How to Choose an Ad Network

Last week, I discussed making media buys with ad networks, stressing the importance of choosing the right one to suit your needs. That’s all well and good, you might say, but what if you aren’t familiar with enough of these ad networks to know whether something better is out there? Having done some research of my own on the subject, I can confirm it’s rather difficult to find a complete — and, more important, current — list of ad networks to use as a starting point. New partnerships, mergers, and name changes don’t make the task any easier!

This industry has dozens of ad networks. Though they may appear similar on the surface, each has something unique to offer. Every time you work with one, putting your campaign objectives in its hands, you’re entering into a partnership with that network. As with any partnership, you must understand the entity in question to know whether the two of you are compatible.

To simplify the process of choosing the right advertising “partner” for your next campaign, here’s an overview of some of the major networks out there and what they can do for you. Also included are some of the little guys and niche networks that deserve a nod.

Popular within press circles right now is MaxWorldwide, created last July when ad network L90 acquired DoubleClick’s North American media inventory and changed its name. According to a customized report by Media Metrix, MaxOnline, the network division of the company, now reaches 63 percent of the total online audience, making it the largest online ad network to date. If it’s blanket exposure you’re looking for, this network has you covered.

An institution in the online advertising industry, Advertising.com continues to develop new service offerings to make the lives of advertisers and media buyers easier. Renowned for its fully automated AdLearn Optimization Technology, the network recently partnered with Amazing Media to develop AdVariant, a new “automated advertising solution” that virtually eliminates minimum pricing requirements. Advertisers with smaller budgets can now run geotargeted campaigns with the best of them.

Rivaling MaxWorldwide in terms of size is 24/7 Real Media. When 24/7 Media and Real Media merged last year, the new network temporarily became, according to IAR:

[T]he largest online advertising network, the largest customer roster for software-based ad serving technology, the second-largest ASP customer base and (by most accounts) the largest in-house email marketing database, with 35 million addresses.

The network has a solid catalog of brand name sites and a global reach and is always ready to offer must-have new ad formats.

Where cost-per-click advertising is concerned, ValueClick, Fastclick, focusIN, and Ampira Media/FortuneCity.com are reliable alternatives. All offer reasonable pricing and, in my experience, are willing to occasionally accept campaigns with smaller budgets.

Media buyers and advertisers frequently search for placements on special interest sites to reach audiences a little harder to target. For specialty campaigns, a handful of networks stand out as leaders in their respective niche markets. MusicVision has its finger on the pulse of the music industry online. Away.com has a small but top-notch selection of travel and outdoor adventure sites. CondéNet is an excellent choice for lifestyle sites. Though inventory can get a little pricey, CondéNet has a comprehensive selection of magazine sites and portals, including tried-and-true classics, such as Epicurious and Style.com.

To reach the Canadian market online, particularly through local and national newspaper sites, the Canada.com network is the undisputed source. A similar U.S. resource is Tribune Interactive, with a network of local newspaper and premium brand-name sites, such as latimes.com.

For a broader selection of specialty ties, there’s also Burst! Media, which positions itself as a “specialty content” site network, offering inexpensive cost-per-click advertising.

Many other ad networks out there might have the inventory, audience, or pricing you’re looking for. Once you start to build your own list of contacts and work with these companies, individual strengths and weaknesses will become clear. You’ll be in a better position to judge them with respect to your needs.

Stay on top of new mergers and partnerships, as well as new network service offerings. Request to be added to networks’ mailing lists. Working with ad networks doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Just get to know them.

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