What is header bidding and how enables publishers to earn more?

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More than 80% of publishers already employ header bidding, the latest technology to help you get the most out of new advertising revenue streams.

Header bidding has been on the rise from 2014 and is today one of the most important parts of the programmatic ecosystem.

As a publisher, you’re definitely missing out if haven’t yet implemented header bidding on your websites.

Simply put, header bidding is an innovative method of real-time programmatic trading with an ad inventory, on the basis of which all potential advertisers can independently bid on all potential advertisements via different platforms simultaneously. 

With header bidding as a publisher, you can open the ad inventory to auction on the global market and to thousands of advertisers. Sound interesting?

In this article you will learn everything you need to know about header bidding as a publisher and what the best way to implement this latest advertising technology is.

Header bidding basically enables publishers to offer their advertising space via auction to multiple programmatic platforms at the same time. The highest bidder for each ad request wins.

A Short History of Header Bidding

Ad trading via auction existed before header bidding. Prior to its introduction, the programmatic ecosystem used a waterfall setup to sell inventory.

The waterfall setup (or daisy-chaining) is the old-school way of ad serving which involves a ranking of direct advertisers, networks and/or exchanges, arranged from top to bottom, based on the average historic performance they have produced for the publisher (past record in terms of yield (eCPM), fill rate, latency, …).

The impression is passed from one network to another from the top-down in sequence until it is sold.

The waterfall was an industry standard for many years until header bidding stepped into the advertising ecosystem.

The concept of header bidding was developed around 2014 as a solution to the limitations that came with the waterfall approach. In the first year, this programmatic technique was not used with the generic name we know it as today, but it was rather called “tagless”, “parallel auction”, “pre-bidding” or “full bidding”.

The rise of header bidding started in mid-2015 when the term became widely used and accepted.

The standards of ad programmatic solutions were set during 2019 when header bidding was widely adopted across the advertising ecosystem. Since then, header bidding as a programmatic monetization solution has spread like wildfire.

Letting multiple demand partners bid on the same advertising space creates more competition, enabling publishers to sell their ad inventory for the highest possible price. This means far more premium inventory is now available to marketers, and for publishers, the increased competition translates into more revenue.

Benefits of implementing header bidding for publishers

Header bidding brings many benefits to publishers, the most important being more advertising revenue.

Nevertheless, there are other benefits worth mentioning, such as:

  • Increased control (demand partners portfolio, price floor, whitelisting etc.)
  • Increased transparency and reporting on bid-level data
  • Reduced chance of undersold ad inventory
  • Reduced page latency
  • Increased fill rate

Unfortunately, no benefits come without downsides. In the case of header bidding, we could say that implementation can be technically complicated, and that is the main downside.

But this issue can be easily solved. Publishers usually tackle this challenge with a trustworthy header bidding partner. The other downside can be high page latency if the setup is not done correctly.

Would you like to know more about how you can benefit from header bidding as a publisher? Request a free consultation from our header bidding experts.

Types of Header Bidding Solutions

Header bidding as a programmatic auction process provides publishers with three solutions for running header bidding, all of them with their own unique set of advantages and disadvantages.

These three types of header bidding solutions are:

  • Client-side
  • Server-side
  • Hybrid

The very basic difference between these technologies is the location of the software or code that controls the logic behind the header bidding auction process.

Client-side header bidding

In client-side header bidding the auction takes place on the publishers’ web page and is executed within the user’s browser, which handles the entire auction process, including requesting and receiving the bids, and selecting a winner.

This integrative type of header bidding starts when the user opens their web browser and types in the publisher’s URL. While the browser starts loading the page, the header-bidding JavaScript code located in between the tags executes and sends a request to the third-party header platform.

The bidding begins when bids from various sources start coming in. The highest bidder wins the auction and is passed to the publisher’s ad server, which selects the highest bidder. The ad from the highest bidder is displayed on the page.

Server-side header bidding

In server-side header bidding, the auction code resides on a dedicated external “auction server” hosted by the technology provider. The users’ browser makes a single request to the auction server, which remotely performs the entire auction logic and selects a winner.

Since the ad auction is moved to an ad server, this type of header bidding is also called server-to-server (S2S) header bidding.

This header bidding starts when the user opens their web browser and types in the publisher’s URL. While the browser starts loading the page, the header-bidding JavaScript code located in between the tags executes and sends a request to the SSHB vendor.

The server sends out bids to multiple demand sources, whereby the highest bidder wins the auction and is passed to the publisher’s ad server, which selects the highest bidder. The ad from the highest bidder is displayed on the page.

Each of above-mentioned header bidding models have important pros and cons, so when evaluating them with a mind to getting the most out of the header bidding, publishers should think also of using both solutions together in a hybrid model, leveraging the best attributes of both the client and server side running at the same time.

In this situation, the best performing SSPs and ad exchanges are run on the client-side while the long list of advertising demand sources with lower performance compete on the server-side.

Which header bidding solution is better for your business?

The concept of each header bidding solutions offers a range of advantages and disadvantages to publishers, so the choice between client-side and server-side header bidding should be based on specifics like inventory type, demand, current market trends, etc.

As a publisher, you should consider the following pros and cons of each header bidding solution:

 Client-side solutionServer-side solution
RevenueHigher revenue for every impression.Lower average revenue per impression.
LatencyLatency during the initial page load and auction execution.No latency during the auction.
InvestmentHigher initial investment of time and resources.No need to allocate resources for maintenance and support of the header bidding stack.
TransparencyComplete transparency and control over the auction process (demand source, bid price, clearing price).Lack of control and transparency (limited access to auction and bid data).
PerformancePoorer performance.Better performance (especially more space for Videos and Rich Media).
Bidder limitLimited no. of bidders. More bidders, more latency.No bidder limits. No negative impact on latency.
User identificationUsers are easier to identify (ability to sync cookies).Harder to identify users (lack of cookie matching).
Not sure which type of header bidding is right for you? Request a free consultation from our header bidding experts.

The header bidding implementation process

Publishers can become part of the programmatic system based on the header bidding model in two ways:

  • Integrating header bidding with a trusted partner into their AdServer.
  • Adding a header bidding code to their site and ad server (manually in most cases).

The header bidding implementation process can a little bit complicated. You need to execute the following steps for successful implementation (for manual integration):

  • Set up a prebid adapter and header bidding wrapper, and configure the ad server
  • Implement header bidding adapters and establish relations with SSPs
  • Configure different settings (floor prices. etc.) to optimize yield

To implement advanced header bidding technology and earn more money from the existing advertising-space publishers the best way to go is with a trusted and respected partner.

iPROM Yield solution for Header Bidding

iPROM Yield helps publishers set up header bidding using the latest technologies and standards. Our service consists of configuring Prebid and AdServer(s), setting up different demand sources and their bidders and testing the header bidding setup to ensure proper operation.

We provide you with a managed wrapper solution built on Prebid standards.

In addition to performing the technology setup, we also advise you on how to select the most appropriate inventory for header bidding, optimize your business model so as not to lose any direct deals, and optimize AdOps to get the most out of header bidding and other revenue streams.

If you are a publisher and you want to maximize your advertising revenue, iPROM Yield will provide you with the best tech solutions. Start your yield optimization journey now and talk to our experts.


Simon Struna

[email protected]