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My 10 years working in Digital Advertising Operations

If I told you I always wanted to work in Digital Ad Ops I would be lying, Ad Ops didn’t exist when I was growing up. 2016 will mark my 10th year working in the industry for Independent News & Media and I can still remember the first ad I trafficked!

by Chris Gordon in Advertising


Ten years in Digital Ad Ops

2016 will mark my 10th year working in the industry for Independent News & Media and I can still remember the first ad I trafficked. It was in 2006 and the ad was for a Playstation 2 game. The format was a 250×250 also known as an ‘island’, I was blown away when I saw the ad on the website for the first time, there it was, I had placed something on the internet. Things have changed massively since those days, ad functions and capabilities have improved greatly, and digital ads are now part of our everyday lives!

The Journey

I have always liked advertising, it has been around forever and will never disappear. As Henry Ford once said, “Stopping advertising to save money is like stopping your watch to save time”. In fact, have you ever wondered who the first ever online ad was for and what it was? It is generally credited to the company AT&T and first appeared on the website on the 27th October 1994. Here is an image of the ad in question –

The banner itself performed extremely well in terms of click through rate, in what would be unheard of in today’s online advertising the banner had a CTR of 44%! As you can imagine, curiosity generated a lot of these clicks!

When I was first told about a position working for a news publisher’s website it was described to me as placing ads on a website and trying to ensure those ads were received well and perform well for the brand. This still stands today, we try to ensure ads are viewed and drive a return on investment for the advertiser.

My first ad trafficking job was with for the Belfast Telegraph in 2006, part of the Independent News & Media Group. The opportunity to work in the new industry of online advertising seemed like a no brainer. The ad server we first used was called Falk, trying to figure out how to use it was a job in itself. After a while we moved to a new ad server called DART (Dynamic Advertising Reporting & Targeting), also known as DoubleClick. Now this was a nifty piece of kit. This was one of the best around and brought new controls and possibilities, it had some great features I still miss today.

In 2008 I was lucky enough to be approached by the Sales Director who I first trained with in Independent News & Media in 2006. The opportunity was to join the trafficking team in the Irish Independent, making the leap from the No 1 news publisher in the North to the No 1 news publisher in the South!

Working on the site brought new challenges. The traffic it received was much larger than the Belfast Telegraph so in turn this meant we had a lot more potential to sell online advertising.

It was not long after this that Google acquired DART and 2010 DART became DFP Premium (Doubleclick For Publishers) and had a full makeover of its CMS. This was mainly to reflect the same standard layout from a lot of other Google owned products. The ad server itself was great, we switched over and started using the new version in 2012 and still use it to this day. As part of the upgrade we had to re-tag our whole site to have gpt tags (Google Publisher Tags) which were just a new form of javascript container tags the ads served into. Premium is the top ad serving product under Google’s umbrella. A lighter version is known as DFP Small Business, a great little tool still but only applicable if your website/s delivers less than 90 million impressions. The premium tool will allow you tap into more possibilities of earning money from your inventory even if you haven’t sold the ads. Google being Google have the biggest offering of ad networks available in the market. By enabling these features, people who buy online ads from Google Ad Words have the potential to appear on your site through a bidding process. This process has become what’s widely known as Programmatic advertising. In the small amount of time it takes for the webpage you want to read to load, a lot happens. Within about 3 milli-seconds, an auction actually takes place in every ad slot on the page. Advertisers effectively place a bid to win the ad impression, whoever bids the highest, wins. This has allowed for a lot more strategic advertising and a lot more relevancy.

We have all been retargeted with digital ads relating to websites or products we have recently browsed online. This is great for relevancy because you’re being shown an ad for something you are interested in instead of getting served a random ad that is of no interest to you. Here is where the future lies for advertising in my view. What we have now is good, but it is not perfect.

Ads have changed in a big way too. At the beginning it was all mostly static and animated imagery. These were fine and still are in some respects, the only limitations are with their file sizes. The next big thing to come along was Flash, this took online advertising to a new level. The possibilities were endless, you could have video playing in ads and other feature such as multiple buttons each performing a different action. You could have ads that expanded, float across the screen, interact with other ads on the page and even capture data typed in. However it wasn’t like by all. Apple never warmed to it with the former CEO Steve Jobs describing it as “buggy”. That it was indeed as it would allow for a lot of malware which would have been unknown to the user looking at the ad and clicking on it could bring nasty viruses to your computer. This was eventually the downfall of flash and browsers stopped allowing it to appear freely in 2015. This lead to the rise in HTML5. HTML ads have been around for years but never really took off, hence we’re now at the more reliable and widely used 5th revision. It is the format that is widely accepted as being the largest Multi Media format in the market, it can be delivered on Desktop, Video, Tablet and you guessed it, Mobile, something that flash never fully achieved since it was locked out of the iphone. Still a work in progress, H5 ads have come a long way but still have a bit to go. File sizes are much larger than that of flash so publishers must relax their limitations a little to accept the new form of advertisement.

Where for the future? No matter where you look someone has an idea of where we’re headed but the truth is no one can tell. Consumer habits shape the future of advertising, who could have predicted the rise of the smart phone at the beginning of the millennium? The possibilities are endless but one thing is for sure, the future is exciting and what that means for the advertising industry is extremely positive. If you ever wonder when something is going to take off, take another look because it’s probably already happening.

Chris Gordon

Chris Gordon

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