Key Points

  • You don't need much more than Google AdSense in the early days.
  • As you grow, your ad stack gets more complicated.
  • High-value ad units, legal and privacy matters and adding broader demand become important to publishers as they grow.
  • The ad tech ecosystem is massive and ever evolving so by the time you start considering header bidding, you need to also consider a revenue management partner.

Playwire has been around long enough now to watch some of today's most popular publishers grow from fledgling sites or apps to what they are today. A lot happens between day one and the day you've made it as a publisher, and we've noticed that publishers' ad tech stacks tend to follow a prescribed evolutionary path as they grow.

In this post, we take a close look at the typical evolution of the publisher tech stack, as well as where on the journey you may want to consider bringing in a revenue management partner to help you scale. To find out where you are on the growth path and see what to expect of your ad tech stack as you grow, read on.

Managing even a mid-level publisher tech stack is, in a word, nightmarish - especially when you're trying to create great content and grow your audience. But ad tech is what Playwire does best, and that's why so many publishers partner with us to grow their revenue. Learn more.

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Ad Tech Stack Pillar

Read The Complete Guide to the Publisher Ad Tech Stack!

The Early Days: AdSense and Not Much Else

When you're first starting out as a publisher, your website is the most basic part of your tech stack. You'll have a domain name, web host and content management system (CMS), such as WordPress. Your first foray into traffic monetization will probably include Google AdSense.

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Why? Because it's easy to set up, provides just enough insight (Google analytics), and presents a relatively low barrier to entry into the world of web traffic monetization. You create an account, implement some ad slots and a few lines of code and let Google do the rest.

What comes after Google AdSense in the early days? For a long time, the answer is usually nothing. There's a lot of ground to cover between your first steps into monetization and the next level. This is the time to focus on building your audience and perfecting your content.

Halfway There: GAM and Some Different Ad Units

After you reach a certain size or revenue level as a publisher, you will likely start wanting an ad tech stack that's a little more sophisticated. This often involves graduating to something like Google Ad Manager (GAM).

With GAM integrated, you might start thinking about deeper analytics and different kinds of ad units that will bring in more revenue. You will slowly begin to realize that you can drive your yield through the roof if you're offering more impactful units like takeovers, web interstitials, video ad units, and similar ad inventory.

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This is the stage when you may also begin looking into ways to tag different sections of your site for different verticals, such as a sports or news vertical, so you can sell more targeted ad space.

You have access to Google demand at this point, but to expand even further, you can start running your own advertising campaigns. At the start, this might be as simple as placing a link to an advertising information page in your sidebar or footer and selling direct placements for a few dozen dollars. Think of this as your first chance to dip your toe into the larger ocean of revenue available to high-powered publishers.

The Big Time: Header Bidding, Legal Concerns & Management

Now, you're starting to get really big. Your audience is healthy and growing, and your revenue has increased a lot but may now be starting to level off. This is when you start thinking about the next phase, which will likely involve header bidding, legal and privacy solutions and management.

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Header Bidding

Header bidding, a more advanced programmatic advertising technique, turns a relatively manageable publisher tech stack into a complex one. That's because adding header bidding means you need to find header bidders to work with and build or integrate a header bidding wrapper. That's a heavy technical lift, but the outcome is higher revenue if it's done right.

Meanwhile, if your programmatic advertising setup is outgrowing some of the more entry-level solutions at this point, you may be in the market for a new ad server that can accommodate your header bidding and other programmatic advertising needs.

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Ad Tech Stack Resource Center

Visit the Publisher Ad Tech Stack Resource Center

Legal and Reputational Concerns

At this point in your evolution, you have built something that's worth protecting. You and your team have worked hard, and the last thing you want is a legal issue taking it all away. This is the stage when you probably add a consent management platform (CMP) to your tech stack.

CMPs help you manage the ever-changing privacy laws and requirements for digital advertising and publishing. You will have a lot to choose from. There are many CMP-only platforms, and many of the big supply-side platforms (SSPs) also have their own. Then, of course, you have the option of building your own.


Publishers who reach this stage are busy. You don't have time to manage every aspect of your growing tech stack on your own, and while you have revenue coming in, you may not be in a place to hire a whole team to manage everything.

But you need a solution. You can't just do a little bit of header bidding - you're either doing it or not, and if you're doing it, you're feeling the pressure to manage the thing so it stays profitable for you. This is when publishers start considering managed revenue platforms or hiring an in-house team.

Gradually Advancing: Creating More Competition

The next phase is all about creating more competition. The more competition there is for your inventory, the higher your CPMs will be. And that's what you want at this advanced stage of the publisher life cycle.

You create more competition by adding more demand sources. This is when you will want to think beyond the standards and look to the ad networks and SSPs that can broaden your demand even further than the big names already have.

Of course, integrating more demand sources means a lot more work, both on the technical side and the relationship management side. To scale properly during this phase, you will want to ensure you have in place the proper development and sales infrastructure - or ensure that you are working with a publisher revenue partner who has existing relationships with all the major demand sources and can broaden your demand at scale and without technical hiccups.

Data Management

This is also the point at which you are generating so much user data that you need a platform to manage it. Enter the data management platform (DMP). This is a complicated but worthwhile addition to your tech stack because it enables you to create high-value audience segments with your first-party data, which you sell at high prices to motivated advertisers.

This is yet another juncture at which you can gain access to incredibly large scale - if you work with a revenue partner that has access to countless other publishers' first-party data, you can blend your data in and take advantage of unmatched targeting ability, even as third-party cookies fade into the past.

The addition of the DMP also necessitates the use of a consent management platform (CMP) and potentially identity solutions.

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When Is It Time to Bring on a Revenue Partner?

As soon as you start seriously considering header bidding, you are probably ready to also consider partnering with a revenue platform like Playwire. You're at a decision point: Do you want to go down the rabbit hole of managing everything yourself, or do you want someone who can manage everything and offer some assurances that your entire tech stack is performing at its optimal level?

Some publishers go the platform route early, and they rarely regret it unless they partner with a subpar platform. Others want to try it for themselves, and they tend to make it a few months before they realize they are hemorrhaging potential revenue by not putting this into the hands of an ad tech professional.

In truth, the publisher tech stack has gotten so complex over the years that the only publishers who can really afford to build and manage every part in-house are the largest and most profitable in the world. There's no doubt you plan to get there, but you probably aren't there yet.

Playwire: The Ad Tech Partner That Evolves with You

Playwire has seen this ad tech stack evolution play out for countless publishers. Over time, we have learned how to serve as the optimal partner in the later stages of that evolution, and we have innovated in the ad space to make growth and scale easier. That means our managed ad tech platform grows with you. When you need to scale up, we scale up with cutting-edge tools and fully managed service.

Partnering with Playwire gets you access to the most comprehensive publisher ad tech stack ever built. Sound good? Great - then get in touch with our team today.

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