An advertising network, or ad network, connects businesses that want to run advertisements with websites that wish to host them. The principle attribute of an ad network is the gathering of ad space and matching it with the advertiser's needs.
The term ad network is media neutral, but is often used to imply "online ad network" since the marketplace of aggregated publisher ad space and advertisers is increasingly found on the Internet. The crucial difference between traditional and online ad networks is that online ones deliver advertisements to the public through an ad server. Delivering ads through one central hub allows the business owner to use various methods of targeting, tracking and reporting that don't exist with traditional media alternatives.
Ad networks work with publishers all over the Web, helping anyone who has unsold inventory, or ad space, and wishes to monetize their offerings. The networks then aggregate this inventory, package it and sell it to advertisers (1).
The benefits of using ad networks are numerous for both content providers and advertisers. Content providers find them an easy and reliable way to sell inventory, although the revenue is typically less than what they could earn selling the space themselves. Advertisers also like the ease of use. With minimal effort, they can purchase a campaign that targets a specific group of consumers on websites throughout the world. Ad networks are also known for flexible payment models and cost efficiencies.
The downside to advertisers is limited control over ad placements. The possibility exists that ads could appear next to inappropriate content. Many advertisers have also complained that their own campaign analytics often do not match up with the metrics provided by the networks (2). Despite these downfalls, many businesses find ad networks to be an affordable and efficient way of reaching consumers.
Ad networks offer many different pricing models to suit the needs of different businesses.
Targeting capabilities for advertisers have increased dramatically over the years due to massive quantities of consumer data that have become available to the marketing community. Targeting capabilities may include:
Google has a vast network of websites advertisers can display ads on, from the New York Times down to the smallest blogs on the Web. They offer several options businesses can use to target audiences. They may even combine two or more targeting methods in the same campaign (3).
The growth of advertising networks, and the wealth of user data that has come with it, presents tremendous opportunities for marketers who want to expand their reach with consumers. Whether your goals are to build awareness or generate conversions, an advertising network can help you find your audience and get results.