Ad Networks Selection Process & Evaluation Guide
You’re probably looking into the best ad networks because you want to find a way to earn more money from your current website. There’s a lot to consider. This space is convoluted and grows more complex every day. Achieving higher CPM’s — or much more importantly — higher EPMV is actually more difficult than just swapping ad networks in and out.
Below, we’ll walk you through a step by step guide for selecting the best ad networks, ad exchanges, and ad partner considerations to help you earn more ad revenue on your website. This is information is unbiased; as we are not an ad network or an exchange, and we actually own thousands of sites ourselves and have worked with tons of these different entities.
I will lay out exactly what you should watch out for with even the best ad networks and how you can ultimately come out with a winning ad solution on your website.
A thoughtful ad networks selection process
Goal number 1 when selecting the best ad networks for your site should be to avoid any kind of partner that wants to lock you into an exclusive contract. You are probably already aware of this —but I’ll mention it anyways — most ad networks are not 100% honest when it comes to the math that they are presenting you with.
Here are some easy ways to tell if the analytics and metrics an ad network is using is less than forthcoming and how you can still come out on top…
CPM’s are not an End All Be All Metric
I know, I know. This is a metric that is used industry wide; however, it can be easily manipulated. It’s really important to understand that even if you are guaranteed a higher RPM or CPM that you could potentially make less money overall (and many commonly do).
Pageviews per visit, session duration, and bounce rate have an incredibly dramatic effect on site earnings and these. We really dig into this here, but it’s important to realize that often ad networks will guarantee a high CPM or RPM, but they will negatively impact user experience; causing the site to actually get fewer pageviews (or an increased bounce rate). This ultimately decreases ad revenue for the site as a whole.
Ask about Ad Network “pass backs”
You should avoid ad networks that only display ads to the highest value users. This is called a “pass back”. The end result is that the ad network appears to be the highest performing network when, in fact, they are simply taking all of the highest value impressions away from other competition.
Make sure you do your own counting
In many instances, ad networks intentionally — or deceivingly — under-report impressions. This allows the ad network to show you a higher CPM; causing you to think they are doing well. This goes back to our earlier note about CPM’s being easily manipulated.
Keep an eye on advertising network restrictions
Ad networks will often use restrictions as a way for boosting CPM metrics. They will use geographic, device or ad location restrictions to selectively target certain users they know will yield better returns.
What’s wrong with that you may ask? Well, it makes that ad network really hard to properly evaluate. They may earn higher CPM’s than a competing network, but you will not be comparing apples to apples.
Is an ad network that delivers a $1 CPM on U.S. visitors above the fold better than an ad network that earns you a $0.80 CPM across your entire inventory? The truth is you cannot answer that question without measuring EPMV or session earnings.
The best ad networks do not impose these kinds of restrictions and you should be wary of those that do.
A list of the best ad networks
You can find a list of higher quality ad networks listed here. However, it’s very important to continue reading this article if you really want to understand how to avoid missteps in monetizing your site.
The Best Deal: ad exchanges, header bidding, and ad mediation
For a long time, many publishers relied on swapping ad tags in out and out on their site to find the ones that earned them the most money. Over time this evolved into them building ad stacks with logic behind them that would ultimately help them optimize this process even further.
More recently, these rudimentary processes have been slowly taken over — or enhanced — by the advent and utilization of ad exchanges and header bidding.
What’s an ad exchange?
An ad exchange is an online exchange that gives advertisers and publishers a place to buy and sell ad inventory (or space); usually through some kind of auction. Most exchanges allow anyone to buy and sell space. Advertisers and agencies typically use pre-configured or proprietary bidding systems buy on exchanges while ad networks and other entities also buy ads from these exchanges.
The Google Ad Exchange (AdX) is considered by most to be the largest and most reputable ad exchange currently available. However, it is not open to most publishers (this is why Google offers AdSense as a product). However, there are ways for quality publishers to access the Google AdX without much difficulty.
What’s header bidding?
Header bidding – also known as pre-bidding, yield management, and tagless integration – is a way of offering ad inventory to several ad exchanges simultaneously.
This is designed to increase ad yield by allowing multiple ad partners to compete for the same inventory. This increases competition and pushes up prices paid for the ad space. It allows a publisher to accept a bid from an ad exchange that beats any directly sold impression.
These both sound great, how do I implement these?
This is where a lot of publishers have problems. They can’t get into Google AdX on their own (although many actually can use a loophole), aren’t really sure how to engage with other ad exchanges, and really don’t have the first clue about how to effectively set up header bidding.
These are legitimate problems. Not all ad exchanges are fair playing fields. In the same way that ad networks can be less than honest with their math, ad exchanges can often be less than fair with their auction practices. This means selecting an ad exchange is a lot like selecting an ad network. You have to keep your eyes open for caveats.
As it relates to header bidding, it has really been a hot item for about a year now. Many publishers have had terrific results. However, a lot of site owners won’t touch it because of the impact on things like pagespeed and ad latency. Header bidding can potentially slow down a site without being configured properly and can also cause ad latency issues that poorly effect ad earnings.
Ad mediation and pre-configured exchanges and header bidding could be a huge help
One of the things that has become increasingly popular lately is ad mediation. It essentially brings all current ad exchanges and ad networks a site is working with into a network of other competing networks and exchanges and fairly selects the top bidder for the inventory.
We’ve also personally found that a lot of site owners really just want to find pre-configured header bidding solutions that they can implement without having to worry about site slowdown or ad latency. This is something we started using on a lot of our personally owned sites and ultimately made available on the Ezoic platform for free.
Finally selecting the best ad networks, exchanges, and partners available
If there’s one thing we’ve learned from managing thousands of websites on our own, it’s that data is king. And, the only way to get the data that really matter is through testing.
When finalizing how your ad network and ad partner selections make sure you have a rigid testing protocol planned. Plan to accumulate and amass your own data. Most ad partners do not provide you the tools you need to objectively measure your progress.
We obviously built the Ezoic platform strictly for these kinds of tests, but you can actually also use the free platform just for advanced analytics as well. This will allow you to do automatic EPMV calculations and more to evaluate how all ad partners are doing.
Partitioning traffic to start (for measurement)
I strongly recommend that you partition a portion of traffic towards any new ad configurations before switching your site over wholesale. Even if you change your site over and then compare your most recent results with past results that are comparable (same month, day, etc). There are a huge host of marketplace factors that will skew these results (see our ad rate index here).
Partitioning traffic is the only way to compare apples to apples; your old configuration vs. your new one. Having this data available will keep you on the straight and narrow.
Ultimately, if you understand what to look out for and understand what kinds of ad networks and ad partners can benefit you — and have a plan for testing and measurement — you can significantly improve the monetization of your site. The first step is education and the second step is measurement.
Tyler is an award-winning digital marketer, SEO veteran, successful start-up founder, and well-known publishing industry speaker. Tyler also serves as the host of Pubtelligence, a publishers-only event hosted at Google offices around the globe. Tyler describes his core competency as learning. He has composed content for some of the world’s top publications and has over a decade of experience building businesses in the digital space. Tyler is currently the Head of Marketing at Ezoic and serves as an SEO and marketing expert for start-up competitions across the U.S.