How to Build an Ad Network: Advertisers, Publishers, and Technology

From afar, ad networks and everything around them seems rather simple. However, building an awesome professional ad network takes good-old hard work, dedication and time. There’s a lot to know, much to learn, many to meet and a good deal of relationships to build. Thus, to start with a bang, and not a whimper let’s learn more about this “middle man”, a lifeline between advertisers and publishers we call ad networking. Below are some core features and principles to help you build a professional ad network and, quite possibly, a small (medium, large) fortune.

The Middle Man a.k.a. Ad Network

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So what exactly is an ad network? It’s sort of a middle man between the businesses who want to advertise and websites with available ad space to sell. The ad network handles both the buying and the selling sides providing both with equal opportunity to find the most beneficial ways of cooperating and conducting business. After websites state the minimal price for their available ad space and businesses decide on a price they are willing to spend ad networks step in to help SSPs and DSPs to effectively manage those transactions. 

Every ad network’s professional journey begins with a hunt for publishers and advertisers. It gets a bit tricky, as you need one to get the other, so whatever path you choose, the important thing is to just start. Your essential “tools” or the Holy three of any ad network would be a solid base of advertisers and publishers and the crucial tech for any ad network – the ad server. And all three are on the menu today, but first, let’s look at the options we have.

The Many Faces of Ad Networks

There are different kinds of ad networks, you can take the traditional route and offer your advertisers to purchase a package of impressions on a CPM basis. Then there is the Performance or Affiliate options available, where a revenue share, CPC or CPA pricing models are applied. These sorts of networks work on a “commission upon result” basis. The result usually means a sale, lead info or maybe a downloaded app, so, any proven result. Another way you can differentiate your network is by focusing solely on the inventory from popular publishers, such networks are referred to as Premium ones. And if you want to offer a more categorized inventory to your advertisers separating the publishers by the theme, so you can have a food group, fashion, tech or education you would be building a Vertical advertising network. Of course, a generalized ad delivery without specialization is called a Horizontal ad network.

The Publishers

There are tons of publishers out there, so start by clearly identifying the types of sellers you want to be representative of your ad network. First and foremost, take the time to properly examine the sort of traffic brands are looking for. Mostly they are drawn to the high website traffic numbers, but, it’s not uncommon to work with small websites with rather limited traffic but high conversion rates. Furthermore, it is worth noting that starting with a minimum of 20-100 million impressions per month is the absolute must. Obviously, there’s no shame in buying the inventory yourself in the beginning and then selling it, it’s a very commonly used tactic. We all have to start somewhere. 

Among other things, your selection process should include a basic screening process, make yourself a list to eliminate shady publishers, which, as you can imagine, there are a lot of out there in the Internet-land. Now, those with unique constantly updated content are ad network’s best friends. As stated above, try to go for English ones, if not – take another route: you can either go for one of the six official languages of the United Nations or one of the major European ones.  And, lastly: stay clear of sketchy religious sites, and try to avoid adult content.

Then, step back and look at your startup from a publisher’s side, knowing exactly what a publisher values in an ad network is invaluable. Publishers choose ad networks based on the size of the network, as the bigger ones offer more active campaigns and precise matching, meaning contextual targeting which, of course, leads to engagement boost and higher CTR. Additionally, more advertisers = more bidders and higher bids. Quality of ads is of huge importance, no one wants their beautiful site flooded with out of place ads that can harm the site. For example, imagine a new hot smoked beef sausage flavor ad appearing on a popular raw vegan site. That single ad can destroy the site. Then, publishers take notice of the variety of available ad formats and, of course, analytics, monetization, etc. A lot, right?

The main advice for those starting out: find a successful ad network and take notes. Let’s take Admixer for example, they offer publishers of all sizes exceptional campaign management and revenue optimization. They have real-time statistics, support all of existing ad formats, have a great CRM system and the cherry on top: they have campaign forecasting and ad unit settings. You can check them out at https://admixer.com/adnetwork and then proceed with perfection in mind.

The Advertisers

The demand side doesn’t differ much for those starting out: you need advertisers to get publishers and you need to build inventory to get the advertisers on board.  Buying inventory yourself to primarily engage the advertisers is always an option, you’ll need a pretty good amount of inventory as most ad agencies aren’t looking for a way to make lots of small deals. Though, honestly, if you have a good rapport with advertisers, by all means, start by getting advertisers on board and then move on to signing publishers that fit the mark.  

After the base is laid out start looking around to see what advertisers are offered these days. The above mentioned Admixer came up with the Tradedesk platform for the demand-side. They offer advertisers unbelievably precise targeting and all of the top ad exchanges along with a multitude of SSPs. Additionally, they make a point of stating that the process of signing with new publishers never stops, so they are constantly growing their business. A good ad network works with all ad formats across all ad channels and offers all of the media buying models. Furthermore, brand protection, on-point reporting, and analytics, as well as engaged and knowledgeable customer service, is all a must.

Technology

Your tech should help you to build a good ad network, meaning it should provide a great experience to its users on the supply and demand side of things. Tech-wise the focus of everyone looking to build a great ad network falls on awesome technology called ad server. The ad server is sort of an ad tracking and ad management tech, it is a web-based technology that offers hosting and distribution as well as optimization of the ad content throughout websites, SM platforms and apps. So, behind every online ad, there’s an ad server.  

Ultimately there are some options when it comes to choosing ad service tech, though mostly crowds tend to gravitate towards good old SAAS technology that is made by professionals specifically to store and deliver targeted ads to online visitors. Such ad servers help to manage ad inventory, run and track campaigns, and ad trafficking. Some experts advise building your own ad server, we would love to disabuse you of that notion right away. The number of people you would need, the multitude of the needed ad server features like targeting, ad delivery, tracking, campaign structure, analytics, management, reporting and much more down to GDPR compliance and the time you’ll need to spend on the task in hand, not to mention the certifications, scaling, maintenance and testing should stop you then and there.   

Ad-serving is complex cutting edge tech with the ability to precisely follow a multitude of rules and regulations and seamlessly connect all of the constantly moving parts. Now, there is a lot to be sail about ad servers and we do urge you to research the subject to the max, but, as a preliminary check-list should include a white-label solution that offers great customer support, precise targeting, it should support absolutely all of the ad formats, offer great analytics, reports, and easy integration. A lot of ad servers come with a two-week trial period free of charge, so, if you know what your ideal ad server has to offer you’ll have more than enough time to test it out before making a decision.

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