Salon Media Group has driven the national conversation since 1995 through its fearless journalism and original video distributed across web, social, and wearable apps. Salon’s award-winning content reaches an audience of approximately 20 million monthly unique visitors.
Salon carefully vetted several programmatic solutions over the course of two years: Self-Managed Prebid, Sortable, Proper Media, and Index Exchange. Ultimately, Proper was selected to take over all monetization on Salon.com because they delivered the best performance and freed up the most resources for the Salon team. On a Month-by-Month comparison, Proper yielded higher eCPMs and revenue across all programmatic display than any of the other solutions that were tested. Working with Proper also allowed Salon to outsource all of the optimization, receivables, reporting, and ongoing maintenance.
Starting in 2016, Salon began undertaking major efforts to modernize the way the business was monetized. A team of seasoned AdOps professionals from Federated Media and tasked them with reconfiguring DFP, Salon’s ad placements, programmatic advertising, demand mix, and all of the necessary reporting for this line of business. The team also brought over knowledge of Native, Outstream, Video and Sponsored Content executions from their past work – all viable tactics for monetization that Salon had not previously utilized.
The Salon team was knowledgeable, but still relatively small when considering the challenge of managing all demand partners across formats, providing consolidated reporting, and handling receivables. As such, they decided to explore industry options.
Since the team at Salon already had a wealth of experience, there was often the underlying thought that they assumed taking the header bidding in house would deliver the best performance.
After first working with Proper and running subsequent tests, it became became obvious that neither Sortable nor moving in-house with Pre-Bid and Index Exchange delivered results comparable to Proper. It was much more difficult to scale, and several of the Salon team’s assumptions about which demand sources would be available did not end up working out. It was clear that even the experienced team at Salon was not able to match the performance of Proper which delivered more revenue at a fraction of the cost of managing in house.
Over a comparative period from Jan-September in different years, Proper delivered an 80% increase in revenue when compared to Index Exchange through a combination of higher CPMs and increased impressions. Proper’s resulting eCPM was 23% higher than Index Exchange during that time.
When Salon switched back to Proper’s managed service, the Proper team re-configured Salon’s entire DFP and helped to implement an optimal ad layout based on prior testing data from across dozens of similar sites. Proper was able to provide industry best practices not only for where ad placements would deliver optimal performance, but also technical specifications for loading and refreshing ads in order to maximize yield. The Proper team’s proven methods led to rapid, sustainable upticks in the KPIs that influence eCPMs, viewability and CTR, which drove a substantial increase in Salon’s revenue.
Part of the difficulty for the Salon team was with the fact that each demand partner requires regular communication, optimization, and technical resources in order to maximize results. Due to lack of scale, it can also be difficult for publishers to receive the kind of “white glove” service that is needed to optimize with demand partners like Google and Amazon. Ultimately, Salon could not be as effective at managing its own demand as Proper was on behalf of Salon, due in combination to the scale of demand sources and the close partnerships that Proper was able to leverage for quick resolution of any issues that may arise.
Reporting came to be quite burdensome once header bidding was moved in- house. Salon required a team of people to manually report on performance from disparate data sources, compiling information in an excel spreadsheet that was both prone to error and lacked usable features.
By contrast, Proper’s reporting tools were a breath of fresh air. The reporting interface includes data from all bidders in a format that can be used to gain actionable insights.
Proper’s automated reporting also maps code changes and tracks the impact to revenue in real time. These tools gave Salon the ability to immediately measure how changes impact revenue, rather than waiting for several days to compile reporting. It also allowed Salon to access real time data about performance without hours of manually compiling data compilation.
Testing is another area that became something unwieldy for Salon to do alone. Without the scale of an entire network of properties, testing any concept came with an inherent risk of large revenue decreases. This is a luxury that most publishers cannot afford in terms of top-line revenue and cash flow. With a managed service provider like Proper, statistical significance can be found by testing small audience percentages across multiple properties, proving or disproving theories in days, rather than weeks.