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Ad Operations – A Primer for Beginners

Ad Operations
If you're trying to familiarize yourself with ad operations, you're in the right place. Buckle up and let's get started.

Ad operations, at first sight, may look like a repetitive and tedious job. But it is one of the challenging jobs in the digital advertising industry. It demands you to learn every day, experiment, and troubleshoot critical issues at the 11th hour. While it is true that programmatic automates a lot of operations in media trading, you still need to set up the server, handle demand partners, update your setup as per the industry guidelines/privacy laws, implement consent mechanisms, and the list goes on.

If you feel overwhelmed, you’re not alone and that’s why ad operation (ad ops, in short) has become an essential part of adtech. Let’s learn what is ad operations, what are the responsibilities, and when is the time for you to have a dedicated in-house or outsourced ad ops team.

Before diving into ad operations, you need to know that both sides of the ecosystem, that is, sell-side (publishers) and buy-side (advertisers) rely on ad ops professionals. In here, we’ll be focusing more on the sell-side.

Ad Operations 101

Ad operations is an umbrella term which includes any processes that help you to set up, manage, run, and optimize ad campaigns. Typically, ad ops teams take care of the management and delivery of digital ads with the aid of various platforms including, but not limited to, ad servers, ad exchanges, networks, SSPs, and DMPs. From setting up floodlights to writing triggers for Google Tag Manager, ad operation teams work closely with publishers (or advertisers – depends on which side are you working) to monitor campaigns.

The primary job is to generate the best possible ad revenue without hampering the user experience. It might be via setting up direct deals, Private Marketplaces, and/or connecting to multiple ad exchanges via header bidding wrapper.

Objectives of Ad Operations

Technically, it doesn’t matter whether the publisher is selling ad inventories via direct selling or programmatic selling; an ad operations team has a bunch of things to do and we’ve listed down a few below:

Handling Ad Servers – As ad servers are responsible to serve ads on the website, ad ops professionals need to set up, manage, and continually update the setup of the ad server to effectively monetize ad impressions. It is quite complicated, especially, if a publisher wants to run PMPs and header bidding in parallel. Also, if it is a mid-sized publisher, ops team does ad trafficking, creates floodlights (if needed), and takes care of the programmatic set up on various platforms.

Campaign Optimization – An optimized campaign is essential for a publisher because it is the one which is going to yield better revenue. Ad ops engineers keep a track of ad viewability, served impressions, bidder partner performance, and the overall user experience to optimize for revenue.  

Troubleshooting Issues – Working with multiple partners can induce complexities, which, in turn, can increase the probability of technical setbacks. It might be ads breaking your web page, ads slowing down your web pages, forced ad redirects, viewability drop, etc. An ad operations team keeps checking the KPIs and troubleshoots/fixes if any issues are identified.

Maintaining Reports – Pulling and reading various reports from a first-party ad server and third-party ad server, demand partners are done by the team. Such reports usually consist of advertising discrepancies, impression-level metrics, and attribution metrics (i.e. CTR, credit weighing, etc.). If publishers have a unified revenue analytics dashboard, you can let the machines do the work. 

And the list doesn’t end here. Apart from these major goals, ad operations team is also responsible for, 

  1. DMP integration,
  2. Running audience extension campaigns,
  3. Continually analyzing demand partners and setup to get the better yield,
  4. Testing new tags/techniques,
  5. Pulling inventories for RFPs. 

Therefore, it’s not wrong to say that “Ad Ops is the Engine that Drives a Publishing Company”. With a myriad of tasks to be done, it becomes harder for ad operations professionals to take care of everything solely. Hence, to make things easy, they take help of a variety of ad ops tools and some of them are free to use. 

Best Ad Ops Tools

Here are some of the best free ad ops tools:

Charles – A web debugging tool which helps to detect where the traffic is sent and from where it is received.

Headerbid Expert – A free Chrome extension developed by prebid to provide bid latency info of the header bidding partners competing for your impressions.

Google Publisher Console –  A troubleshooting tool to see what’s happening on a webpage and how the ads are being rendered. It will list the specifics of the ad slots (on the page) and page request timeline.

Google Publisher Toolbar – A chrome extension which provides a consolidated view of the ads, revenue insights, specifics of an ad, and more. You can also check the estimated revenue data if you’re a Google DFP (Google Ad Manager) user.

ClickTag – ClickTag tools are used as a tracking tool for flash banner advertising which allows counting click-throughs.

Fiddler – Just like Charles, Fiddler is a web debugging tool. The difference between two exists only in terms of their cost and installation.

Firebug – Firebug is an open-source browser extension that can be added to Mozilla and helps to debug, edit or monitor website’s JS, CSS, HTML, etc. It helps the ad ops team to figure out errors related to ad serving immediately.

Firecookie – Firecookie which is a part of Firebug allows to export cookies for a website and collects various information such as cookie expiration time, sent and received cookies, etc.

Geo Edge Proxy Toolbar – This tool helps to set the location and know how an ad will look to a user who is browsing from that location. 

So, When Do You Need an Ad Operations Team?

If you have tens of millions of unique users per mo. and would like to work with multiple demand partners, you need to implement header bidding (could be client-side or server-side or both). And it’s better to have an ad ops team in place to get the job done. The ad ops professionals will handle everything on behalf of you i.e. revenue management, creative updates, delivery optimization, unsold inventory management, audience retargeting, etc. You can build your own in-house team or outsource it to experienced programmatic partners like us. It depends on what you like to implement, current knowledge, technical complexities, and business goals.  

Typically, publishers who want to focus on growing audience and creating great content, let us take care of the monetization. Occasionally, some publishers use an in-house team to run programmatic guaranteed campaigns, and an external party to sell remnant inventories on open ad exchanges. It’s ultimately up to you.

What’s Next?

Are you a publisher with Google AdSense and simple setup, hire an engineer to help you get the job done. In case you want to scale up and improve the way you monetize, it’s better to outsource unless you have an in-house team with the first-hand experience.

Are you an advertiser? Then, it’s better to see whether you can go with self-serve platforms or partner with an ad agency to run campaigns on your behalf.

Are you an ad ops engineer? Prepare for a challenging ride ahead and never forget to track the results you’ve produced while working. Most importantly, spend time to learn and be in the know – Recommended sources: Adtech Weekly Newsletter, Decode Series to learn the basics of programmatic, AdMonsters.

Automatad Team

At Automatad, we help publishers to monetize better without hampering the user experience. Our products are live across hundreds of publishers, earning them incremental ad revenue with every passing second. You can request a free audit to get an estimated revenue uplift today.

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