quality, safe, brand-suitable advertising is a key part of UX – which means ad quality is a competitive differentiator for a publisher. Malvertisers and fraudsters in the ad ecosystem are experts at infiltrating the supply chain – after which they can ruin a publisher’s UX, increase churn and bounce, and ultimately lower CPMs. Strong ad quality solutions are a win/win for publishers – they keep users on the page, and they ensure the safe and engaging page environment advertisers value. 

Publishers shouldn’t fear SPO – and if they take part in it, they won’t need to. Don’t be left out in the cold, leaving ad revenue on the table. Specify your objectives, conduct your audits, and begin these conversations with your demand partners. Never underestimate the role of powerful ad quality tools to make your sites worth buying from.

Alisha is a Technology Writer and Marketing Manager at GeoEdge. Her writing focuses on current events in the AdTech ecosystem and cyberattacks served through the digital advertising supply chain. You can find Alisha on LinkedIn to discuss brand building and happenings in AdTech.

Malvertising, the practice of sprinkling malicious code into legitimate-looking ads is growing more sophisticated. GeoEdge’s holistic ad quality solution has you covered.


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