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How To Build Your Own Ad Server (with Rob Janes from AdButler)

Ben Aston is joined by Rob Janes, Head of Product at AdButler. Listen to learn how to build your own ad server, and that’s gonna help you maximize revenue, save time, and reduce costs as well.

Interview Highlights

  • Rob started as a volunteer firefighter originally, and he was in IT as a career back then. His first gig out of high school was a tech support job. He also went to a paramedic school in New Brunswick, Canada for almost a decade. [1:09]
  • Rob applied for a customer support lead position at a company called AdButler and he worked his way up from there. [2:15]
  • On a day to day basis at AdButler, Rob ends up having 6 or 7 conversations with customers, just getting feedback, customer interviews, and things like that. [2:48]
  • AdTech has this tendency to go full circle every few years. We’re now back full circle again where contextual targeting is the king of the internet again. [4:15]
  • At AdButler, they don’t necessarily capture and allow people to retarget across the internet. [6:17]

“A publisher should own and operate and be responsible for their own data.” — Rob Janes

  • AdButler is a full suite of ad serving solutions. They do everything from video ads to display banner ads, native ads, email, audio, and podcasts. They’ve been around for 23 years now. It was started by their founder named Rajiv Khaneja. [7:57]
  • Rob shares at what point an organization should consider building an ad server. [11:00]
  • When considering getting an ad server, impressions matter to some degree, but not as much as you might think. It’s more about your audience, the people that are continuing to come back, your monthly average users, your bounce rate, your sessions, things like that. [14:57]
  • One of the things you’ll see surfacing across the internet now on a lot of platforms are self-service marketplaces. [16:06]
  • Rob shares his favorite features about AdButler that are most useful to publishers. [18:17]
  • Rob also shares the difference between AdButler and its competitors. [21:21]

“Our biggest selling feature is a little less about the product and more about the people.” — Rob Janes

  • If you’re in the display space, you want to look at not just impressions, but also your volume and your budget. [23:32]
  • Rob shares some resources for publishers to help them know how much their site is really worth. [27:39]
  • Rob explains the difference between an ad server, a DSP, and an SSP. [30:38]
  • Rob recommends a book called Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss. [35:41]

Meet Our Guest

Rob Janes is a paramedic and firefighter turned ad tech and AdOps product nerd at AdButler. AdButler is a display ad server and it’s used by more than 10,000 AdOps teams that include Playboy, Rolling Stone, and Dribbble.

photo of rob janes

“Never underestimate what your site is worth just because your traffic is low.” — Rob Janes

Resources From This Episode:

Read The Transcript:

We’re trying out transcribing our podcasts using a software program. Please forgive any typos as the bot isn’t correct 100% of the time.

Ben Aston

Welcome to The Indie Media Club Podcast. I’m Ben Aston, Founder of the Indie Media Club. We’re on a mission to help independent, bootstrapped media entrepreneurs succeed to help people who create, promote, and monetize through content — do it better. Check out indiemedia.club to find out more.

So today, I’m joined by Rob Janes, and he is a paramedic and firefighter turned ad tech and AdOps product nerd at AdButler. Now we’re gonna talk about AdButler a bit later, but it’s a display ad server and a whole lot more. And it’s used by more than 10,000 AdOps teams that include Playboy, Rolling Stone, and Dribbble.

So keep listening to today’s podcast to learn how to build your own ad server, and that’s gonna help you maximize revenue, save time, and reduce costs as well. 

So, Hey Rob! Thank you so much for joining us today. 

Rob Janes

Hey, thanks for having me. Yeah. It’s great to, to catch up again. 

Ben Aston

Yeah. And I wanna first dig into this story because it wasn’t until I started stalking you on LinkedIn that I discovered that you are a firefighter who became a product manager.

How did that transition happen so seamlessly?

Rob Janes

I noticed, I saw the little LinkedIn thing. It’s like Ben Aston has looked at your profile a day ago. I was like, ah, he’s doing his research. Yeah, so, I started as a volunteer firefighter, originally, oh years and years ago. And I enjoyed it I was in IT as a career back then.

So I was, like my first gig out of high school was like a tech support job for dating myself a little here, but Windows XP, right? Anyway, so I was a volunteer, a firefighter just at a small place then liked it. I went and I did fire school there and they kind of sponsored it and that was great.

And I enjoyed it and I gave up the volunteer thing for a while. And then I went back and I, I went to paramedic school as well. So, in New Brunswick in Canada and yeah, I, I did that for almost a decade and really enjoyed it. You know, you get to a point where you see a lot of stuff as a first responder, you know?

And it takes, it takes kind of a beating on your mental health where it was like, you know what? If I don’t walk away from this, I think I’m gonna end up old and jaded and, you know, a statistic that I don’t want to be. So I was like, I think it’s just time to, to walk away. So I gave it up completely and I applied for this job for this customer support lead at a company called AdButler. 

And I was like, well, I’ve done support in the past. I’m gonna give it a shot, right? And had an interview with the product manager then at the time and the CEO and they liked me. So they brought me on and I just worked my way up from there.

Ben Aston

Nice. And so, I mean, tell us what is it like as the product manager AdButler? What are you, who do you talk to and how are you like prioritizing that backlog for that product development? 

Rob Janes

Yeah, absolutely. So, I mean, on a day-to-day basis, I may end up having six or seven conversations with customers themselves. Just getting like feedback, customer interviews, things like that. Then it’s a lot of meetings with the development team. We have project managers as well. So, you know, I kind of oversee the roadmap and say, Hey, this is what the market is after right now. This is what’s working. This is what’s not working.

These are the trends we’re seeing in the industry. The feedback we’ve gotten, you know, from market surveys and NPS course and all that stuff. And then from there, you know, I kind of dictate, Hey, this is what we should prioritize next. And then I work with the product managers or the project managers on each team to say, Hey, okay, well, here’s what we need to work towards.

Here’s that shared vision, right? Yeah, I mean, everybody from, you know, the CEO who expects me to deliver a quality project and product all the time to, to down to the developers who are actually in their coding. I pretty much liaise between all of them everyday. 

Ben Aston

Yeah. And so, I mean, I’m curious in those conversations that you are having with publishers at the moment, what are some of the interesting or surprising things maybe that you’ve heard from people recently that is impacting what is on your roadmap?

Rob Janes

Yeah, that’s interesting. So one of the things we’ve kind of been actively working on recently is, like machine learning and AI obviously is like, you know, on the tip of everybody’s tongue right now. In the advertising space, obviously, there’s the talk about the, you know, the death of the third party cookie and things like that, you know, been on everybody’s radar now for a while.

So ad tech has this tendency to go full circle every few years. We’re now back full circle again where contextual targeting is the king of the internet again. So that’s like relevant ads to say like, Hey, if you’re shopping for bedsheets, you’re gonna see this ad for this pillow, cuz we know that you’re shopping for bedsheets, right? 

But it all relies on first-party data that the publisher themselves know. So, so there’s kind of two trends we’re noticing. One is, there’s a huge rise in contextual targeting and contextual segmentation. And then also based on first party data. So instead of relying on you being tracked, cause let’s face it there’s a ton of like privacy legislation and things now.

Where you just can’t be tracked across the internet, like, like you could in the good old days. Right? Which is great, as a consumer it’s great. I wanna know that my information isn’t being shared out there. From the tech point of view, it definitely poses some hurdles. So first party data and context right now are kind of king.

And that’s where we’ve decided to take a step back and say, okay, so how do we solve that problem? Right. So we’re building this contextual management platform. We’ve released it now in a private beta for a handful of our customers. Uses machine learning and AI to read their page, figure out the page, what the page is about.

What’s the sentiment? Is it a happy page? Is it a sad page? Right. And then from there, their advertisers can buy against that and say, Hey, you know, I only want my ad showing up on your happy news articles. Right? Yeah. 

Ben Aston

So, and then, I think the first-party data piece is interesting. And I know, I was having a conversation with Mediavine, recently, and they’ve released a plugin. It’s very WordPress oriented. What their approach to first-party data is to get people to install this widget and then again, track people around the internet with their widget. 

What are you guys doing on that first? I understand the contextual piece of machine learning, but on the first-party data, how are you enabling publishers to capture and use that first party data?

Rob Janes

Yeah, that’s a super fair question. We, we don’t necessarily capture and allow people to, to retarget across the internet. We find that a publisher should own and operate and should own and be responsible for their own data. So when you’re saying, Hey, AdButler, I need an ad. That’s when we rely on the data ad that you already know about your users.

So, you typically have, a publisher might have their own data management platform or something along those lines. So they already know information about their users and they’re passing that information to us at the time of their request. So if, you know, this is where having a logged in portal, where instead of just general viewership, where if you can get your users to actually sign up and give consent. 

So the first priority data. Yeah. I mean, we rely on what the publisher tells us as the, at the time of the request and what they already know. And as I was saying, kind of go back to, we encourage people to have, to get consent from the users at that time. And then to have some sort of like logged in information. So when they sign up and they register, the user’s giving, giving you consent to say, Hey, I know this is the demographic details about this user.

Can I use that for targeting? Now again, they don’t reshare that with anybody else. They still, it still lives within their own database and things like that. But at that time of the request for saying, Hey, we know that this is a 38 year old male in Vancouver looking for whatever. Right? So yeah, we kind of still leave the ownership of that data to the publisher.

And it’s what they choose to share with us at the time of the request. Yeah. 

Ben Aston

Cool. Well, yeah, let’s dig into AdButler a bit because, help us understand what it is. We don’t, we don’t use it. But yeah, tell us what it is and why we should be using one?

Rob Janes

Yeah, absolutely. So, I mean, AdButler is a kind of a full suite of ad serving solutions.

So you mentioned the display ad server earlier, which is kind of a bread and butter. We’ve been around for 20, 23 years now, I think. I haven’t been here that long. I’ve been here about seven or eight years myself, but 23 years in the business started as a display ad server. It actually started by the founder. He’s the CEO.

His name is Rajiv. So he actually started up a few of his own websites when like the dot com boom was just happening. He needed an ad serving solution then back in the day. He went to like, DoubleClick and he was just like this, you know, typically faced teenager in high school building websites when the internet was just becoming a thing. Decided, Hey, you know what, this is nothing more than a glorified hit counter. 

So he kind of built his own, right. You know, just, he was really good at it. And from there it’s built up over the last 20 years. But a full suite of ad serving solutions. So, and we can certainly go into it, know what exactly an ad server is and what it does.

But we do everything from video ads to display banner ads, native ads, email, audio now, and podcast. So if you are running podcast and you want to have an ad at the beginning or somewhere during that podcast feed, you know, it’s our software that lets you manage that. That ad placement and what’s gonna be running in there and who’s gonna be hearing what end. 

Ben Aston

So help me understand how it, how is it different then from something like a Mediavine or an Ezoic, how does it or AdWords? So most people will probably be thinking, Hey, well, I’ve got AdWords already. Why do I need an ad server? 

Rob Janes

Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And there’s a, there’s honestly, that’s a very loaded question.

Cause you have to almost understand the ad tech ecosystem a little bit. There’s a lot of moving parts into it. When you get into like, you’ll hear a lot of words being thrown around like DSPs, SSPs, exchanges, things like that. The ad server is what your site, your app, whatever and I’m talking about, again, a lot of terms. 

First party ad server, so in this case, as a publisher, you would have your own ad server. And that ad server is responsible for managing the placements on your page. And that decision engine to say, Hey, what ad should go here? So it’s the right ad in front of the right person at the right time. That’s what we do.

It’s kind of similar to what Ezoic does to some degree. They do a little more automation to try and figure out where’s the best placement to go on the page. They have some other features. We’ve got some things that they don’t. But in, in the kind of the grand scheme of things. So we fit into this publisher side of saying, Hey, the publisher wants to monetize their website, put ads on their website, here’s the placement and so forth.

Then you have this whole other world where there’s like a supply side platform and stuff like that, which, again, we can touch on as well if you wanna go down that. It’s a long rabbit hole. 

Ben Aston

No, that’s fine. And so why those should, at what point does one, like consider building an ad server rather than just using something like Ezoic or a Mediavine?

Rob Janes

And even, and even, yeah, Mediavine, Ezoic. You could even think of like Google AdSense, right? So, I’m thinking of more of like the, a publisher point of view, right? Cause most of our customers here at AdButler publishers, they have the grown websites. So you think of like Costco wholesale or Home Depot or, you know, you mentioned Playboy and some other ones where, they’re all publishers, they run ads on their site.

It’s great at the small scale when you have some of these easy plug-and-play platforms like AdSense or Ezoic, where you can just plug it in and you just earn some of this passive revenue, right, for just showing. There’s a whole other kind of ball game when you get into the larger scale and you want to have like direct relationships with advertisers.

So the thing with like, say, think of AdSense or Ezoic, is that you put a tag onto the page. They’re going to fill that tag with an ad campaign that they have from their own exchange or their own what’s called demand. Quick crash course in ad tech. There’s supply and demand, just like anything in economics.

The commodity that’s being traded between supply and demand is the ad space itself. So the supplies, I’m supplying ad space, the demand is I need that ad space. Right? So when we talk about a demand-side or DSP demand, is those advertisers looking for that ad space and the supplies, me as a publisher saying, Hey, I have this website and this space you can buy.

So you know, to kind of circle, to full circle back to that, it’s great when you’re smaller, your volumes are lower, where you don’t have to go out and talk to advertisers directly and say, Hey, I have this website. Here’s my audience. Here’s what I get, you know, and negotiate some of those direct deals.

You have throw on Ezoic, you throw in Google AdSense or somebody like that. They put an ad on the page. They pay you a little bit of money. It’s not great. But they pay you a little bit of money and you can make this passive income. But it gets to a point where you’re getting a lot of traffic to the site and then you could start looking and saying, Hey, you know, what other monetization opportunities do I have available? 

Can I actually sell my ad space to an advertiser directly? Because if I’m only getting a certain CPM, you know, which is a cost for a thousand impressions, basically. If I’m only getting a certain CPM or RPM through AdSense, and it might be a dollar or two, in the direct deal market, when you’re working with an advertiser directly, they’re typically gonna pay 5, 6, 10. 

Like I’ve seen the oil and gas sector pay anywhere from a 50 to $60 CPM. So if they’re running just, you know, Google AdSense at a one do, and they’re getting a $1 payout for every thousand ads they slow from Google, in the oil and gas sector when you’re working with, you know, an advertiser directly, they’re willing to pay you $60 every 1000 times you show an ad.

So it gets to a point where you get enough traffic. You have a niche market where it makes sense then to do a direct deal with an advertiser or set up your own self-service marketplace. That’s where a platform like AdButler really helps, cuz then you can plug in those campaigns, track those metrics, things like that.

Ben Aston

That’s cool. Yeah. Cuz and to me this is a whole new world. I’m very aware of the publisher, well, publishers that I know will just be like, yes. You know, they’re trying really hard to hit a hundred thousand views so that they can go to Mediavine and apply for their site to be listed or to use their tech.

But, so then when you’re talking about when you are bigger and what kind of size, what kind of number of impressions a month would one of these, does it become worth trying to, in your mind, beginning to think about getting an ad server?

Rob Janes

Yeah. That’s and that’s a really good question because it kind of varies depending on the market you’re in.

As an example, so some of these oil and gas ones that I’m thinking about, like mining.com as an example here. They do a lot of traffic. They do probably a few million impressions a month, but there are smaller, there’s smaller sites that might only do 100 to 200,000 impressions a month that are still able to do direct deals because the advertisers are looking for a very niche audience.

If you have a hundred thousand people coming to your website, but your website is very niche, you’re catering to a very small market, you still have a very big appetite for advertisers that are wanting to get in front of your audience. So yes, impressions matter to some degree, but not as much as you might think.

It’s more about your audience, the people that are continuing to come back, you know, your monthly average users, your bounce rate, your sessions, things like that. Impressions are great. You’ll find when you go to some of the big ad exchanges, they’re gonna have requirements of like a million impressions a month or 10 million impressions a month and things like that. 

It doesn’t mean that the smaller customer the smaller user base out there, the smaller websites that do a hundred thousand, shouldn’t be doing direct deals. If you have a hundred thousand people coming to your website, but it’s, again, niche, it’s all about that audience. Right? You can still sell that for a lot of money.

I’ve seen sites that do a hundred thousand impressions a month and they still make 10 or $20,000 a month just in direct deals. 

Ben Aston

Yeah. The power of direct deals is, yeah, is pretty incredible, really. That, I mean, that’s my experience. We don’t use any ad exchanges and we broke our own deals, which the difficult thing about it is that it does require a sales team or someone to sell and someone to manage those relationships.

Rob Janes

It used to. You’re right. It used to. Yeah. 

Ben Aston

And well, yeah, talk to us about that then. In what world doesn’t it?

Rob Janes

Yeah. So, I mean, one of the things you’ll see kind of surfacing across the internet now on a lot of platforms are self-service marketplaces. Like as a user, as a consumer of internet content now, everything is kind of self-service.

I mean, you try to book a hotel, it’s a self-service page. You try to book a flight, it’s self-service. You know, everything, even a taxi now. Right? Or Uber, it’s all self-service, right. It’s just what people know. So ad tech is finally catching up. So, you know, we launched back in, we were actually at the AdMonsters events.

We go to events every year all throughout the world, but we launched our own self-service solution here back in April, I think it was. And what it does is it allow, it allows publishers to create a, like a turnkey solution where they can have a direct deal. And you can just put like this advertised button at the bottom of your page or wherever you want.

And the vendors actually come over themselves. So the advertisers can go click on the advertise with us button. They can see your ad placements, you can set the price so they can bid against each other. So, you no longer have to have this salesperson in there negotiating a deal to say, Hey, it costs X number of dollars to buy this spot for this amount of time.

And here’s targeting options. It gives them a turnkey solution to the advertiser. Just goes to the website and goes, yep. I wanna buy that ad at this date and time. Here’s my credit card details. Submit it for an order. And then you as the publisher, then look at it, go great. I see this person wants to make this purchase.

Do I approve or do I reject it? And so it takes all of that, all of that negotiating and, in the ad space world is called the insertion order, which is when you’re coming up with the insertion details, it takes all of that, all of that…

Ben Aston

Confusion mess. Yeah. 

Rob Janes

Yeah. Out of that and just automates it all through a self-service page. It’s becoming super popular. I mean, you can Google just like advertising self-serve things and you’ll find a ton of them out there. 

Ben Aston

Right. And so, tell us about some of the common features then that, I mean, yeah, what are your favorite features about AdButler that you think are most useful to publishers? 

We’ve talked about this self-serve model, which sounds pretty cool, as a way to get around the exchanges. But yeah what are some other things people should be looking at for if they’re thinking about building their own? 

Rob Janes

Yeah. Yeah. And I mean, so building your own. When it comes to like advertising, there’s always this like build by rent decision that most people don’t like.

Did we build our own? Did we buy one? You know, that’s off the shelf. Did we rent like a SaaS solution? Right. So AdButler is a hosted cloud-based solution. We manage, you know, the servers and things like that. And you just log into the basically air cloud based solution and manage your campaigns there. But we also have all of these APIs.

So if you wanted to build your own ad server, but you didn’t want to, you know, take the time and the effort and the years of work and the millions of dollars that we’ve spent over the last 20 years to get to where we are today, you could, you know, harness our APIs and build your own in a matter of weeks or months, right?

Using kind of ours as the decision engine. But, you know, in terms of like what features I like the best, a lot of loaded questions here. The self-service is super cool because it’s kind of shifted the whole market, the whole market a little bit. Where everybody like everybody I talk to now from big com score 100, biggest publishers you can think of in the world are now like, okay, it’s time to start doing self-service.

So that’s a super cool thing. Contextual targeting and that AI driven contextual target in the past publishers would have to go and tag content and things like that. Now, having that all AI-driven, that’s super cool. There’s a lot of really cool challenges that exist in tech that I think, for an advertising that tech can solve with, with AI. So I think that’s super cool. 

We’ve got some other things in the works, like promoted products and sponsored listings. So, you know, being able to ingest product feeds from, from retailers. I’m using retailers as an example, but being able to ingest like a product feed and then promote your product on the page, we’ve got all sorts of stuff like that.

That’s really cool. I don’t know if I could easily come out and say, there’s one thing I like best because I really like what we do here. And I like that we don’t just go after one market. You’ll find some places like, Kevel’s a prime example. Kevel goes after the API marketplace for ad servers and they do the API side of things really well.

We also do it really, really well, but we don’t kind of pigeonhole ourself into one, one vertical. So we do that display, video, email, we do everything. And I think that’s what, from a product point of view, I kind of like the best, because it’s the biggest challenge. You know, I’ve had experience from a product point of view where you’re just focused, you’re hyper-focused on one product and that’s great. 

I like that we, we kind of paint with a broad brush and there’s just so much that we can do. So we’ve got every, everywhere from small customers, you know, that might only do a couple hundred thousand impressions a month who have really cool challenges just in their own, their own ecosystem. 

And then we’ve got great big publishers doing billions of ads every month with millions of dollars of ad spend. And, you know, it’s a totally different ballgame, but it always keeps you on your toes. I really can’t narrow down what I like best because it’s just I thoroughly enjoy it.

Ben Aston

Awesome. And so, yeah, who would you, who are AdButler’s main competitors? I mean, you mentioned one of them, but what makes, why, what is different about AdButler? 

Rob Janes

Yeah. I mean, we have different competitors depending on the solution you’re using. Right? So our display ad server for typical banner ads, our biggest competitor there is Google Ad Manager. Right? It would be the biggest or other competitor they used to be called Smart. I think they just rebranded to Equativ just recently, cuz they have a few umbrella, or other smaller agencies within it. So you know, there’s three kind of like big players in the, in the display ad surfing space. And that would be Google, Equativ, formerly Smart and now us. 

You know, on the API side, there’s Kevel, which is a competitor there. In the email space, you’ve got PowerInbox or LiveIntent, know, an AdButler in, in that space and the video side there. So we have different competitors depending on the solution that you need. It’s not often that we get a customer that comes in and uses everything, right?

Like they might just use one, one part of the tool. Really what sets us apart though is at the end of the day, I think we still very much consider ourselves an engineering company. You know, it’s a small scrappy team that we’re very focused on. Like, Hey, what are the really cool things we can solve with tech?

What are the really cool problems that exist in the market that we can do and we can do better? Like, it’s really hard if you’re a publisher that isn’t say one of the top 10 or 100 publishers into the world to pick up the phone and say, Hey, Google, how do I do this? Right. Like, Hey guys, my campaign needs a little help or I’m trying to do something really cool or bespoke, how do I do it?

Goodluck doing that with Google. Right? Versus, you know, a company like us where, you know, you have that level of personalization and support where you can talk to somebody and you can get that industry knowledge. You can talk to people who have been doing digital marketing for 20 years and 20 plus years and rely on their expertise.

That’s really hard to find. I find it in a lot of places. That’s our biggest selling feature is a little less about the product and more about the people really at the end of the day. 

Ben Aston

Cool. And tell us, I mean, you, we talked about the competitors there. Like how do you think when a publisher is deciding what is the best solution for them in terms of ad servers?

How would you recommend publishers decide what they should be, how they should be displaying ads and what tech they should be using to do that?

Rob Janes

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, that’s a very, again, also an interesting question because no two publishers are alike. You know, you might have similar play customers in similar markets, but no two are identical.

So when we talk about like, Hey, what’s, what should they be doing? Really, it comes down to the vertical you’re in. So, yeah. I mean, if you’re in the display space you wanna look at not just impressions, like I said, impressions aren’t everything. Right? You wanna look at, you know, what’s your volume? Like a) can you even afford?

Cuz obviously tech has cost, right? The nice thing with like, AdSense or Ezoic is they pay you out, you know, you put a tag on there. There’s not a, there’s no real cost to you per se, cuz they’re paying, but they’re paying kind of bottom of the barrel prices, but there’s no sunken cost there. Versus you use somebody like us or Google Ad Managers, you know, premium version or Kevel or Smart, there’s obviously a cost that’s incurred. 

So can you make back more, obviously it’s that unsexy metric of, Hey, can we make more than we spend, right. So it’s first is, do you have, you know, the audience and the numbers to justify bringing on another tech cost, right?

Is obviously one part of it. It’s not everything, but especially for smaller publishers. You know, is it gonna be worth your while? Most of the times it is, I find a lot of the publishers that I talk to, they just don’t realize what their inventory is really worth. And there’s not a lot of good sites out there that exist that you can find out what your site is worth.

I mean, you can go to like site value calculators, and they’re gonna roughly tell you what your site’s worth based on page hits and things like that. But it really doesn’t give you a true insight into like, Hey, this is how much you could really monetize based on industry turns and what advertisers are paying and things like that.

But making the decision of, Hey, like what ad server should we go with and where, really comes down to, you know, how much do you know? What’s your technical, you know, ability? Do you have developers that can implement things? Yes or no? Do you have to build anything custom? Does it, does the price, you know, warrant the cost and what you’re gonna make in return?

Do you need, do you want everything in one platform? Right. So do you need a contextual engine? Do you need self-service? Do you want to be able to do omnichannel promotions? So to run a video, to run an email, to run a display ad in one platform, all of those kind of decision factors kind of go into that business model of saying, Hey, you know, that really dictates which one you go with.

Do, do you go with, so if you were say building just, if you had like a listing website or a marketplace and you wanted to do promoted products, you might look at that and go, okay, well, the two players in this space are AdButler and Kevel. Which one do we want to go with and whatever, right?

If you have that, if you have that website, but you wanna do promoted products, plus you want to do some audio ads or display ads and have a self-server marketplace. Now, obviously, your needs have changed a little bit. That takes Kevel out of the running because they only offer one piece of that pie. And then you look at AdButler by night this says, okay, well, we can do 90% or 95% of what you’re looking to do in the one dashboard. 

The really, you know, the other cool thing where I say we’re an engineering company is that, we have this really cool out-of-the-box solution that most customers use and it’s great. But for our bigger customers, and not even bigger, just even some smaller customers, they might look at the platform and go, know what, AdButler gets, gets me like 90% of where I want to be, 95% of where I want to be, but here is my dream solution. 

We’ll usually sit down with them and look at it and go, you know what, like we can do that. Like, it’s gonna take a week or two weeks, but we can actually give you the exact solution you need to go to market with. And we’ll build it for them, and then we go from there.

So not every customer has the exact same AdButler solution. A lot of them are kind of tailor-made, based on, and our base platform. 

Ben Aston

Right. And so one of the things that I thought was interesting, you know, you’re talking about many publishers don’t know how much their site is really worth. How do you help people?

I mean, how do you, how would you work out? What tools would you use or how would you figure that out? 

Rob Janes

Yeah. That’s, that is interesting. So the great thing about being in tech and being in the ad server platform itself is that we have these industry insights to what people are already paying, what people are charging, what people are making.

So a lot of it just comes down from, just comes from our own personal information of what we know from our customer base. And, you know, we’ve got tens of thousands. So actually quite, quite a bit higher of websites that run through over. So we have insights into that. There’s really good sites like eMarketer is a really good source of truth where you can go and you can figure out trends. 

There’s Ad Age, there’s Digiday, you know, so depending on what you want to, what you want to know will really dictate what site you should go. If you wanna learn ad tech and you’re not really sure what solution you need, Digiday. They have a WTF series which, which explains everything in ad tech in, in, in, the most simplest of terms. 

So, you know, if you’re trying to figure out, should I go with an SSP? Should I go with an ad server? Digiday is the place to go. If then you want to go, okay, I’ve decided I to need an ad server. Now, what should I be charging? Now it’s time to go to eMarketer. Right. And you go to eMarketer and you have to look at a trends or there’s some other websites you can, I mean, Google is honestly your best friend when it comes to anything on the internet, right, for searching. 

But yeah. Those are the sites I use. You know, if you talk about what tools I use myself religiously, mean, those are what I use. In terms of tools that I use though, completely un-tech related whatsoever, but just throwing it out there.

I use a mail client called Superhuman that has changed my life. I I in no way, shape or form, am I an affiliate of Superhuman or anything like that. It’s just one of these things that somebody introduced me to like maybe two years ago. Just cuz you mentioned tools and it’s just something I was thinking of.

Dude, I do hundreds of emails every single day. And a lot of people they look at you’re like you have your mouse and you have one finger and your, you know, your click click. Superhuman is like, okay, forget the mouse. Everything is shortcut keys. You’ve got 10 fingers. Use all 10 fingers to do your email instead of your mouse.

So everything is shortcut keys and the aim for what’s called inbox zero. It has changed like my work productivity greatly. Anybody that’s listening to this or watching this and they do any volume of emails, needs to switch to Superhuman. It’s just an email client that runs off of Gmail. I don’t know if they run off of anything else yet, but it runs on, out of Gmail. Oh, it has changed my email life completely. I can’t live without it now.

Ben Aston

Well, well, I’ll definitely go and check that out afterwards. Now you’ve been throwing around quite a few different acronyms, so help us like understand the difference between an ad server, a DSP, an SSP, in, you know, in the world of programmatic advertising.

What, so what are, is the difference between these things? 

Rob Janes

Oh God, how much time do we have? Yeah, no, I can give a quick crash course, I guess. So I mentioned earlier about the commodity of ad tech being the ad space, right? The ad space is what’s being traded. So there, there’s kind of a few terms that’ll go or act as a synonyms. Wow. I’ll get it right, eventually. There you go.

So you have like over here as the publisher and the publisher has the inventory that they’re selling, and then over here you have the advertiser and the advertiser wants to buy that ad space. So the most simplest model is a direct deal where they’re just talking to each other, they’re saying, Hey, I wanna buy your ad space.

Here’s the image I wanna run. They’re like, great. Not a problem. It’s X number of dollars. I’m gonna be put it on my website. That’s a direct deal. So you have your publisher and your advertiser. Another way to look at it is you have your supply and you have your demand. So I’m supplying the ad space, that’s the publisher. I’m demanding the ad space on the advertiser. 

Then there’s also what’s called an SSP and a DSP. So an SSP says, Hey, I have a bunch of different publishers that I represent, and I’m going to allow somebody to buy across all of this, all of these inventory spots across these publishers.

So it’s a supply side platform. So a publisher can go to an SSP and say, Hey, I only have 200,000 hits to my pay or to, to my site or impressions every month. So I don’t have enough impressions to go play ball with the big guys and the big ad exchanges, but I still want to make more that I’m making with Google AdSense or Ezoic or wherever.

So they might go to an SSP and say, Hey, here’s my niche. Here’s my audience. Here’s my traffic. Great. So the supply side platform works with the publishers to aggregate all of that into one big bundle and then sell it off. On the other side, you have advertisers. So advertisers being the demand side. There’s also what they call a demand side platform.

So if an advertiser doesn’t wanna have a direct relationship with a publisher, they might have a demand side platform. And the demand side platform does the exact same as supply side platform just for advertisers. So they might say, Advertiser A has a $10,000 budget. B has a $30,000 budget, wherever we’re gonna take all of that into one big bucket.

And they shoot it across the, at the various SSPs or exchanges and hopefully hit our target. So you have this SSP. And then in the middle, you have exchanges and networks. So, so exchanges and networks are kind of like the, most of the times it’s automated and our network, an exchange is it’s all, it’s definitely all automated.

And it’s that quickly milliseconds of, I have an ad request over here from the publisher, from this website, goes here it’s auctions at offer. It says, Hey, out of all the DSPs we’re working with and all the placements that we have, who should get that place at that time? And usually it’s done at an auction level.

So exchange is typically done at an auction level. They’re saying, Hey, the highest bidder gets that spot. A network may not be at an auction level. It might be like, you know, I’m guaranteeing you this spot here on this publisher, so forth. So you really, you have supply and demand or first party and third party.

Third-party is the advertiser. First party is the publisher. So you get your publisher ad server, your supply side platform, your ad exchange in the middle to your DSP, and then to your advertiser. And those are all the hops, right? The crazy thing is, the more of these providers in the middle, the less money you make as a publisher because everybody takes their cut of the pie along the way. 

So that’s why, you know, when I, in the world of ad tech, programmatic’s not going anywhere. It’s here to stay. It just, it makes life so easy for an advertiser to get their ad campaign here, out through the internet, to millions of websites, through that DSP exchange, SSP loop.

That’s super easy for them. So they’re okay to spend a bit more money to say, Hey, you know what? It makes it easy. Let’s do that. We don’t have to then have negotiate all these deals. From a publisher point of view, it’s great. But ideally, if you could have that relationship with the advertiser, it cuts out all of those steps in the middle.

So everybody taking their 5%, their 10%, their 20%, you know, you make more revenue just by having that direct relationship with that advertiser. So if you could always foster that relationship, I would recommend that a hundred percent of the time whenever you can afford to do it. 

Ben Aston

Yeah. A hundred percent. Cool. Thanks for the breakdown there. We’re gonna, we’re gonna wrap up with a lightning round. 

Rob Janes

Oh no. Okay. 

Ben Aston

So yeah, I wanna know what’s the best advice do you think you’ve ever received? 

Rob Janes

Oh, you know, it actually came from Rajiv, the CEO here and he says it to me all the time and it’s, don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. I’m a wee bit of a perfectionist when it comes to like the products we deliver to our customers. 

And it doesn’t necessarily always have to be perfect for it to be to work and work well and get traction, and then we can always iterate on later. You know, so it’s not necessarily the, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it sort of thing. But it doesn’t always have to be perfect. It has to work. Yeah. Is my biggest one. Yeah.

Ben Aston

Can you share a book that you’ve read recently that you’d recommend for someone in the world of, or maybe not even a book, a website that you, a resource that anyway, that you think is good?

Rob Janes

Yeah. So before I, I had the product role here at AdButler I was in sales. And I’ve read a book called Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss. It is one of the best and I read it and then I got the audiobook and I listened to the audiobook usually once a year, cause I drive across country at least once or twice a year.

And I throw on the audiobook as I’m driving. He was an ex-FBI negotiator, turned kind of salesman, and now he goes, you know, he like goes and talks at Harvard business school about negotiating sales tactics. And it’s all about like, never splitting, never compromising on what you want, and still being able to get what you need just by using some really cool negotiation tips that he learned as an FBI negotiator that you can use in everything. From like getting, your kids to sleep at night, you know, to closing sales deals or getting raises at work, right? 

It’s just good ways to say no and say no correctly and still get what you want at the end of the day. Best book I’ve read in forever. Never Split the Difference. 

Ben Aston

For someone at the beginning of their digital media journey, lots of people listening will, you know, they’ll have a site, they’re a small publisher.

Based on your knowledge of, you know, working with thousands of different publishers, what’s one piece of advice that you would give an up-and-coming publisher?

Rob Janes

Yeah. That’s great. Um, Do your homework. And don’t underestimate just what your site is worth. Just because you don’t have a lot of, you know, if you’re an upper come, up and coming website or publisher and you don’t have a lot of traffic, it doesn’t mean, you know, the opportunity for direct deals that door has closed.

Do your homework. Really, you know, reach out to, you know, reach out to us here at AdButler. Maybe we can help, right? But beyond that, you know, just in my own personal experience, do research, look at eMarketer. There is nothing wrong in reaching out to brands that you think would work well on your site.

You know, if you’re doing a website about, you know, car parts and things like that, maybe reach out to a local dealership and say, Hey, look, you know, here’s what I’m doing. Here’s who’s just coming to the site. There’s not a lot of traffic. But no, I might only get 20 or 30,000 visitors to my site, but of those 20 or 30,000 visitors, they’re probably actually shopping for cars right now.

Somebody’s looking for parts. Maybe you’ve got a used car or a new car. That’s gonna work really well. And you can actually, close the sale based on somebody seeing the ad on the site. So never underestimate what your site is worth just because your traffic is low is the biggest thing. I hear that time and time again, people are like, Hey, my traffic’s low.

So I’m going to settle for AdSense, right? Or I’m going to settle for something like Ezoic. And really, they just, they don’t understand that, yeah, you can, there’s far more money to be made just by doing that. 

Ben Aston

Yeah. Sound advice. Rob, thanks so much for joining us today and where can people find you?

Rob Janes

Yeah, I mean, so obviously adbutler.com, you can go over there. You can find me there. LinkedIn, we have our own pod, our own AdButler Unscripted podcast. You can find me there. I think Ben, you were actually on that podcast. 

Ben Aston

I am. 

Rob Janes

So, definitely go. And anybody listening should go over, check out the AdButler Unscripted. I think you were the very first, the uh, the very first podcast. So, yeah, I would highly recommend checking that out. 

You can find me on LinkedIn, you know, if there are people out there that just wanna learn more about AdTech Rob@adbutler.com. I’m of an open book. I’m a busy guy. So sometimes it may take me a little longer to get back to you, but I get back to everybody.

So you can always reach me there, too. 

Ben Aston

Awesome. Well, Rob, thanks so much for joining us today. It’s been great having you with us. 

Rob Janes

Yeah. Thank you. Take care.

And if you like what you heard today, please subscribe and stay in touch at indiemedia.club. And please leave us a review on iTunes, too.

But until next time, thank you so much for listening.

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