Making Headway. Header Bidding Research 2.0

Making Headway. Header Bidding Research 2.0

Photo credit: Kalexanderson via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-ND

At the beginning of 2017 there was so much talking about header bidding in the adtech, that the technology would be called a synonym of programmatic advertising. But as time passed, the headlines changed, and for the last six months it’s been blockchain and M&A deals that have been causing most of the buzz.

The topic, however, has recently been stirred up again as PubMatic published a white paper highlighting that header bidding is thriving, specifically on mobile. This brought us back to March 2017, when Getintent performed a research on header bidding implementation among Alexa Top 1,000 websites.

Previously on

The findings drawn by Getintent’s scraper that spring failed to prove the assumption that publishers were massively adopting the technology.

“For many it came as a surprise that only 121 publishers out of Alexa Top 1,000 websites were using header bidding,” comments Kirill Solokhov, Data Team Lead at Getintent, who conducted the research. “However, the figures are consistent if you mind the sampling frame and recognize that Alexa lists the highest-performing websites (according to Alexa traffic rank algorithm), many of which are governmental and corporate sites that don’t have ads by design, so they aren’t publishers per se.”

Today, six months later, Getintent fires up the scraper once again to run it through the same Alexa list and check how the situation has changed.

The moment of truth

As of September 4th, the findings show there’s a slight growth of the websites with the header bidding code plugged in, from 121 to 159 publishers (or from 12% to approx. 16%). This might seem hardly impressive at the scale of the Alexa thousand, but in the ‘publishers only’ context gets a more significant value.

Meanwhile, the split for header bidding solutions — 223 altogether detected (since some publishers use several solutions at once)— is now even more diverse. The open-source Prebid.js solution (79 wrappers, or 36%) is a little bit ahead of the custom solutions (66 use cases, or 30%).

“Such an evident rise of the custom-built containers demonstrates that publishers are starting to choose an independent approach and build their own tech,” Kirill Solokhov explains. “With its own wrapper, a publisher gets more control in an ever-changing ecosystem, and, more importantly, eliminates the risk of unplanned fees imposed by the tech provider.”

The Amazon solutions show a timid growth (43 use cases, 19%), which might suggest that the company has shifted focus and is encouraging its programmatic partners to switch to the server-to-server setup. The remaining solutions are represented by Criteo and OpenX (identified in 25 and 10 cases respectively).

As for the adapters, the findings show a greater variety of solutions from different vendors. On 159 publishers’ websites, the scraper identified 400 adapters delivered by 25 tech providers. Criteo, AppNexus, and Rubicon are in the lead having planted their solutions on more than 40 websites. Index Exchange, PubMatic, OpenX, AOL, and Sharethrough have also proved popular, with Index Exchange showing an impressive upsurge in comparison with its position in March.

This time Getintent has extended the research methodology and scanned its top supply inventory for header bidding solutions. The side research shows, 96 websites among Getintent’s top 200 publishers have header tags, which makes 48% of the sampled group of websites.

The breakdown for the wrappers and adapters providers mostly replicates the ratio of the Alexa findings, yet with little reshuffling. Among 158 solutions identified, Prebid.js obtains 36% (56 wrappers), while Amazon outweighs custom solutions (42 solutions, or 27%, and 37 wrappers, or 23%, respectively). 18 containers, or 11%, are those developed by OpenX, and the rest are PubFood and Criteo solutions.

When it comes to adapters, the most common ones are those offered by (in descending order) AppNexus, OpenX, Rubicon, Index Exchange, Sovrn, AOL, Sonobi, and PubMatic. Altogether, the scraper was able to identify 365 adapters from 25 vendors.

On the next episode

The fact that header bidding has gained momentum is unquestioned. The Getintent research findings prove the technology continues to grow and evolve, the number of players increases, while its profile across the programmatic landscape gets more diverse.

Even though a lot of publishers still rely on other vendors’ solutions, more publishers start building their own wrappers, usually on top of the open-source container script. For example, PubMatic and AOL solutions are built on the Prebid.js architecture.

By bringing a unified auction to the web page header, header bidding has given publishers more control over their ad inventory and ability to optimize yield. As more publishers recognize the benefits, the technology expands and continues to be modified. Programmatic players look for the integrations both functional and efficient across all formats and devices, so we are going to see even greater offering of header bidding solutions.