"The Sell Sider" is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.
As we all know, Google’s Core Web Vitals scores and related changes to search result prioritization have thrust site speed and user experience to the forefront for all publishers. Ask any developer at a digital media company why their page loads are slow and they will almost always point to the ads.
Since completely removing ads from the internet obviously isn’t the answer, finding the right balance between site speed and monetization is key. Interestingly, a solution I came up with nearly five years ago can be a great tool to navigate Google’s most recent updates.
During my time spent as CTO at Ranker and now at Freestar, where I get to help over 500 publishers of various shapes and sizes, I have focused heavily on reducing page load times and improving user experience to help drive more organic traffic and on-site interactions.
At Ranker, on-site interactions were extremely important, as it was the way we collected user voting data, which ultimately powered our massive data graph. Like all publishers, we needed to be certain that even with our ads, we were producing a quality product for our users and performing well in terms of SEO.
When header bidding started to gain traction, I took a look at the setup and, as I did with any third-party script, immediately shifted the code to load after the content vs. before, as is the case with typical header bidding. Honestly, I didn't think twice about it at the time, because it's how I approached any third-party script – prioritize your content and users first.
As we started to learn about header bidding and added more and more demand, I realized the positive impact of my choice and leaned into it. Knowing that post loading had the capacity to miss out on some additional impressions with slower page loads or high bounce rates, we focused on speeding up the page load times, a move which had a direct impact on revenue.
Spending engineering resources that directly impact on ROI was a no-brainer and helped drive continued improvements.
Thus, “Footer Bidding,” as I called it, was born out of the desire to prioritize what matters (content). Google has exactly the same goal and has started to explicitly optimize for content with their recent search algorithm changes. Plenty has been written about Core Web Vitals and how it will play into PageRank, so I won’t go into all the details, but the TLDR is: Prioritize your content and your user experience. Sound familiar?
Now, keep in mind, this approach doesn’t necessarily work for all sites. Footer Bidding can decrease the number of impressions per pageview, but for certain sites where other types of interactions are very important, this can be a wonderful solution.
So what is Footer Bidding?
Think header bidding, flipped on its head. Traditionally, the framework and the auctioning for the ads on the page happen as soon as the page starts to load, which can negatively affect page speed, as you’re competing to load other assets on the page (content, images, etc.).
The concept behind Footer Bidding is prioritizing the content and the UX. You wait to load your framework and auction your inventory until after a page fully loads.
For publishers, the upside of Footer Bidding is organically gaining more traffic as a result of faster page load times, which increases revenue, and aligning with the new industry standards set in place.
An auxiliary benefit is that you’re no longer limited to a certain number of bidders, because the page is already loaded. As a result, despite potentially losing some impressions, you can drive higher CPMs by adding more demand partners as the auction occurs later in the page load.
So then why is Footer Bidding not the industry standard?
Admittedly, Footer Bidding isn't for everyone. The reason is that results may vary dramatically from site to site, depending on a host of other site-specific factors. If your page load times are already very slow, switching to Footer Bidding would certainly have a large negative impact on revenue.
If your site is not well-optimized and page load time without ads ranges from five to 10 seconds, you’re not going to start requesting and loading ads until that time has passed with Footer Bidding – which gives up a lot of inventory. If a visitor comes to your site and quickly leaves (or bounces), ads would never load in that instance.
Additionally, if the page takes five to 10 (or more) seconds for ads to finally load, the visitor could have already scrolled past your initial ad slots, reducing the overall viewability of that inventory, which in turn potentially decreases the value of all ads on the page. Switching to Footer Bidding can have a negative impact on revenue, even as it prioritizes your site’s content.
But for publishers with sites that are already very well-optimized, moving your stack to run in the footer should have minimal impact on revenue but a positive impact on page load time and UX. Since Core Web Vitals prioritizes those items, Footer Bidding is a tool that can help publishers remain in line with Google’s push for a better user experience across the web while still paying the bills.