Ad Tech & Ad Ops

5 Questions with James Hume, Ad Ops Director at Neverstill Media

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Neverstill Media was founded in 2007 by web entrepreneur Rob Jackson. Today the network of sites owns properties in content niches like mobile, technology, sports, and lifestyle on a range of platforms—beyond desktop and mobile. The properties, combined, serve 30 million impressions to a predominantly US audience each month and has over 750K social subscribers.

We reached out to James Hume, Ad Ops Director / Frontend Developer at Neverstill Media. In this conversation, he talks about the year that has gone by, GDPR, ads.txt implementation hassles, and exactly why IBV is the bane of his existence.

Q1. What does your average workday look like?

Most mornings start with letting my dog out and getting a cup of coffee. After that I head to my home-office, aiming to get online around 8 am-9 am. I check our office and r/adops Slack groups and catch up on industry news. Then I dive straight into the mail.

After that, my day varies: Mondays and Tuesdays are for adops and related tasks; Wednesdays through Fridays are focused on front-end development projects along (with adops monitoring and anything else that needs attention).

We are a 100% remote company, so most communication is done via Slack and GoToMeeting conferences. I try to finish up my day around 6-7 pm, but I’m always monitoring my email and keeping an eye on Slack.

Q2. What was your main focus in 2017?

We spent most of 2017 getting our header bidding stack in order-plugging in and testing as many partners as possible. We are also testing a new high-impact creative with one of our network partners in preparation for next year when Google starts to crack down on certain types of creatives (such as full-page interstitials).

There’s plenty of A/B testing, whether it’s testing price floor rules in AdX, or using Optimizely to test different page layouts, we’re always looking for ways to improve and using data to back up potential changes. For front-end related focuses, that could range from redesigning one of our properties from the ground up or working on split testing several different layouts for a ‘Further Reading’ widget for one of our sites. There’s always something fun and interesting to work on.

Q3. What problems (if any) did you face with ads.txt implementation?

With Google pushing for the spec, it created this huge rush to get ads.txt implemented as soon as possible. On our end, we kept getting these massive, disorganized ads.txt files from networks, half-filled with invalid entries.

Next thing you know, we are hearing about nefarious vendors trying to persuade you to add them to your ads.txt file when you’ve never held a direct relationship with them. So there was plenty of FUD (Fear, uncertainty, and doubt) surrounding something this simple.

We personally ran into some trouble trying to get our network partners to understand the ads.txt specification and coordinating with them to make sure we’re good to go. Publishers shouldn’t expect their networks to know what they’re doing. Also: Analyze the files because small mistakes could have huge implications on yield, as we learned from experience.

A lot of this we had to learn on the fly along with some of our partners, but luckily we were able to consult with other publishers and work things out ourselves with the implementation. It took a lot of back-and-forth with our account reps to help them figure out how to implement the ads.txt spec correctly for our network sites.

Q4. What’s the most annoying bit about Programmatic?

In-banner video. I can personally attest to the damage IBV can cause to UX and visitors’ perception of our website. This is what prompts users to install ad blockers.

There are companies arbitraging display banner impressions and serving video banner ads on major networks. Infuriating thing is, the networks know they are doing this. Trying to work with some networks to block IBV advertisers is a cat and mouse game. I’m constantly reporting to certain partners about IBV arbitrageurs and instead of fixing the problem they just block their account ID. The crooks just sign up again and repeat the process.

These networks are still getting paid for serving the impressions, and are more worried about short-term revenue goals than long-term consequences of having bad actors in their demand pool. If you’re a publisher, you end up having to spend thousands of dollars on tools to help block these creatives. It’s extremely frustrating.

Q5. Your advice to publishers?

With things changing as quickly as they are in ad tech (and so many media companies closing shops or laying off content creators), it’s absolutely necessary for publishers to diversify revenue streams as advertising dollars continue to shift. Build new revenue channels outside of typical display ads, whatever that may be for a given publisher and their audience. Affiliate sales, sponsored content, donations from users, anything that works.

There’s also benefit in old-school tactics. Publishers need to get as close to their advertising revenue sources as possible, cutting out middlemen and forming direct relationships, while also focusing more on content that is optimized to tell an actual story rather than get vain clicks.

Bonus: Your plan-of-action for GDPR?

Frankly? There is so much that could change between now and then; there won’t be a massive dip in operations or revenue either way on our properties. But even if that changed between now and May 2018, we would still just roll with the punches.