Review: Rubicon Project advertising platform

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June 26, 2008


Disclosure: I was an employee at The Rubicon Project for almost two years as a senior engineer working on core statistics and analytics data, including when I originally wrote this blog piece. I was not asked or compensated to write this review. I bought my stock options upon resigning and so was a shareholder for a time but sold my stake in the company after their IPO.

Despite being an employee, I used the *exact* same interface that any other person uses when they sign up, and I pay
Rubicon the same 10% of the managed advertising they bring to my site. I get no discounts, I have absolutely no special
treatment on my sites or ads, I use the same ad networks as everyone else that signs up, I have no hidden extras, my
setup is as vanilla as they come.

On average, Rubicon Project clients see between 30% and 300% revenue increases.

Background

Online advertising was something that used to really get under my skin. Why on earth would I want to see blinky flashy ads on web sites when all I want to do is read some content? The first plugin I’d install with Firefox on any computer was Adblock Plus.

After hearing what The Rubicon Project was all about, I immediately saw a business plan that couldn’t fail. I’d tried AdSense on my site in the past, as well as various linked ads with LinkShare and others. I even had a guy contact me out of the blue offering to buy advertising space on my site. I made about $0.02-$0.46 per day with the advertising, with a peak of $0.75 on one day, which was extremely lame. A month of effort barely bought me a ticket to a movie or covered my then-monthly Napster subscription.

The Rubicon Project changed all that. And my thinking about advertising in general.

Performance

I tried their ad tags here at iandouglas.com, then my wife got interested and we tried them on her blog too, so of course it was a no-brainer when I launched my blackjack2.info site that I’d include the Rubicon ad tag.

The net result over the past couple of months since their Public Beta launch? Outstanding!

When I first added the tags to my site, I started out lower than my original daily take, which discouraged me, and I debated going back to managing everything myself. But optimizing ad networks based on your traffic takes a few days for the system to analyze, so I decided to stick it out, because Rubicon learns over time. As of this writing, they’ve served about 23.5 Billion ads, and every ad they serve helps them learn and optimize even more efficiently, both over all and for just my individual site.

Between the public beta launch in April 2008 and late June 2008, my average CPM jumped by 170%. I only needed about $3.60 per day just to cover my hosting fees, and having my daily revenue increase by over 306% means I’m pretty much at my break-even point.

Some people will read this and think “Meh, a measly $4/day, are you kidding?” Well, running iandouglas.com was never about making enough money to quit my job and blog full time, but making enough money on it to at least cover my costs for hosting makes me happy! I’m still doing a lot more SEO work on my sites to get a little more traffic, and just let Rubicon work out the details of making me more money with the increased traffic. Rubicon has customers who make a full-time living just from their ads.

Results Over Time

My BlackJackII site generated as much as $8 per day at its peak, when it was the “official cell phone of the summer olympics” that year. But eventually Rubicon felt that supporting small sites wasn’t somehow cost-productive, as having bad actors on small sites could jeopardize their deals with large advertisers, and they made the decision in late 2009 to shut off small sites that didn’t meet a minimum requirement for ad impressions and ad revenue. Even to the point of charging the publisher money if they didn’t generate a set amount of revenue that Rubicon required them to hit. It was extremely disappointing, and I’ve since had to go back to managing my own ads. I debated using competitors like PubMatic but settled on my original plan of using Google AdSense. While I make maybe $50/year on my content now, it’s a few free cups of coffee from time to time.

How Rubicon Changed my Thinking

I hate obtrusive ads. I hate ads that are generic and not optimized for my experience on the site. Adblock Plus was a must-have to avoid the pop-ups, the pop-unders, the noisy ads, and so on. However, at the end of the day, once I learned about the industry and the cost of hosting my own blog, installing Adblock Plus felt like pirating software. Publishers (sites that generate content) don’t operate for free, and while much information on the internet is free, viewing a few ads is worth it to have access to free content. I started uninstalling Adblock Plus from my browsers and since I left Rubicon I haven’t installed it