Does your ad network make the grade?
With an explosion in the number of ad networks over the last 18 months, it has become increasingly difficult for agencies and clients to identify which network is their best long-term marketing partner -- the network that can deliver a brand's objectives year in, year out.
It will come as no surprise that I believe in the value that a strong network can provide a brand, but the operative word in that sentence is "strong." Ad networks are emphatically not interchangeable, and the business relationships you create in this sector can make a big difference in how well you exceed your business objectives.
As one of the pioneers in this space, I have seen a lot of brands and networks work together over the years. That experience has led me to conclude that there are nine key considerations that should be used to determine what ad networks a planner should choose to have as part of their marketing plans. In my experience, these factors are relevant to both the "vertical" ad network sector, as well as the "horizontal" or general market sector:
Take a look at your ad networks checklist.
Site quality and transparency
- Site quality: Some ad networks truly represent the best sites online. Some mostly sell junk. In my view, the quality of content has both qualitative and quantitative benefits for a brand. On the quant side, sites with better content hold viewer eyes longer on each page, and that enduring exposure makes it far more likely that a user will notice an ad, interact with it and process its message. Qualitatively, there is evidence that the strength of content surrounding an ad can have an impact on brand perceptions. Quality content gives a brand increased credibility; in the vertical sector, having ads placed in quality content can also demonstrate brand support of a user's interest areas.
- Transparent site lists: There appear to be three kinds of site lists out there now: 100 percent transparent, ersatz transparent and "black box." The first and third categories are self-explanatory, while the second refers to networks that are willing to provide some "example" sites, but not the entire list. Although our network does share its entire site list, I don't believe that is an essential consideration for an advertiser. This is because the sites not on your plan have no bearing on your brand, but the sites on your plan do have a profound bearing on your brand. You deserve to know where your ads are running -- all of your ads.
Reach and targeting
- Reach: You don't need to go with the biggest network, but focus your major network spending on players with large numbers of your users/prospects, for practical reasons. Digital planning, buying and reporting are complex enough without having to deal with 25 networks for every buy. By choosing a mix of larger vertical networks and a leading horizontal or two, you can simplify your efforts considerably.
Targeting options: Whether or not you are currently using advanced targeting approaches, having access to some of the methodologies can be a boon for a planner. Behavioural, retargeting and audience segmentation will likely be a part of your future plans, and creating working relationships with highly capable networks can make capitalizing on these technologies easier and more productive in the future.
Cross-platform and growth
Cross-platform opportunities: Just when most marketers are becoming reasonably comfortable with online ads, the media environment has begun to diversify across digital media platforms in a big way. While vehicles like mobile, gaming, social media and widgets aren't new, they are all rapidly reaching a critical mass state that makes ignoring them shortsighted. Some networks have already recognized this glacial change and can offer you entrée into such platforms as part of your standard buys. You would do well to consider these networks more carefully, as they can help guide your efforts through our dramatically changing media environment.
Growth trends: Networks and sites that are growing make under-delivery less likely and ensure that your ads appear in highly involving content. Additionally, when more and more sites are joining a network, you can be assured that they are offering a quality marketing environment.
Exclusive sites and reporting
Exclusive site representation agreements: The polar extremes of the network business are "leftover" networks that sell remnant inventory versus "exclusive" networks that are the outsourced sales arms of publishers. Naturally, most networks fall somewhere in between. But particularly in the "vertical" side of the business, working with networks that are the exclusive sales agents of at least some of their sites provides assurance that they have unique understanding of that vertical, and can provide value-add insights that help make your efforts more efficacious.
Reporting capabilities: If you think about how much time your team spends futzing with spreadsheets, it'll be immediately apparent why working with partners that offer strong reporting should be high on your list of considerations. Depending on your reporting approach, they should either offer strong standalone systems or a way to easily integrate data into existing reporting platforms like DFP. Good reporting also makes real optimization possible -- and to actually optimize, you need to free up hours that would otherwise be spent cursing at Microsoft Excel files.
The people: Before you sign with a network, think about the person who will be serving your account? Is he/she responsive? Proactive? Smart? Do they answer your call promptly? Do they really listen to what you want and need? Great networks can be murder to deal with if your salesperson is lousy. Do yourself a favour and skip the networks that have teams that create problems instead of solutions.
Nine simple considerations -- none of them rocket science -- but each of them an important way to filter the 300 or so networks out there down to a manageable short list. If you choose correctly, you will benefit from long-term relationships that really help build your success.
I hope this brief list of considerations helps you find exactly the right ad network for your future efforts
Robert Tas Sportgenic.