Optimizing Offer Providers with Sometrics Virtual Currency Manager

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As more and more offer providers enter the incentivized CPA and direct payments space, there is a clear need for a way to easily test different offer providers and optimize between them.

At imeem, I was responsible for evaluating, signing up, testing, and optimizing the various offer and direct payment providers that were leveraged as part of the imeem points virtual economy. I learned valuable techniques and lessons that I thought I would share with all of you as every day I see more interesting startups jumping on the virtual currency bandwagon.

Sometrics Virtual Currency Manager

Sometrics

In order to effectively test and optimize, you need tools to reduce the cost of performing the tests. If its painful to implement the test, record stats, and review analytics, then you'll never get around to doing it.

For optimizing offer providers, I decided to leverage Sometrics Virtual Currency Manager. At the time it was really a decision of whether to build my own custom tools in-house or to leverage their new tools. If I built the tools myself, I knew I would be writing custom hadoop jobs to get the analytics that I wanted. I knew that I wouldn't waste the time to create pretty graphs and would ask myself every time I wanted to track a new metric whether the cost of implementation was worth the effort. And I knew if I built my own A/B testing and reporting tools, the shelf life of the tools would be limited since I was going to optimize for a couple of months and then likely shift my valuable time to other projects. So my decision to use Sometrics was easy in that it came built in with the most common metrics I wanted to track, pretty graphs, and easy to use data viewing\manipulation tools that we have all come to expect from every analytics packages. And an equally important plus was the tools were free to use!

In many ways, Sometrics Virtual Currency Manager functions like your typical ad server (Google Ad Manager, OpenX, DART, etc). It allows you to drop a single Sometrics iframe tag on the page you want to render the offers. Then from within the Sometrics dashboard, you can easily add providers. To add a provider, simply make sure you have signed up and signed the terms and conditions of the offer provider, created your app or campaign within the offer providers interface, grab the iframe code that they provide, and drop it into the Sometrics dashboard. Where this gets more sophisticated than an ad server is in the implementation of the callbacks. After an offer provider calls you back to report an offer completion, you simply send a request to Sometrics servers so they can record the completion as well. You thus serve as a proxy for Sometrics collecting the data it need to provide a full picture of offer impressions to completion to revenue. Once you do get the hang of this, adding a new provider shouldn't take more than a couple of hours to have up and running.

Next you can specify the rotation frequencies of your offer providers. It makes sense to initially give them equal percentage rotation ratios or if you have been using one for awhile, give that one a higher rotation ratio as you test the others. By default you specify global rotation ratios.

After that its times to track performance. Sometrics automatically updates the dashboard every couple of hours to show you the latest impressions, offer completion, and revenue stats on a per provider and total basis. This allows you to easily see how each offer provider is performing over time and adjust frequencies as necessary. One thing to keep in mind when you are running these tests is that its best to run the tests in parallel (as opposed to one after another). You also have to run the test long enough because you will typically see a high eCPM rate the first couple of days a provider is added because this brings new fresh offers to your audience that they will quickly take advantage of. However, if you run it for at least a week, you should see that spike fade and get to a more realistic longer term performance. And that's pretty much all there is to it! Sometrics provides a quick and easy way to perform your testing.

The Sometrics Virtual Currency Manager, however, is not without its issues. It's still clearly a beta product on an early rev. For example, the dashboard doesn't automatically show you the eCPM calculation, leaving you to calculate it yourself. However, given than the target optimization metric is eCPM, this is something that should definitely be built in. In addition, Sometrics has a poor solution for allowing you to specify per country rotation ratios. You may, for example, find that one provider is working better than another provider in a certain country and wish to give the better provider a higher rotation frequency in that country. While Sometrics does provide a facility to do that, its needlessly complex to setup and requires too much configuration.

All in all though I would still recommend it as the Sometrics team assures me these issues will be addressed over time, its the best solution on the market, and in many cases will win in a cost\benefit analysis of building it yourself.

Drivers of eCPM Lift
After spending several months testing and optimizing offers, I started to formulate thoughts on the drivers of eCPM lift. I've cataloged these drivers in prioritized order in terms of greatest resulting effect on eCPMs.

Negotiated Rev Share. The most important driver of eCPM lift turned out to be not product related at all. It was simply your ability to negotiate a better revenue split between you and the offer provider. I've seen the split be anywhere from 50 - 90% net to publisher. By running a performance test across multiple providers, it puts you in a much better position to negotiate higher payouts from each of the providers who are looking to win your business.

Direct Payment Options. While the percentage of completed offers coming from direct payments may not be that high, the total revenue coming from direct payments tends to be fairly meaningful. Thus the number and quality of available options has a material effect on eCPMs. It's important to look at both credit card providers (Paypal, direct credit cards, etc) as well as mobile providers (Zong, Mobillcash, Paymo).

Front Page Offer Optimization. While it turns out that a lot of the offer providers in the end have a lot of the same offers, most users will never see the bulk of offers. Most users only see the first page offers or the first page of each categorized section of offers (free, popular, mobile, etc). Because of this, its very important that the offers shown on the front page are appropriately targeted and fresh. Some offer providers are much better and much more sophisticated at this than others.

Offer Wall Latency. We've had issues with some offer providers that had latency issues with loading their iframe. Users on social networks are jumpy and will quickly bounce if the offers don't show up immediately. This resulted in significant loss in eCPMs for certain providers. Just as Amazon and Google have found, latency costs real dollars.

International Offers. The mix of offers available for the countries that your users are in is important. This is an obvious one. The thing that is somewhat surprising is how low this is on the list of drivers. There are definitely noticeable differences in the number of available offers on a per country basis between offer providers. But it turns out that all international monetization is often a fraction of US monetization. Thus even significant percentage increases in international monetization ends up being much less meaningful on a total revenue basis. This obviously depends on your mix of international countries and thus your mileage may vary.

Offer Landing Page. There are ways of enhancing the completion rates of offers (which tend to be very low). One enhancement that some offer providers did is put the resulting landing page for a specific offer in an iframe and place a small toolbar at the top explaining exactly what needs to be done to complete the offer. I saw a meaningful increase in offer completion rates from offer providers that did this.

I hope that provides some valuable techniques for optimizing your own virtual currency offer and direct payment providers. Check out my related posts below for more thoughts on the space.

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