WTF is a ‘tagless’ solution, and why are there so many tags? (Part 1)

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My hope with this post is to discuss the idea of ‘tagless’ ad tech and how it can be beneficial to publishers willing to commit the time and resources for implementation. On the surface, this technology can seem a bit intimidating but it’s actually pretty straight forward and my aim is to help reveal that. 
Time permitting, future posts will also outline basic DFP and tech setup, as well as the overall impact we’ve seen thus far from the partners we’re working with on our properties. 

If you’re familiar with the posts on the StudyBreak Media blog, you know Google’s AdX and dynamic allocation are a major part of our yield solution. Even with an agnostic approach to yield management, I’ve yet to see a competitor that can consistently deliver the CPM rates Google offers with the fill levels they provide. For StudyBreak Media and many other publishers, Google AdX has been a game changer and that’s something we’ve previously covered in other posts.

Of course, it’s fair to equate at least a portion of Google’s dominance to the fact that they possess a distinct advantages for publishers who also use DFP, Google’s ad server product. Google’s competitors are quick to point out they too could perform at elevated levels if given the opportunity to say yes/no before each impression is served at an assigned value.

While this topic is certainly worthy of debate, it’s not what I want to touch on in this post. It is however important to understand that regardless of your opinion on the matter, the Google Display Network is often given ‘first look’ on impressions served via DFP and as a result, has the right of first refusal on the most valuable impressions served by a publisher.

This is understandably problematic for Google’s competitors. How can they offer consistent value to publishers if they cannot be awarded the same advantage as their largest competitor? The short answer is it’s difficult, but possible if you’re OK surviving on thin margins and working in creative ways with active pubs. I’ve also noticed a large number of Google’s competitors also buying/sell inventory via the GDN but again, I digress.

For years supply side companies have approached us requesting to be removed from Google competition when their ads are served. They argued we were hurting their performance upside and not allowing a clear picture of what they were capable of in a scenario where Google wasn’t cherry picking impressions they could have monetized at higher rates. It’s an argument I completely understand but rarely succumb to without some sort of fixed CPM/fill guarantee from the competitor.

This left everyone (but Google) with a problem: How could they get outside of the ad server and at least have a chance at competing for that ‘first look’ impression at a rate they can control? The answer to this seems to be a variety of 3rd party solutions with hip ad tech titles under the umbrella branding of ‘tagless solutions.’

To keep this post as informative and pointed as possible, I’m going to attempt the question/answer style of Digiday’s brilliant WTF ad series. Unfortunately I don’t I possess the writing ability to be as clear as they are, but perhaps this will entice them to clear up what I couldn’t in a future post.

If there are any other questions please leave them in the comments and I’ll post what I perceive as the answers.

WTF is a tagless solution?

Ad tech that requires changes to a publisher’s source code/invocation code that trigger established KVPs (key-value pairs) in DFP. This gives an ad partner a chance to compete against Google/AdX for ad impressions they deem most valuable by passing the amount (CPM rate) they value the impression at directly into the ad server (DFP).

Whoa, changes to the source code? What exactly do they do?

The changes you’re making enable a direct call to the tagless partner you’re adding before invoking your ad server code. In return, the partner being called returns targeting and pricing criteria for the specific impression (which enables ‘first look’) when they are pinged.

Doesn’t that bypass DFP entirely?

No, because you’ve also added partner specific key-value pairs (KVP) to your DFP calls that are triggered based on how your ‘tagless’ partner responded to the impression. This response can be in the form of an actual bid, a price tier flag, or a simple yes/no as to whether or not they want to buy the impressions.

Why is that beneficial to the publisher?

In theory, it increases programmatic competition for non-directly sold ad inventory and allows a publisher to sell more impressions at higher rates. Even if AdX ultimately wins the impression, tagless technology increases the price of the winning bid by passing a higher priced/direct value into DFP. This begins the second price auction that AdX runs at a higher bid level so even if AdX wins, the CPM has increased.

Why is that beneficial to the advertiser?

If you’re, for example, OpenX or Casale (both offer tagless solutions) you weren’t able to compete for first look publisher programmatic inventory previously unless you cut a specific ‘first look’ deal with that publisher. Tagless solutions allow other technologies and/or exchanges to compete dynamically at multiple price points by passing dynamic bids to the ad server. If a partner isn’t winning bids in a tagless scenario, they have the opportunity to see that data and increase the tiers they are bidding at.

Still with me? Good. I’ll post more Q&A as part II of part I later this week …