Ad networks 101

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Today, more and more marketers and agencies are turning to ad networks because prices tend to be lower than buying advertising directly from publishers. Networks also boast a vast online footprint. Starting to experiment with and choose your network(s) can be overwhelming. Here, our experts offer tips on how to make smart choices when it comes to these online ads. 

Michael Katz, president, Interclick

Understand the space, get to know the networks

There's always this number thrown around that there are 300 ad networks out there, but the truth is that there are only 20 to 25 that are relevant. It seems that there are a lot of similarities and overlap among them. Find out what makes each one unique. Find out their value proposition and how they deliver value to advertisers. Find out if they use their own technology platform or if they use a third party out-of-the-box solution. In that case, the networks that use third parties are often constrained by the technology set they provide because it's a one-size-fits-all approach and tends to not be customizable. Also, find out if they use their own proprietary data or if they use a third party data source.

Decide if transparency is important

The common approach is a completely black box. So an advertiser will say, "I want to hit this particular metric." The network is masked behind a black box and they don't tell the client how they actually arrive at the metric they provide at the end of the day. Find out how much insight they will provide as to where you ads are running. Most networks will provide a site list so that the advertiser will have an idea of the sandbox they're playing in. This reduces content control issues, but still may be an incomplete solution. Others show how the ads are performing on a site by site basis throughout the campaign.

Ari Bluman, president of North American sales and operations, 24/7 Real Media

Know your audience

Consider targeting and how well a particular network can reach a specific audience, as well as the goals you're looking to achieve. Those goals may not even be direct response, but more branding. A lot of thought has to go into it. My first question to clients is “Who do you want to reach?” When they know that answer then we can start pick the best strategy for their online advertising.

Check out how the network acquires its inventory

There are a multitude of networks out there that go out and use exchanges as their base of inventory. Others use more of a representation model. Decide which is best for you, or if you should mix and match.

Rajeev Goel, co-founder and CEO, PubMatic

Test, test, test

Every network is different. Find out what type of advertisers work with them, who their publishers are and what their capabilities are. All of those answers can contribute to the success or failure of the marketing campaign. It should be easy for these networks to test various campaigns and do the hard work for you. And don't be scared to branch out. You may find it better to test out five networks each with a $5,000 buy than one network with a $25,000 buy.

Segmentation is key

Decide how you want to reach consumers: by context, by demographic, or by behavior? That will streamline the process of deciding which network works best for you. Then narrow down your target. Through this process you may discover new pockets of interest. For example, if you're marketing diapers, conventional misdom may tell you that women are your target demographic. But if you dig deeper, you may discover there's more single and stay-at-home fathers, so you should target them as well. Finally, you want to optimize those ads based on segmentation. Dads might care more about the changing process being quick, while moms might care more about the comfort of the diaper.

Lindsay O'Neill, VP of business development for Aperture Media, Datran Media

Cast a wide net, but know your goals

The beauty of ad networks is they provide extraordinary reach. But that can be a negative too. Don't cast that net without first deciding on measurable goals. What's most important to you? Reach? Audience segmentation? Clicks? Conversions? Or geographic location? Use all of that information to optimize towards your goals.

Always keep your finger on optimization

You can customize messages to each of the audience segments that you want to reach. When you know who you are speaking to, then you'll know what to say. Ask networks about their optimization strategies, or if they have a technology that auto-optimizes. Think about how you are going to engage your core customer, get them to visit your site and also buy something. Target them, get them to engage, and learn more about who they are and what they are interested in.


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