Which Ad Network?

Choosing which ad network you join can be quite overwhelming. Each one will offer you the moon, so how do you decide which one to trust? Unfortunately, the answer isn’t as simple as us just pointing at the best one and telling you to go with them.

You see, there are more ad networks out there than you can shake a stick at, and they are opening and folding every day. It would, therefore, be a waste for us to advise you who is the best at the moment as that information would not remain accurate for long.

More than that, the staff at these networks interchanges pretty frequently, so what may be a great company to work with today, might be a terrible place tomorrow.

Most importantly though, every site is different, and each ad network will work differently with them. What’s best for some sites, may not be best for you. All we can do therefore is try and help you to know where to start looking, and what to look out for.


Types of Ad Network

Before talking about the types of ad networks, it would be useful for us to make clear that most ad networks hate being called ad networks. To stand out from the crowd ad networks will refer to themselves as any number of fancy meaningless phrases they can think of.

For the sake of convenience, however, we are going to refer to any company which puts ads on multiple sites as an ad network.

There are dozens of sub-categories if you believe the industry news (which is somewhat obsessed with doing something no different than before, giving it a new name and calling it “innovation”) however there are only really two or three types of ad network that need to be called by separate names:


Brand Ad Networks

This means an ad network that is made up of sites that have brand name recognition. Adverts on these ad networks will earn the highest CPMs, and will often be intended to just be seen by the users of that site and performance metrics will not matter as much.

For example – a supermarket’s ads being on a healthy food website might make people think that particular supermarket is healthy – and this mental association is what is being paid for (not how many people click on the ads). This is for large or “premium” sites and is at the top of the ad network pyramid.


Performance Ad Networks

This means an ad network that (unsurprisingly) is focused on the performance of ads. Google AdSense falls into this category, and these are companies who are using the fact that they have masses of inventory at their disposal to make money.

They will generally not have salespeople working to sell ads on your site specifically, more just to get advertisers to buy from their ad network as a whole. Think of it as being an anonymous part of a massive team. This is what you will start off using.


Remnant Ad Networks

This is actually not a kind of ad network but rather just another name given to a performance network once you have a brand network in place. A brand network will almost never sell all of your inventory, so whatever you have leftover you send to your remnant network(s), which will command the lowest eCPMs but can still provide a lot of revenue.

The reason the name changes is that with a performance network you give them the first shot at all your inventory, so you expect ads to perform well – but once you have a brand network in place, all the remnant network will get is your leftovers, so the performance of those ads is not guaranteed at all.

It is worth noting also that the terms “Brand” and “Performance” are also used by advertisers. A “Brand buy” will have a high CPM and won’t focus on how well an ad performs.

A “Performance buy” will have as low an eCPM as possible, and will focus on the number of ads they can get for a certain price (shifting budget around to get the best performance possible at the lowest price point possible).


Ad Networks For Small Sites

There are many ad networks for small sites out there, and choosing the right one for you is an important choice. As you won’t be making too much money out of your online advertising when you start out, you probably shouldn’t waste too much time working out which one you need.

We have therefore put together three simple criteria to judge your first ad network by:


  • Ease of Use & Setup: You should be able to get going easily, and then not have to worry about it
  • Reliability: You want a service that will work without issue, and provide ads that no one will complain about
  • Competitive for Revenue: You want to be earning as much as you can


Or more simply – you want as much money for as little effort as possible. The ad network which fits all of these criteria for most sites is Google AdSense. It is very simple to use, very reliable, and competitive in terms of revenue when your site is small and should be the first ad network all new sites try.

As always, however, The Online Advertising Guide recommends experimenting to find out what is best for you. If you are to move onto another ad network, we recommend waiting at least three months before moving on to the next one so you can gather enough data to compare.

Before you move on, note down the amount of money you made per month per ad unit, and then after three months, compare which was better.

All ad networks have different strengths and weaknesses, so try out a few.  Here are some of the ad networks which we have found that work best for small sites (and can be signed up to online) are:



These are all actually a subset of performance networks in that they work much like eBay for adverts – you put your inventory on there and advertisers bid on it – the best bid gets the ad slot. Ad Networks like this are often best for small sites as they can drive up the price on your limited inventory.

To find more ad networks for small sites search Google for “Ad Network” and the broad subject of your site (ie for a site about cheese you should Google “Food Ad Network”).


Branch Out When You’re Bigger

When you get bigger (more than 25,000 page impressions per month is a good rule of thumb) you should start looking for a new ad network. Google AdSense is great for small sites, but after 25,000 page impressions per month, it’s finally worth investing more time in running ads as you will start earning good revenue.

There are many out there, but the *best* option would be to go with whoever your competitors are with – this might seem counter-intuitive, however, if your competitor is doing well then that probably means the ad network that they are with knows how to sell their site and therefore your site.

I’ll put it this way, in the UK the leftwing Guardian newspaper and the rightwing Daily Mail newspaper share an ad network (at the time of writing this they do anyway).

To find which ad network your competitors use, you could always just try asking. If they aren’t your direct competitor then it won’t hurt them to tell you, and you might even find a company you can work with on future projects.

Conversely, if your site is big enough then you may get contacted out of the blue by ad networks, as they will be keeping an eye on which sites are worth representing. The key thing to remember when trying new ad networks is the Page RPM you received from AdSense.

If these new ad networks can’t beat that after 3-6 months (they need time to optimise) then you should move on.

When you hit 25,000 ad impressions, a great ad network to try out is Media.net. They are easy to set up and as they are a contextual ad network, they don’t require any extra cookie management to set up.

When you get to 50,000 ad impressions or more, another great ad network is Monumetric. They only take WordPress or Blogger sites, but if you are running one of those they are definitely worth a look.


The Big Leagues

When you are large or famous enough (either over 1 million impressions per month or a high share of voice in your market area) you will have hit the big leagues and should get a brand network in place.

Brand networks will usually strike a deal with you to take about 50% of any money they make, plus a small amount extra for ad serving fees and whatnot. This may seem like a lot, but they should make you considerably higher eCPMs than a performance network can, so it is worth your while.

Unless you are a killer site, there is no way you will be able to negotiate below 50%, so don’t waste your time trying. Some good brand networks to try out (if you are stuck) are:



There are a lot more big players listed than above so as we’ve said before, try out new networks, and focus on the ones who make money for your competitors.

Also always remember – any inventory that your brand network cannot sell should still be monetized – which means that the work you put into finding yourself a good performance network when your site is small was not wasted – you just transition them to being your remnant solution.

This will have to be agreed with your brand network (and many will have a sister company performance network of their own that they will want you to try), but ultimately it is doubtful that they will monetize all of your inventory and they know this, so it should be ok.

All you need to do to set this up is to provide your brand network with the ad tags for your remnant network and ask that they be used as your defaults. You should keep in mind that the revenue you gain from your remnant network will be lower than when it was your performance network just because the ads will be shown to users after your brand networks ads, and will, therefore, be seen (and clicked on) less.

The end game of all this is to get your site to a size which means you can support a sales team yourself to do the brand selling in house. When you hit this stage, however, you will still need a remnant solution, and it is always worth keeping a relationship up with your old ad network just in case they sell a deal that you could not get and they want to use your site for it.

This, however, is for giant sites only, and even so, some of the biggest sites out there still use ad networks to monetize their brand inventory as running a successful online ad sales team is a lot of work and risky business.


Next: Setting Up Ads