What Ad Networks Want

It’s not exactly the plot of a Rom-Com, but what ad networks want is to make money from you, and to do that they have to make money with you. Signing up with an ad network is a partnership you enter into, and being thus there is some work you should do on your end to make everything run smoothly and avoid a tragic break-up.

What ad networks want ultimately is low trouble, high reward sites. Having a high user count, well-placed ads and a support team the ad network can work with to implement more advanced campaigns is the ideal situation, especially if your site is a well-known brand with lots of ad space. Also, flexibility and a laissez-faire attitude don’t go amiss with the salespeople of your ad network either.

Not being able to provide any or all of these things doesn’t sound the death knell for you and ad networks, however – there is still plenty you can do to entice them, you just might not be their best girl.

So if you decide to use ad networks to monetize your site, then we’ve provided some information on the things which you should and shouldn’t do to make the most out of them. If you can’t (or won’t) change your site then that’s fine, you’ll just have to make do as best you can. BUT if you have the option to make your site more attractive to (and compatible with) ad networks, then we have some recommendations.

WARNING: Please note that (of course) all ad networks are different and may, in fact, require different things than the ones listed. Also if you are called by an ad networks Business Development Manager that means they are likely very interested in your site, and will therefore likely ply your site with compliments to try and sign you (although the things they compliment are not necessarily desirable traits in sites in reality).


What Ad Networks Look For

Ad networks are all different (just like other companies), and so their strategies are not entirely predictable. We have therefore put together the main touchpoints of what ad networks look for in sites below, and if you can hit any or all of these spots well, then you should be able to choose your own ad networks to work with.


Good Ad Sizes

The most important thing an ad network wants are IAB standard ad units. Make sure you have space for a 160×600 (or 300×600), 300×250 and 728×90 ad unit on every page in the same place. Make sure the 728×90 and 300×250 are above the fold, and the 160×600 (or 300×600) as high up as possible.

Other ad sizes are less important in general so start with these three if you haven’t already – for more information on choosing ad sizes check out our Ad Size Guide.


Good Analytics

To demonstrate how many ads you have to sell you will need to have reliable statistics about your users available to you. We, therefore, recommend signing up to Google Analytics to start with, and then with Comscore when your site gets (a lot) bigger.

Both of these products will give you useful data about your audience, with Comscore being the main source of information that agencies and ad networks look at (in the UK).


Good Reach

Ad networks are mainly excited about unique users – ie how many different people come to your site each month. After this, they care about how many ad impressions (the number of ads – one user sees many ads) you deliver each month.


Good Fit

Ad networks will generally try and find sites similar to the ones they already work with so they already know how to sell them. What this means for you is that your site will probably be attractive to ad networks running ads on similar sites (as in if your site is about pots and pans then an ad network with a lot of kitchen sites will likely be interested).

They could also be interested in your site if it provides a lot of ad units they sell well (video ads for example).


None of the above should be any problem for you – you should want more unique users and as many page impressions as possible to ensure the health of your site. As for finding an ad network that can sell you well, we cover that further in our “Which Ad Network” section.


What Ad Networks Avoid

Your site is what it is – if you have made a site about cheese then, of course, you are going to write about cheese. However, it is worth knowing what ad networks avoid in sites, as some content is not ok with almost all advertisers.

These categories are sometimes allowed by less reputable ad networks, but if you want to go with a mainstream ad network (which is where the money is) then be aware that the following types of content are generally banned:


  • Political content
  • Religious content
  • Firearms content
  • Pornographic content
  • Illegal Downloads
  • Incentivised Clicks programs (you CAN NOT tell your users to click on your ads in return for anything)
  • Illegal Drug content


There are more that can be added to this list for different ad networks, but this covers most ad networks ban lists. Basically, anything that would shock your Grandma (assuming she’s not an open-minded hippie) is probably out.

You can, for example, have a site for Horror film reviews with no problems, but putting up exceptionally graphic images from the Horror films you review is not ok. Also, risque “babe” content is frowned upon by many advertisers.

Advertisers don’t want their ads next to anything which may cause them problems, or which will make an amusing screenshot to be reported on elsewhere. If you have to put an image or some information on your site that you think your advertisers won’t like, then just put it on a page with no advertising. This won’t necessarily save you, but it may help and is definitely worth doing.

In these days of user-generated content, it is worth having a strong moderation policy in place too, as that will put advertisers minds at ease (assuming you adhere to it). If you don’t have any of the above content on your site, then you should be able to take basically any advertising.

Note: Ad networks will not necessarily take your site on board just because you ask them – they have their own plans in place, will know their own strengths and weaknesses, and may simply not be able to sell your site.

This is nothing to fret about – if you are refused by an ad network that is probably good news – it means you won’t waste your time trying out a network that has no interest in your site. Much worse for you is being taken on by an ad network who never even tries to sell your site and wastes months of your time pretending that they are.

WARNING: Many countries have their own legislation these days about what is and isn’t allowed to be advertised on the web and to whom, so it is a good idea to try and find these out before you get started. Sites aimed at children need to be extra aware of this, as laws are generally more punitive in this area.