A Look at Ad Networks
When ad networks started surfacing in the adult industry nobody knew quite what to make of them. At that time most webmasters were either affiliate program owners, affiliate webmasters, or both. Gradually, as an increasing number of affiliate programs adopt an invite-only policy and smaller affiliates are unable to get top tier payouts for low sales volume, it appears that ad networks are filling the void and becoming aggregators of affiliate traffic. We asked executives at several top ad networks to weigh in on the present and future characteristics of the fastest-growing segment of the traffic market.
“Yes, it is a fair assessment,” said Thomas Skavhellen, chief brand manager of PlugRush.com, told XBIZ. “Many smaller webmasters won’t get access to the best paying programs and offers without going through the bigger ad networks.”
“I think not only is it fair, but it’s a fact,” Ross of TrafficForce.com told XBIZ. “If you are a successful affiliate program then you already have a media buying team that are competent in ad buying. Take the VideosZ.com team for example, those guys are excellent at building paysites that sell, but they also have highly experienced staff on hand to turn their ad budgets into even more sales. Affiliates will always have a place in our industry but the most successful programs don’t rely on anyone but themselves to make them money and why should they? Traffic Force has 12 billion ad impressions per month, other networks have billions themselves. It has never been easier to generate clicks to your sites than it is right now.”
It also goes beyond simply aggregating traffic.
“Its also about quality control,” explained Jay, founder of JuicyAds.com. “With any program that is accessible to the public, there is always going to be fraud and cheating — even on those “invite only” programs, and that’s one thing they are trying to avoid. We believe in being accessible to everyone, whales and newbies alike.
“Our fraud detection is superior to most of our competitors,” he told XBIZ. “Advertising networks are not middlemen; we provide technology, features, relationships, services, and use big data in ways that advertisers and publishers simply cannot match on their own. We have been dedicated to building a better ad network for the past year, doing things that our competition hasn’t even thought of, and our technology (including the new SexyTechnology we have been developing since December) goes far beyond just brokering traffic.”
So, if you were a publisher, why would you choose to go with an ad network instead of selling your traffic directly to a buyer on your own?
“The affiliate programs industry is very saturated and incredibly competitive so they are naturally looking to set themselves apart,” Richard Cottrell, global sales director at ExoClick, told XBIZ. “Provided that they are established market leaders, ad networks will always have broader connections to all the pieces of the puzzle: small webmasters, affiliates, brokers, media buyers, site owners and ad exchanges. Over the last 15 years as the market has fragmented, ad networks continued to be the middle men, providing traffic services with both global and localized reach.”
“For the most part, traffic sellers don’t want the hassle of employing and managing staff to sell their traffic,” Nigel Williams of AdXpansion.com told XBIZ. “They rather work with one to three ad networks to sell their traffic with the least amount of headache to themselves.”
“There are many good reasons for that, including if you have a smaller site, then direct buyers won’t often take the time to do direct deals,” Skavhellen said. “For a traffic seller or publisher, it will take a long time to go through every offer and direct deal out there and match all their traffic in their attempts to try and make it convert. If you work with a major ad network, we are able to convert traffic from every country and territory across the world.
“Traffic networks also have a greater ability to maximize potential return of investment by having traffic buyers compete for the traffic, so you will get the highest paying campaigns on all types of traffic.”
In this case, size matters.
“The relationships and number of campaigns and buyers our network has is not maintainable by individual publishers, it’s just not possible,” Jay said. “You’d have to hire a big marketing and advertising team to be able to match any advertising networks’ resources to drive the highest revenue for your traffic. There’s a reason there are over 70,000 accounts on JuicyAds.”
It also comes down to “convenience, plain and simple. Webmasters with large traffic are good at generating traffic and that is what they should concentrate on,” opined Ross. “Let the ad networks like us take care of selling your inventory for you and generating your revenue while you continue to build more and more. Selling traffic and dealing with buyers is a unique skill, it’s a relationship that is built upon over time through great deals and trust. Negotiations on pricing for set time periods can be lengthy and take up energy that can be used for other stuff.
“Self-serving ad platforms have thousands of buyers ready to bid for your traffic from Day 1. In the long run you will also gain more revenue and more clients without having to deal with bad advertisers or chasing clients for payment. You get your payment every week without hassle and the networks worry about collecting the funds from multiple clients after you already have your money.”
What about advertisers buying traffic? Can’t they find a better deal by going out on their own and trying to buy traffic directly, or are they missing a good reason to buy through an ad network instead?
“We have over 50,000 publishers, and get traffic from more then 100,000 registered domains,” said Skavhellen. “A traffic buyer looking to get traffic from all those sources would take a very long time. Traffic networks will also offer opportunities to target the right traffic that converts for their websites. At PlugRush you can target every thing from sexual orientation to countries, browser type, OS and more. All of these options will be hard to get from direct deals for every website out there.”
Traffic networks can also help advertisers drill down to exactly the sources they seek.
Most traffic buyers don’t want to buy all the traffic that a seller has,” explained Williams. “They only want specific geos, specific ad placements, or a specific percent of the traffic.” Getting that kind of deal on an direct one on one basis would be rare at best, but through a qualified traffic network it becomes easy to make buys across multiple sites to bring in exactly the sort of traffic that will convert best with your offers.
There is also an insurance aspect to consider.
“When you buy a spot direct, you are generally stuck with it, regardless of how it performs,” Chris Coupland, director of operations at Grand Slam Media, told XBIZ. “With a network, you can often get out of deals that aren’t working. The network can assume some or all of the risk. Also, you can leverage a network’s knowledge of the market to help find new spots that are well suited to your offers. Prospecting new placements can be a full time job on its own.”
It’s also not a zero sum game where advertisers are required to choose ad networks or direct deals.
“A lot of advertisers do a bit of both and that is completely fine by me,” said Ross. “Buying from a network gives you transparency and lots of data for you to evaluate before you even spend a cent. When you go direct to buy traffic, you tend to get inflated numbers or less facts, it’s not because people are dishonest it’s because they want to get a good deal. Ad networks don’t have that luxury, we show you every single ad impression served on our system, the CPM you pay for it and how successful it was for you.
“A lot of our clients prefer this model, not to mention the control they have on what traffic they buy. It’s been a long time since I had someone come to me and ask for a global ad buy at the max price. It just doesn’t happen anymore because of all the different things that go into making traffic work. Why give yourself more work than you need to?”
Ad networks are also focused on bringing new tools to publishers and advertisers which create a much more efficient environment for traffic deals. “The hottest new ad trend right now is viewability. This means guaranteeing that your ad has actually been displayed on the user’s screen. It sounds like such a simple idea, but it is only recently that this common sense idea has taken hold. Ad targeting also continues to evolve, with more finely grained and more accurate filtering options becoming commonplace,” according to Coupland.
“Big data is the key here,” added Skavhellen. “Know your data and use it to your advantage. Pixel targeting and re-targeting is really important. Real-time bidding is also important to add to your strategies.”
“SexyTechnology, which has been in development at JuicyAds since it launched Beta in December, is a proprietary tech that no other network has,” said Jay proudly. “It’s part of our new generation platform driven towards better results without advertisers paying more (but with publishers actually earning more.) It is allowing us to deliver better results without resorting to hyped billing models like CPMv. Billing by “viewable impressions” does not improve the quality of any traffic source, it just drops the wasted impressions and charges more for the remainder — the end result for the Advertiser and Publisher is basically the same in the long run as traditional CPM billing. It’s not magic, and it’s nothing close to revolutionary.”
If you do believe ad networks are the best vehicle for publishers and advertisers to make profitable deals, with so many already on the market and new ones constantly emerging, what should you be looking at when trying to decide who to work with for your own traffic dealings?
“Choosing a network is about trust and relationships,” said Jay. “Big networks are no better than smaller networks, it’s about the experience you get there and results. Every network will have different results for each advertiser and publisher depending on their needs. We have been lucky at JuicyAds to have won over a dozen awards for our service (as voted by the industry) so its clear we do business like no other network, but I couldn’t tell you our formula for success, its completely unexplainable.”
“Here are just a few things to consider,” according to Coupland, “How does the network count their impressions? Are they request-based (very bad), tracker-based (better), or viewable (very good)? How strict are they about malware? Are they just out to make a quick buck, or do they really care about running a clean network? How long has the network been in business? The best networks have earned their clients’ trust over many years and have a proven track record. New networks pop up monthly; one should ensure there is some substance behind them before taking the plunge.”
“The actual ad platforms are very important to buyers. If your system doesn’t have the control and features to allow clients to optimize in depth then they will not stick around for long,” said Ross. “We’re in an era now of having some of the brightest minds in our industry than we ever had, more and more mainstream guys are crossing over into adult to buy traffic and they are used to systems that allow them to work on their schedule. Managed ad campaigns are not dead but they are certainly not as popular as they were five years ago.
“Our industry thrives on having control of your traffic when you need it, being able to switch things up or pull resources to something else is absolutely key in buying traffic these days. I think volume of traffic also plays a huge part in the decision weather or not to test a network. If you don’t have a lot of traffic, then chances are the big guys will skip right over your platform and spend time on other networks that can satisfy their needs for volume.”
“Where PlugRush is concerned, we are releasing new features every week now,” said Skavhellen. “We encourage everyone to follow our blog at Enter.PlugRush.com/blog for our latest news and updates. In addition, we are working with the next generation of ads that really just have not been released anywhere yet. We feel this new concept when launched, will help site owners bring in more revenue than they could have ever imagined.”
In many ways the rise of ad networks has added a new layer of efficiency to the way traffic is bought and sold online.
The kind of efficiency that only comes from having professional teams aggregating massive amounts of data, deploying new tools, and fostering long term relationships with advertisers and publishers.
Yes, you might find an occasional deal at a beneficial price point by trying to do everything direct with a new strategic partner, but when you factor in all the opportunity costs of time and resources spent chasing down individual leads it becomes increasingly clear that ad networks are a better option because they create far more money through increases in efficiency than they cost either the buyer or the seller in most cases.