SheKnows Built Its Own Header Bidding Wrapping Tech And Got Ultimate Transparency

SheKnows built its own header bidding wrapper, which is now used by the 1,500 blogger sites it represents as well as its flagship property,

Most publishers don’t build their own tech, instead using wrappers built and maintained by their ad tech partners.

But Phil Bohn, VP of programmatic sales at SheKnows Media, said having a wrapper he controls has key benefits. And it’s one reason SheKnows has seen CPMs rise 80% from two years ago.

Most compellingly, the solution is completely transparent, since SheKnows built the wrapper itself.

SheKnows tells partners that it runs a fair auction where the highest price wins, except when it prioritizes a private marketplace. Because SheKnows monitors bid responses, it has a greater control and insight into the auction dynamics, including flooring prices by geographic area, device or ad size.

“There are a lot of things we can do in here to maximize yield and revenue, to control things that might be hidden in a black box with other partners,” Bohn said.

Although SheKnows generally lets the highest price win, it set up the wrapper to prioritize its private marketplace business. The publisher employs two private marketplace sellers, whose deals account for one-third to one-half of overall programmatic revenue in a given month.

“We started out private marketplace business in the waterfall. It wouldn’t be where it was now without the wrapper,” Bohn said.

If a big advertiser walks in with some incremental budget to spend through a private marketplace at the end of a quarter, SheKnows can prioritize the deal even if an open marketplace bid beats the negotiated CPM.

“Because of the existing relationships, we can get the deal to fulfill or as close to fulfill as possible, versus having them compete on price,” Bohn said.

And ad tech vendors reluctant to work with wrappers owned by competitors are much more comfortable working with SheKnows.

“There are other SSPs or exchanges that flat out refuse to work in others’ wrappers, or have to jump through hoops to be allowed,” Bohn said. “We have our own wrapper, so it’s as simple as getting tags in agreement and going from there.”

For example, Bohn plans to be an early adopter of Amazon’s Transparent Ad Marketplace (TAM), which it unveiled late last year. Amazon’s tag will work within SheKnows’ wrapper, testament to its trust of the publisher-built solution.

By adding the server-side partner, SheKnows will be able to work with more SSPs without slowing down the site load time.

“The Transparent Ad Marketplace is a way to test SSPs I wouldn’t have the resources bandwidth to add to the wrapper or on to the site,” Bohn said.

For example, SheKnows wouldn’t normally add an SSP that specializes in Canadian or European Union demand, because it crowds the wrapper and could hurt performance of its key partners. But if those SSPs submit bids through a server-side header bidder like Amazon’s TAM, SheKnows gets to bring in more bidders without slowing down the site.

SheKnows tests its wrapper partners to ensure they’re performing.

Once it’s brought Amazon’s TAM solution live, SheKnows plans to run a test between it and Google’s EBDA in the next six months to compare the two server-side solutions’ performance. Owning its own wrapper will make running that test simpler to execute.

SheKnows didn’t set out to build its own wrapper.

The wrapper started out at BlogHer (which SheKnows bought in 2014) as a way to keep uniform tags – like comScore and Google Analytics – across all the blogger sites it worked with. SheKnows gradually started incorporating demand partners too, starting with early header bidders Yieldbot and A9.

“And now it’s a full-fledged wrapper,” Bohn said.

SheKnows is constantly weighing the benefits of keeping the tech in-house versus switching to a partner’s solution.

Maintaining and improving the tool requires scarce engineering time.

“Universally, resources are always a need,” Bohn said. “I’ve got 30 tweaks and ideas in my head for something to try. I’m making sure the most impactful ones are going first. But if I had a few extra developers, I could do it in a month.”

On the plus side, having its own tech serves as a recruitment tool for new bloggers. Having its own wrapper also allows SheKnows to hedge in a constantly changing ad tech ecosystem. Although some tech partners’ solutions look compelling now, there’s the risk they could add fees or change how the tech works in the future.

SheKnows’ independent approach has attracted other publishers. Whalerock Industries, which creates content for celebrities, uses the wrapper. Additional publishers are in talks to license their tech for themselves, Bohn said. “They also see the value in an independent wrapper.”

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