Picking the Right Ad Network for You

When I decided to end my relationship with Foodbuzz and go ad network-free (“Taking My Own Advertising Advice“), I got a lot (a LOT!) of questions about why I was willing to give up a source of blog money. I wondered if I were crazy, too!

…but two months after that announcement, I couldn’t be happier.

  • My traffic has doubled (seriously!)
  • I’ve renewed my commitment to finding and working with brands on non-advertising relationships
  • I’ve not only brought in the same income I was making through ads — I’ve brought in MORE
  • I feel much, much better about the look and functions of this site

But here’s the thing — it’s all active income, as in, I have to be very proactive in getting it. When I was in an ad network, I was mostly making passive income — set it and forget it style.

So I can’t say that my policies will work for your blog. And in many cases, an ad network is the right choice if you’re looking to make performance-based income that takes very little effort on your part.

And that’s why I thought I would help you with a checklist of questions to ask yourself and any possible ad network that you might want to join.

FIRST: go read “Money: The Ultimate Hornet’s Nest” so you understand all of the terms I’m using here, as well as additional or alternative sources of blog income

(Quick note: the title of this post may have been a wee bit deceiving. I can’t just tell you which ad network — Foodbuzz, BlogHer, Glam Media, etc. — is best for you, because that’s not actually the right question. What I can do is help you ask the questions that should make the right ad network jump out at you.)

Here are the questions to ask yourself, and then ask your network:

1. Are you willing to sign an exclusive contract?

Because the ad networks are doing most of the hard work on your behalf, they understandably want to make sure that you are committed to them AND that you’re not out running a bunch of ads on your site that might compete with their contracted brands.

So you may (no — probably will) be asked to sign a contract that be as short as one month and may be as long as 24 months.

If you are willing to sign a contract, I highly advise you to understand what your “out clause” is — or what the consequences are of breaking the contract. You may lose a substantial amount of back income or may even face more drastic legal fallout if you are a blogger who has become a face of that network.

Also, be sure you know what the limits are to running giveaways, posting reviews, accepting non-network swag, etc. Some of the networks are very restrictive and if you are allowed to post it at all, it may need to be on a page or section of your site that does not also include the network ads.

2. Are you willing to put a banner in a specific zone of your website (most likely above the fold)?

The ad networks are tasked with making a lot of promises to the brands and companies that actually buy space to promote their products. So you, in turn, have to help keep those promises.

You will likely be asked to put the ad in a very specific place — above the fold, in a certain sidebar, clear from other code or content, etc. You may be able to pick from a few sizes, but you are still most likely looking at a large rectangle, a skyscraper, and/or a leaderboard. Depending on the network you join, you may have the option of running multiple ads — good for your wallet but a challenge for your website design.

(Note: read “Blogging Banners, Ads and Other Nerdy Stuff” for specifics on ad sizes and names)

The actual insertion of the advertising code is relatively painless, but you will need to know some basic HTML and/or have access to your theme’s files.

And if you’re not self-hosted, you may not be eligible for the network (or may only be able to take part in limited aspects of it).

3. What is each network offering in terms of CPM (cost per impression, or page view)?

There may be room for some negotiation, depending on your existing traffic and page views, but for the most part — the ad networks use a sliding scale for offering bloggers CPM…so you’ll need to compare your offers before moving forward. The CPM shouldn’t be the absolute and final reason for your decision — it doesn’t make sense to align yourself with a company that mostly partners with fast food companies if your blog is about eating real, home-cooked foods — but it is a big one!

When we talk about CPM, we’re talking the amount of money you get paid for every one thousand page views — and remember, views in a feed reader don’t count. So the difference between $1CPM and $4CPM can be very, very significant.

4. What site has a mission statement that best aligns with what you’re looking for?

The right ad network for me might not be the right network for you — so before you even dig into each company, I strongly advise you to either write or review your blogging mission statement. Doing it now will give you a touchstone to return to when you start investigating the various networks, and should prevent you from falling into “oooohhhhh flashy” syndrome, where you pick just based on what website looks cooler or what your friends are doing.

Ask tough questions — is the company more focused on helping its advertisers or the bloggers? Have there been any controversies or disputes between network and blogger, and how have they been handled?

5. Will one or all of the sites let you opt out of specific ads or promotions if they don’t align with your own mission?

This is a big one — because you really won’t have control over which companies are able to buy advertisements through the network, and therefore, appear on your website. That’s one of the good things about working with a network…because they’re selling on the basis that advertisers get LOTS of exposure on LOTS of different blogs, they’re able to bring in bigger companies with bigger budgets.

But if you’re a vegetarian, you might not want ads for raw chicken in your sidebar. If you have written posts about how much you hate Jillian Michaels, perhaps you’d rather not her see 6-pack pop up in a leaderboard, promoting her latest book or DVD.

Find out whether you have the option of opting out of a single ad, multiple ads or even an entire campaign, and what the ramifications of that are.

6. What do they count when collecting analytics?

Different networks count different stats. Some will count global page views while others only count page views from inside the United States. Most require a true page view, which does not include hits from a feed reader, email subscription or other format that may not include the ads.

Typically, when you install the code that actually places the ads on your site, you will also be installing an invisible piece of tracking code, which works as a counter for page views ad other analytics.

Especially if you are a blogger from outside of the United States, or you get a lot of traffic from overseas, you may want to look very closely about when/how you get credit for your traffic.

You should also find out what the network’s policy on house ads, or filler content, is. If the network doesn’t sell out all of its space, it may fill in the gap with promotional material for its own website, or freebies that it’s not getting paid for. Depending on your contract, you may not get paid (or paid very much) for those ads, even though they are running on your website.

7. Where do they stand on work product and intellectual property?

When you write your posts, they are YOUR work product…but when you get paid for other content that appears on your website, it can be tricky. And what if you are writing a post about a product that may also be featured in an ad on your site? What if that post is negative toward the product or brand?

You need to find out what, if anything, the network can do with your work outside of your website. Read the contract carefully — are they allowed to put your picture and a link on your site with or without your permission? Can they feature your photo or logo in its own promotions? May advertisers that buy space in the network repurpose your content, with or without your permission?

Intellectual property is one of the most important things you can check on so that your work remains under your control.

8. Do they offer any other benefits to bloggers?

Many ad networks offer value added benefits to bloggers…maybe you’ll get free samples or review products from some of the brands. Maybe you’ll be at the top of the list for being featured on other parts of the network’s website. Maybe the network will have a conference or other events to help you build community and readership. Maybe you’ll get some other cool swag!

Those benefits may or may not be of interest to you, but they can push the needle — so if your network doesn’t offer as high a CPM as the others but does give you free admission to its annual conference, the combination of features may fit your needs the best. Or vice versa.

9. How quickly does the network respond to concerns or questions?

When you’re courting an ad network (or it’s courting you), you may be assigned top priority in terms of customer service, response time, etc. But once you’ve signed the contract — what will your experience be?

You may want to search out bloggers who are members of each network, and ask them to share their experiences. Be cautious, though, because some networks require their bloggers to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) which can have severe consequences if the blogger shares even basic details about his or her contract.

10. How does the network send bloggers traffic?

It might seem like the network’s only job is to give bloggers money for performance, and to enter into the contracts with brands. But the more page views your blog gets, the better the network does — and the more it can demand in future contracts!

So see how the networks can send you traffic. Do they have a great website that makes it easy to find and share content? Do they have newsletters, advertising or other programs to promote its partners and publishers?

And one final, bonus question to ask — what is the payment schedule? How do you receive the money? Many networks offer payment on a delayed basis, known as Net 30, Net 60, Net 90, Net 120, etc. The number corresponds to how many days you have to wait to get your money. So if you are on a Net 90 contract, you will get money that you made in, say, August, in November or December.

WHEW! That’s a lot of heavy reading — if you’ve gotten this far, I’m impressed. Please let me know what other questions you have about ad networks or any other monetization options and I’ll do my best to answer!

Also, please see my “Blogging for Business” series for lots of tips on making money from blogging.

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  1. says

    Wow, loved this post, Katy, and I’m saving it in my reader.

    While one of my blogs is part of a network (Foodbuzz), my new blog, healthydisney.com, doesn’t. I am planning to do the legwork to find appropriate ads for it.

    Can we chat during the Summit about some of these things! I’d love to get your feedback. :)

    • says


      You bet! Come find me — I hope to answer some of your questions in my presentation, but I’d be happy to talk more after that.

  2. says

    one more thing to consider (mostly for Canadian bloggers or even some US bloggers that have Canadian readers)- most of the ad networks I’ve looked into do not pay for impressions from Canadian ISP’s – so if you have a high number of readers from Canada, you may not be paid for any of those impressions

    • says

      I wish I’d done a better job of setting up specific metrics to watch in my Google Analytics — I don’t know if taking the ads down had a major impact or if it was just good timing (I was linked to by some big bloggers around the same time, and because I happened to leave Foodbuzz the week that there was all that hubub about the payments, that might have led more people to find me?)

      You’ve inspired me to try and look in my analytics history and see if there’s anything to tie the two events together.

  3. says

    Great info! I’ve recently been approached by a few network add companies and I’m debating whether or not to enter into a contract with them or find advertisers on my own. So much to think about. I look forward to reading more!

  4. says

    Wow, perfect timing with this one, but I have many more questions…mostly about setting up your own ad network. I’m so bummed I’ll be missing you at HLS, but hopefully they’ll be posting videos again. I’m right in the beginning stages of redesigning my blog and am really contemplating making an ad network change. So much to consider! Thanks Katy!

  5. says

    Hi, Katy! Just wanted to tell you how much I appreciated this excellent post! My friend and I have only been blogging for about five months, and we really didn’t anticipate how fast our blog would grow. Great problem to have, right?! Sure – but now we’re quickly but intelligently trying to decide on the right ad network. Your information was exceptionally helpful! Thank you so much! 😀

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