Welcome to TripleLift’s Publisher Spotlight Series. Every month we’ll share an interview with one of our premium publishers, highlighting unique stories and uncovering valuable insights. This month, we’re speaking with Samuel Youn, Director of Programmatic Revenue Strategy at Chegg. Read on to learn about Chegg’s yield optimization efforts and the changes they’ve seen in remote learning over the past 10 months.
Thank you for speaking with us Samuel! Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself and your role at Chegg?
As Director of Programmatic Strategy, my goal is to grow programmatic revenue on all of Chegg’s surfaces to subsidize or even completely offset the cost of our services for students. I started my programmatic advertising career in 2013 at a company that was later acquired by Chegg in 2016.
Chegg owns and operates several websites that reach over 30 million students per year, and is the leading direct-to-student learning platform today. We strive to improve educational outcomes by putting the student first in all our decisions. In short, we support students on their journey from high school to college and into their career with tools designed to help them pass their tests, pass their classes and save money on required materials.
What drew you to programmatic strategy? How have you seen that strategy evolve since you began working in programmatic?
Like most people in Programmatic Advertising, I didn’t intend to build my career in this space, but I fell into it fortuitously. What drew me into strategy was the quick moving nature of the industry, data-driven results and the open-ended opportunities for improvement. It’s an amazing career that marries creativity, data and technology — best of all, it is measured by revenue! Being able to tie revenue to our student mission has made my career even more rewarding.
As programmatic technology has evolved, it has opened the door to better processes built around technology and data. The watershed moment in my career thus far was the emergence of header bidding. This fundamentally changed how we operated; for the first time, data was democratized for publishers, allowing us insight and most of all, control over how auctions were mediated. As a result, our processes and organization changed to emphasize engineering, AB testing and data analysis.
Speaking of evolutions, obviously much has changed recently in the way that students are learning. How has your business changed since the start of the pandemic?
Chegg has always believed that the modern student would need greater support through online services that were accessible and affordable. Even before the pandemic, Chegg was focused on the inevitable transition of education going digital; the pandemic certainly accelerated this transition.
Fortunately, our business didn’t need to change, but we had to ramp up our systems to support the massive growth as students transitioned to remote learning. We experienced 82% YoY growth in content views and our paying subscribers grew by 69% YoY in Q3 (per our Q3 earnings report).
From a programmatic lens, we took the down-market effects of the pandemic and used it as an opportunity to reset our yield strategy. Maximizing yield is our constant goal; we pivoted our strategy to focus on tech-driven yield optimizations as we know that these changes could improve yield even in a down market. Even though CPMs may have decreased at a macro level from economic trends, our ability to maximize auctions through mediation and viewability optimizations has shown lift in our AB tests.
We also emphasized strategies that were most sustainable and forward thinking. To do that, we examined our setup closely, and created a strategy around the quality of our ad placements and demand path. Our focus became creating the most attractive inventory for buyers and providing the most efficient paths to advertising budgets. We recognized that these two approaches could make an immediate impact, but also would set us up for success once the market recovered.
Would love to learn more about your yield optimization efforts. What metrics do you look at as measurements of success? What are some tools that you use to increase viewability?
Our goal is to make our inventory valuable and efficient for buyers. Viewability is our best indicator for value, as we’ve been able to measure that each decile increase in viewability correlates to an increase in CPM. To improve viewability, we’ve made shared goals between Product and Ads to ensure that we are moving towards product design that keeps viewability a priority.
Efficiency is important for Supply Path Optimization as well as Demand Path Optimization. To measure efficiency, we first assess how much revenue an SSP is contributing to our stack. If the percentage of revenue is low from a specific SSP, we may consider removing them to eliminate low performing paths to our supply, and for our own operational efficiency internally.
However, an even more telling metric is valueAdd. ValueAdd is a metric that we created to describe the difference between the winning bid for any specific partner and the second highest bid. To do this, we capture log level data which includes every bid response from each of our header partners, regardless if they win or lose the auction. This metric tells us the margin at which each SSP wins an auction by (incremental lift). If we find that a partner has a very low percentage of total revenue contribution to our stack, but that has very high valueAdd, we may consider keeping them in our stack. Why? Though they win auctions infrequently, they win auctions at very large margins which equates to significant incremental revenue.
What trends in the digital learning space have surprised you the most over the past ten months?
We already anticipated that our users would depend on us more during the pandemic, but we were really excited and surprised at how fast new students engaged with us internationally. The pandemic is truly a global challenge and it is impacting schools around the world. We’re really happy that so many students are finding us for support during these challenging times.
Do you have any predictions for what the next year will look like for digital learning?
If I’ve learned anything this year, it is to be wary of predictions. That said, a silver lining from this pandemic has been that many students and teachers have been forced to test the limits of what is possible with remote learning, and have learned that a lot can be accomplished online.
Our recent studies have shown that two out of three US undergraduates would welcome more online learning after the pandemic ends. Professors have also warmed to the idea of online teaching, as now roughly one of two professors feel that online education is an effective teaching method. Our surveys also showed that teachers and professors feel better prepared to teach online, improving by 38% since May.
What are some of the advantages of working with Chegg right now that advertisers should know about?
We believe Chegg has more direct-to-student relationships than any other institution. Advertisers have a brand-safe opportunity to be an integrated and visible partner in our student mission in helping increasing access to modernized learning experiences at a low cost.
We have several branded opportunities that integrate directly into the student experience, all of which can be transacted programmatically. The best example of this is our custom Hero unit, which functions as a rewarded video ad unit that unlocks paid features for students free of charge. This unit requires engagement from the user and is a full-page experience that supports both display and click-to-play unmuted video.
Given that we provide unique & compelling services, our students are willing to engage with our advertisements. We have multiple surfaces under the Chegg brand which facilitate different student needs, and we’d love to build partnerships with brands to build unique integrations through all aspects of the student journey.
Last question! Now that we’ve finally made it to 2021, do you have any resolutions for the new year?
I am eager to take the positive momentum from the end of this year and build upon it for a great 2021 — both professionally and personally!