A couple of years ago I worked on an ad network project, and learned a ton about how bloggers are using ad networks.
The truth is that most bloggers do not expect to make a ton of money from their ad network. Running ads in your sidebar takes zero time, and guarantees you a check every month. (even if it is small)
The reality is that bloggers are leaving huge amounts money on the table by not asking the right questions.
Ad networks are a new concept, and each operates in a different way. This has left most bloggers unsure of what to do with this space. The problem is? That space is valuable.
Here is a list of questions you should use to evaluate an ad network:
What kind of ads do you want to run on your site?
You will make the most money running video or interactive ads on your blog, but they might annoy your readers. Decide ahead of time what kind of ads you want to run, and where you want them to appear. Do you want a banner ad on the top of your site? How many ads do you want in your sidebar? Do you want ads to run between blog posts? Knowing what you are comfortable with ensures you join a network that is a good fit.
What is the CPM?
Most networks offer $1-$3 CPM, which means you make $1-$3 per 1,000 views on your site. Larger networks offer $4-$8CPM, but have much higher traffic requirements. I have heard networks promising as much as $15 CPM to highly trafficked blogs.
What is the fill rate?
Most ad networks will not guarantee you a fill rate, but will give you an average of what they sell. The fill rate is the percentage of ad inventory they will consistently fill. For example, if you have 100K impressions each month, but they only sell $10K in impressions—you would have a 10% fill rate. That means you are only making money on 10% of your ad space. The problem with networks promising huge CPMs is that it puts huge pressure on their sales teams, and most of the time they cant fill all of your ad inventory.
Do they offer a monthly guarantee?
A number of ad networks offer minimum guarantees to blogs that have a huge reach and/or a very profitable niche market. I have heard of networks promising everything from $2K/Month to $10K/Month. Of course, you need to have a very established readership to incentivize networks into a guarantee.
Do they offer sponsored post or review opportunities?
Networks typically pay very well for sponsored programs, so it is a huge bonus if you join a network that offers that. Ask if they offer sponsored programs. How often do they run these opportunities? What do they typically offer in compensation?
Do they require exclusivity?
Ad networks are a little different than blog agents in that they define exclusivity in a totally different way. Some ad networks will want exclusivity over all of your “above the fold” advertising. This simply means you are not allowed to sell ads in the spaces they own. As long as you are comfortable with the CPM & fill rate, I think this is totally fine.
Other networks will ask for exclusivity over your sponsored content or all brand programs. This is a terrible decision. It gives a network total control over your revenue.
If needed, what would you have to do to get out of the network contract?
Good ad networks will leave you leave as soon as you wrap up programs you have already committed to. Any ad network that requires you commit to them for any length of time is questionable. Unless they are offering a minimum guarantee, there is no reason they need you locked into a contract.
What has your experience been with advertising networks? Leave your stories in the comments.