When optimizing your income from advertisements, testing should be an important and constant part of the work. Testing is not only about size, colors, and positions, but also about finding the right partner. For those who are monetizing there income from ads your most important partner is an ad network. But how do you know you have the right partner? This article lists the most important criteria.
Establish a base line
When you start monetizing a project with ads, the question is how much you can earn with it. Even with the best planning and research you still can’t be sure on how much income you can actually generate.
My recommendation for everyone starting with advertisement is Google AdSense. It is simply the biggest ad network in the internet and has no problems to fill any banner space with ads based on the visitors interests or your sites topic. A whole bunch of ad sizes and a good performance are also reasons why some publishers never stop using it.
Depending on your traffic, you might start testing with AdSense by just using different ad placements, sizes and colors to get the most out of it. This should help you to quickly create a base line for your potential income from online advertisements. Once you have the feeling that there is no higher income to gain from AdSense, you should start checking out other ad networks.
Criteria for a great ad network
Region and language
Matching the ad networks region and language of operation with your site seems like a no brainer, but is still very tricky. The smaller the group of native speakers is and the more some of them access your site from various countries, the harder it is to find an ad network that can serve ads to all of them.
I recently consulted a Spanish website on ad optimization. Most of their traffic comes from outside the country of its origin and a lot from the US, Spain and Mexico. I learned that there are specific ad networks for Spanish speaking people, but even they still don’t perform best in all Spanish speaking countries.
On the other hand, running a website in Slovak with less than 5.5 million inhabitants in Slovakia, is tough to monetize with just ads. From my recent session on WordCamp Slovakia I can confirm, there seems to be no performant ad network beside AdSense there.
There are not only ad networks for specific languages and regions, but also for specific topics. This can be a general topic area like business or lifestyle, a product or service specific one like cars or insurances, or one that gathers ads for peer groups like parents or students.
Depending on your site’s topics, those niche networks might perform a lot better for your site than the global players, because they can concentrate on a specific kind of advertisers who are interested in placements on websites close to their products and target groups.
In case the ad topic is not specified you should check a potential ad partner for the content in the delivered ads on your site. A lot of them have a policy against ads with inappropriate content like porn, violence, gambling or alcohol. Still, you should constantly check what they display on your website.
Even though the ads might be ok in general, you should think about how your visitors could react on them. I know a site for a better educated, elderly group of visitors offering magic diet plans or how to easily make money as text ads. Is this appropriate? Decide yourself, but don’t try to ignore the ad content. Visitors naturally see the content of the displayed ads to be your responsibility.
Ad sizes and ad kind
A lot of ad networks have a fixed portfolio of ad sizes they serve. The most common banner sizes are the Leaderboard (728 x 90), Skyscraper (160 x 600) and Medium Rectangle (300 x 250). It is on you to optimize your site’s layout to at least allow some of those sizes to be able to display advertisements at all. The more common sizes you support, the better you can test and optimize ad networks against each other.
Another important factor is the kind of ads. Just a simple banner like the sizes mentioned above can be a lot. Think about static images, text ads, rich media ads or even video. For the latter, this is diverse too between the ad networks. Some play them automatically after page load, some after the visitor just moves the mouse above them and some only after clicking the play button. What to take from this? Try to understand as good as you can what your ads actually displays and how they work.
Beside simple banners, there are other techniques of display advertisements like popups, popunders, text links, rollups, etc. This is a lot of material for its own article, but again. Try to understand them as much as possible before integrating them into your site.
Mobile vs. Desktop
Since mobile traffic started to raise to a significant number for a lot of my clients a few years back, we asked ourselves how to actually monetize it. Responsive layout was great, but banners didn’t fit automatically. Finally, we saw a few specialized ad networks arise and were able to monetize mobile traffic. Technically, this is still itchy, but works rather good for us now.
This is something you also need to consider. Most ad networks don’t serve both, mobile and desktop, and you need to be aware of that.
One of the biggest problems I discovered when testing ad networks even for an English site is the fill rate. This is the percentage of possible ad impressions actually being served and visible. No ad, no payment.
A few month ago, I tested a bigger ad network from the US. While click rate and price were significantly better than other networks, the fill rate was below 50% and more than neutralized the positive effects.
I was able to raise the fill rate by showing ads from this network to US visitors only and to a few impressions per visitor a day. Still, it was lower and took more time than falling back to AdSense here.
Some ad networks call them a „fallback“ some a „passback“. They normally mean a possibility to use code from another ad network when the main one can’t deliver. In case of the ad network with the bad fill rate I just mentioned, I was able to insert the code snipped from another ad network there. Unfortunately, they served it so slow, that not having it made no difference.
Another ad network I used didn’t offer a fallback officially, but after I asked about the low income from non-premium ads, they offered me this possibility. In this case, the performance of the fallback was actually really good and boosted the overall performance.
I recently removed a well paying ad network from a website due to its bad performance. They used several internal fallbacks from other sources and some of those codes were written so badly or were sometimes just broken so that the whole site suffered or was even prevented from being displayed at all.
After removing the ad network the site gained an overall speed boost of 1 second per page view and the main content was also showing a lot sooner.
Speed is important for SEO and usability, but also a late ad impression is a lost impression. So ad delivery speed is important as well. Lucky for publishers, a lot of advertisers switched from synchronous to asynchronous loading. This means, your content and the ads are loading at the same time and not one after the other.
When testing ad networks what finally counts is the income you gain from your cooperation. But why is there so few text in this paragraph? Because the income potential is a result from the equation including all the factors mentioned above. There are very, very few networks than can actually offer a constant price based on page views.
When your ad network has a representative, you might ask them directly about some numbers. I never met one who told me a specific number, but still, I was often able to get an answer when asking if they can outperform my current ad network. This serves you the time and nerves of testing.
Especially for small publishers and those who just want to test an ad network quickly, two additional conditions seem important to mention.
All of them have a payment limit under which they don’t send you money. Google AdSense has its “payment threshold” on exactly $100 or €70. If the sum of your income since the last payment is below that, you don’t get paid yet. In my experience, Adsense’s $100 threshold is one of the highest I know. High enough so that less than 5% of all AdSense accounts reach it per month.
Another important factor is the time the payment is delayed. Some ad networks have a reasonable period based on their income generating method like affiliates. For products and services with a longer cancellation period, payment is often made rather late. Ad networks that pay based on simple clicks or page views should have a shorter payment period. Most ad networks at least clearly state on their websites how long they need to pay you. Here again, I have had good and bad experiences.
One of the important side factors of a great ad network is its support. In my experience, the good networks have a direct contact person. Even AdSense noticed they need to take more personal care of bigger publishers and offer email support for accounts with an ad income of at least 25$ per week. Some get a personal support from time to time checking in to get feedback for specific features and helping to try out something new.
You will recognize a great support by its short and helpful response time. They should offer you extra services that might not be described anywhere and support you with the implementation. Technical support is also an important factor.
I remember this ad network that had a plugin that didn’t work on one of my own sites due to some technical problems. The support offered help and after a few days I received another code snipped tailored to my site. They even took care about the ads layout so it matched my site.
Backend and usability
One of the biggest differences between ad networks is the level of their backend. Some, even from bigger networks, don’t have one and you are completely dependent on the support when creating new ad units, fallbacks or getting some stats.
Others, like AdSense, offer a lot of possibilities to optimize ads and ad performance from a dashboard.
I never met a great personal support with a well working and gadget-full backend, but at least one of them needs to be great.
What I like most about AdSense are the statistic tools. They are very detailed and a reason this ad network is great for testing and optimizing your income. I met a lot of networks that didn’t offer more detailed numbers than the sum of the income per day.
Most publishers probably won’t need a lot of stats. Still, you should at least have enough to allow you to optimize as much as you can and want to. For me, this is a minimum of having a report with the income per ad per 1000 page views.
I created this checklist for the next time you are testing some ad networks. Just copy and paste it to whereever you’d like, maybe a todo list.
Checklist for a good ad network
O specialized for my region and language
O ad content is appropriate and not against your content
O ad sizes fit into your site and ad techniques are ok with you
O you can monetize mobile and desktop traffic
O the fill rate doesn’t eat the higher income or a performant fallback is offered
O the ads don’t slow down your website significantly
O they meet your income expectations
O the payment conditions are ok
O their support or exceptional or they have a fully equipped and easy to use backend
O they show you the numbers
How to actually find the best ad network?
Now you know the criteria for a great ad network to partner with. How to actually find them?
If your site is big enough, you would probably not ask this question. We get requests from ad networks all the time. Still, those might not always be the one I would actually use. As suggested above, try to find an ad network within your niche. There are some websites around that list them or simply ask your favorite search engine.
The next step is to read their website. Normally, that should answer you the questions about the topics they serve ads for, the region and languages. If you can register, do that and try to find more answers in the backend.
If there are still questions left, the next step might be to contact their support. Write an email asking the questions that are unclear or most important to you. For me, this is often about fill rate and performance.
Test, test, test
As I mentioned at the beginning, it is good to establish a base line in form of income you want to increase. From here on you can start testing new ad networks and monetization strategies. If possible, try this with only one ad at a time and always with both versions running side by side. This way you are able to get numbers that can be compared.
Not only for testing, but also as a constant setup you should not focus on a single ad network, if not bind by a contract or other reasons. For most ad networks, the income is different from each ad size. So some might be good to cover the main sizes, some for blind spots, some have customizable text ads that integrate into your content, other cool video ads that are interesting to your visitors. I gave some examples in point one of my ad optimization article.
And finally, if you have found a great ad network, share it with others in the comments below.