Which Ad Network Should You Join?
You’ve got a sweet offer, your lander is looking hella shiny, and your advertising budget is burning a hole in your pocket.
I feel you.
You just can’t wait to drop a fat stack of cash on media buys and send your bank balance to the moon as you watch the conversions roll in.
But hold on a second!
Before you rush in and beg the first ad network you can find to take your money, you need to make sure you’re not throwing the green stuff down the drain.
If you’re new to the world of affiliate marketing, or even if you’ve been around for a while, deciding which ad network to join can be a difficult decision.
There’s the whole cast of the good, the bad, and the ugly, and if you don’t play your cards right, you could end up going bust.
So in this guide, we’ll give you the lowdown on what ad networks are, why you need one, how they differ from ad exchanges, and the top things to consider when choosing one.
Wanna skip to the checklist right away? Click on the button below.
What is an Ad Network?
An ad network is a broker, or intermediary, that connects publishers to advertisers.
They represent premium ad inventory on behalf of the publishers and resell it to advertisers.
They can offer you all sorts of goodies, like prenegotiated pricing and specific audience pools of premium traffic from some of the world’s top publishers.
An ad network can be formed of private networks or ad tech providers, or in the case of performance ad networks, they can offer attractive price strategies for results-driven affiliates.
These latter kinds are among the ones you’ll typically see reviewed here at Mobidea.
Why Do You Need an Ad Network?
The most simple answer is because you don’t have the luxury of negotiating deals with publishers.
And even if you did, unless you have done extensive testing on your campaigns beforehand, you need better traffic performance and more options than just one publisher can provide.
An ad network can connect you to a specific audience of targeted users who are ready to buy, and they can do this globally.
They can deliver an almost unlimited stream of high-quality traffic that converts in your niche.
When to Use an Ad Network
Ad networks and ad exchanges both have their place, and there’s nothing to stop you from using both.
But, as a general rule of thumb, you want to use an ad network if you are looking for higher volumes, but beware that the traffic quality is not necessarily better.
In contrast, an ad exchange might be better for dynamic campaigns where you are targeting a range of inventory.
But for specific ad formats and niche audiences segments, specialized ad networks win every time.
You may also want to check the ad networks reviews.
Ad Networks vs Ad Exchanges
But before I go on, it’s important to understand the distinction between ad networks and ad exchanges.
You see, back in the day, publishers and advertisers would negotiate direct deals for premium inventory, or ad impressions.
This was a time-consuming process for both parties, but it was the best way of doing things at the time.
The need for ad networks arose to solve this problem and offer a better way of doing things.
This worked just fine for a while, and up until a few years ago, ad networks were the only choice media buyers had to buy inventory in a niche market.
But remember when I said that ad networks were traffic resellers?
This meant fees, and advertisers are always looking for ways to shorten the chain, get better deals, and pay less fees.
So here’s where ad exchanges come in.
An ad exchange is a centralized virtual marketplace where publishers and advertisers can buy and sell digital ad inventory at auction in real-time (RTB).
Ad exchanges connect ad networks, DSPs, and SSPs, so that inventory can be sold to the highest bidder on an impression-by-impression basis.
They solve the problem of programmatic adoption by providing a more efficient marketplace.
This allows advertisers to scale their business and market to a global audience in various content niches.
Everything in our world is now so much more integrated, and publishers can now connect to multiple ad exchanges and DSPs to get the best price for their inventory.
They give advertisers more options, higher volumes, and the option to buy traffic at a price they can afford.
So, should you still be use an ad network, and if so, what are the benefits?
Let’s get one thing clear: Ad networks rock!
And yes, you should absolutely be using one!
This is especially true in the world of affiliate marketing.
Ad networks have also embraced programmatic technology to offer premium inventory to their users and facilitate better deals.
Ad networks now resemble private marketplaces for reserved deals, and often offer high-priority inventory to advertisers at favorable rates.
But there’s another reason to choose an ad network.
Ad networks have exclusive publishers connections that allow them to focus on specific audience segments and verticals for advertisers to bid on.
This is just perfect for promoting affiliate products and offers.
By choosing to work with a niche ad network, you are going direct to the source of all that juicy, high-converting traffic!
How To Choose an Ad Network [Checklist]
Here are a few things to consider before choosing an ad network:
So now, let’s move on to the first item in our checklist: Reach.
Or, to put it another way, the size of the ad network you are thinking about joining.
This is hugely important, as you don’t wanna jump in only to find out there’s a tiny volume of available inventory in the area you wanna target.
A small reach can severely impact your ability to test and scale your campaigns, and leads to a low CTR (Click-through-rate).
It can also mean that you find yourself restricted to a handful of GEOs.
Conversely, an ad network with a global reach can offer you more volume and a higher CTR, along with a lower cost – all of which can significantly boost your ROI.
You should also be looking for room to grow.
An ad network with a large traffic supply will enable you to scale your campaigns and branch out.
Things to watch out for: A small volume of daily ad impressions, a low publisher count, restricted Geos.
Our advice: Unless you’re absolutely sure the network you are joining has high-converting traffic for your offers, avoid networks with a low ad impression count.
#2 Ad Formats
One of the top reasons people decide to choose an ad network is because of the ad formats they offer.
Some ad networks will offer exclusive ad formats, while others will run the gambit.
For example, there’s no point in choosing a network that forces on display traffic if you primarily wanna work with push traffic.
On the flip side, if you’re just starting out, you might wanna try an ad network that offers more than one ad format.
This way, you can test which one s works best for your offer before specializing in a specific ad format.
You’ll find the conversion rate for your chosen vertical will vary depending on the ad format, as well as the type of traffic the network provides.
Likewise, different publishers will impact your CTR and conversion rate (CR).
Push notification ads are hot property right now. They have a high CTR and are a good source of bot-free traffic.
Here’s a list of some top push ad networks:
- Mobidea DSP
Check the complete list of the best push ad networks.
In-Page Push ads may have more in common with display advertising than standard push notification ads, but they share some similarities. As they are strictly banner ads that are dressed up to look like the classic push notification ads and are shown in the page as the name suggests.
The best part of In-Page push ads is that advertisers can reach iOS users, which is not possible with the classic Push Notification Ads.
In-Page Push ads also have the advantage that the user doesn’t have to be subscribed to see them. The downside is that you can’t send notifications to a user’s device, and they only appear when the user is online, but combined with the right offer, this relatively new ad format converts like crazy.
You can buy In-Page Push traffic from the following ad networks:
Native ads are clever little things that like to blend in with the surrounding content. This can result in insane CTRs and a high ROI, provided you choose your categories well.
Here’s a list of some top Native ad networks.
Check the complete list of the best native ad networks.
Popup and popunder ads are not as popular as other ad formats, Pop traffic is still alive and kicking. You’ll find ad networks offering both popup and popunder ad format.
- Mobidea DSP
Check the complete list of the best pop ad networks.
Adult traffic is hot property, and it’s important to choose an ad network with connections to high volume adult publishers.
There are typically two types of traffic sources you might wanna look at – Premium adult inventory and membership area traffic. Both can work well, depending on the offer. Video ads and premium banner inventory can yield high ROIs, but be prepared to spend some time optimizing your campaigns to find the untapped and high converting traffic sources.
Top adult ad networks include:
Check the complete list of the best adult ad networks.
#3 Inventory & Traffic Quality
The traffic quality and inventory offered by an ad network is a huge consideration.
This is one of the key things to watch out for when choosing an ad network.
Ask yourself the questions:
Can this ad network deliver a sufficiently high volume of high-converting traffic?
Is there enough premium inventory available in the audience segment I’m interested in?
Some networks will work with verticals and offer types, as well as specific ad formats, so you know just what to expect from the get go.
Others may be a little harder to read.
Whatever the case, make sure that the ad network offers sufficient transparency for their traffic sources, so that you know where the traffic is coming from.
Some premium ad networks may work with popular publishers and traffic sources that are known to get good results.
Others may have a mix of premium inventory and run-of-network ad placements, or even include inventory from other external sources, such as other ad networks and exchanges.
Ultimately, what you are looking for is private and untapped traffic sources which perform will with your offers.
This is why working with a reputable ad network can save you a bunch of time and money in trying to find those untapped sources with high-profit potential.
Many ad networks have a self-service platform that allows advertisers to choose different inventory groups. Getting this part right can make a massive difference to the success of your campaigns.
You’ll even find some ad networks that allow you to target audience segments by the quality of user, giving you greater control over the price per performance ratio.
Many performance ad networks will focus on results, with CPC, CPA, and RevShare pricing models built into the mix. These can be killer in performance-related verticals such as Nutra, lead gen, gambling, adults, app installs, etc.
Watch out for hidden fees, and make sure the cost model you choose matches your revenue goals.
All this makes it easier to keep an eye on the performance data and choose to work with the traffic sources and content niches that are bringing home the bacon.
While you won’t always be getting the lowest CPC, a high-quality traffic source guarantees that your ROI stays healthy.
Always pay attention to the quality of the traffic partners used by a network. You don’t want unscrupulous vendors in the supply chain wreaking havoc on your bids.
How good is the anti-fraud tech on offer?
No one likes being the victim of click spamming or ad injection attacks, and foul play at any stage of the advertising chain can lead to all sorts of bad stuff that can spoil your day.
Bot or junk traffic can also hurt your bottom line, and result in fewer conversions, so it’s vital to check if the ad network has sufficient safety precautions in place to prevent these attacks.
Check for the amount of data centers an ad network has, their latency, which connection types they support, the RTB endpoints, and JS tags included.
All these things can introduce risk and result in a poor content experience for the end-user.
#4 Performance and Targeting
While it’s one thing to have high-performing traffic sources, you’ll also want some degree of control over your ads, once they are up and running.
An ad network with poor targeting features can lead to a loss in traffic quality. This can negatively impact your performance stats.
The more targeted the ad, the higher the CTR and CR.
To an extent, the ad tech does this for you by showing relevant ads to interested users, but you may also wish to tune your targeting to match the offer requirements.
Pay special attention to the ad filter categories, caps, and Geos on offer, as these determine where and how frequently your ad gets shown.
It’s a good idea to check if the ad network has a traffic estimator tool, as this can give you a basic idea of cost and volume.
Many ad networks allow you to choose specific ad placements.
While this can be helpful later down the line, it’s often best to start with broad targeting and fine-tune your placements once you have some campaign data.
Check for missing filters.
For example, not all ad networks offer ISP and carrier targeting.
This may not seem like a big deal at first, but if the network cannot segment that data, how can you be sure you are targeting the right users?
This can be especially important for mobile ad campaigns, where you want to target users on certain carriers, or restrict data to Wi-Fi users.
#5 Optimization Tools
Auto optimization tools are all the rage.
Some networks have them, while others don’t.
Our advice: Unless you really want to control every aspect of your campaign manual, choose an ad network with a decent optimization algorithm.
You’ll typically need a day or more of test data for these to give you optimal results.
Optimization tools can cover everything from bids to placements, and traffic sources, so take a look at the optimization features that are important to you ahead of time.
Most networks will still let you manually choose sources via whitelisting and blacklisting tools.
As you increase your ad spend, you’ll find that the less input from you that’s needed to produce consistent results, the better.
#6 Reporting & Analytics
Performance data is key to any successful campaign, so pay special attention to the reporting features on offer.
These stats can give you huge insight into what’s making your campaigns pop, or what’s holding you back.
Use reporting tools to find out which ad spots are making it rain, and which ones you need to cut out.
Graphs and charts are nice to have, but at the very least, you’ll need to know what’s driving your clicks and conversions.
Many platforms will give you a breakdown of CPC, CPM, CPM, CPA, Impressions, CTR, CR, or whatever other metrics you want to track.
These days, most ad networks will integrate with popular trackers, such as Voluum, which can add another string to your tracking bow.
They also provide macros that enable you to track specific events, and have these post back to the reporting platform.
This is a nice feature to have if you want to maximize your conversion potential and get cheaper clicks.
#7 Transparency and Standardization
You can get the gist of ad networks by taking a look at the standards they adhere to.
- Do they use the standard IAB initiatives or newer ones?
- Do they include an ads.txt and sellers.json file to check the sources of their inventory?
- Do they keep a list of authorized pubs?
All of these things should play a part in your decision, and could alert you to any potential red flags.
You’ll find that many ad networks have their own proprietary in-house ad tech.
This may enable them to validate creatives and assure good traffic quality at both ends.
Always be on the lookout for transparency, and check that the traffic sources or inventory offered are on a par with what you might expect.
#8 UI and UX
Another thing to look out for is the quality of the UI.
Trust me, these can vary wildly depending on the platform you use!
While many networks will update their UI from time to time, be wary of those who don’t.
This could indicate a reluctance to adapt to change, or it could hint at a bigger problem.
There’s really no excuse for UIs looking like they just stepped out of the 80s, but it can and does happen.
Similarly, you don’t want any headaches or tech hiccups.
If in doubt, grab yourself a demo account to test the waters.
- Is the platform easy to use?
- Is the payment system straightforward?
- Can you do what you set out to do with minimum fuss?
If the warning signs start to become apparent at this stage, you can still jump ship without losing your funds.
On the flip side, don’t just choose a network because they have a great-looking UI.
While the user experience is important, it’s primarily the quality of the traffic that counts.
#9 Support and Ad Management
While many ad networks promote a self-serve platform for advertisers, you’ll often get a basic level of support priced in.
Just don’t count on regular phone calls or coffee meetings if you’re only dropping a fraction of your budget to get your feet wet.
Check account manager availability early on, to save yourself headaches further down the road.
While account level support is fairly standard, It’s also not uncommon to find networks that offer a fully managed service.
If this is what you need, check with your account manager beforehand or get in touch with the team via the chatbox.
Managed services usually come at a higher price, but you may be able to grab yourself some exclusive benefits, such as access to premium inventory and lower rates on bulk buys.
A decent ad network can offer you a constant stream of hungry buyers and access to high-converting traffic sources at a low price.
They’ll offer you plenty of volumes, along with popular ad formats, untapped traffic sources, quality targeting, advanced optimization, and superior ad tech that will have you making bank from the get go.
Most of what we’ve said here applies when you’re considering any ad network.
However, affiliate marketers should check out the ad networks mentioned in the ad formats section, as these will give you the best experience for the type of offers you wanna promote.
So, if you don’t want to get burned, follow these tips, and discover a stress-free way to start raking in cash on demand!
Professional Digital Marketer
James lives on a 27' sailboat in the Solent, works from his laptop, and practices calisthenics on the beach. His expertise in digital marketing enables him to write with conviction on various affiliate marketing and digital marketing topics.