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8 questions to ask your ad network

Tricia Despres
8 questions to ask your ad network Tricia Despres

These days, online media buyers are bombarded by myriad ad networks out there fighting for their clients' advertising dollars. And as ad networks continue to multiply, it can often place quite a responsibility on the buyer to ensure they find the right home for their clients' ads.

"I think the biggest hurdle to a successful network campaign is the ability to manage the expectations of the client," says John Minahan, CFO and chairman of Working Media Group Atlanta (WMGA), which specializes in media planning and purchasing, marketing, branding, and design. "Unlike traditional media, there is no guessing on how well the campaign is working. The analytics provided removes all the mystery. Because traditional media is hard to follow, people are generally more optimistic about its success. With a network buy, there is absolutely no guessing with it comes to results."

So, does your client have money to spend out there in the ever-expanding online marketplace? How can you be sure you are going to pick just the right networks destined to deliver on your client's goals? "It's about arming media professionals with the right questions so they can better sort through the myriad of choices out there," says Dave Marsey, SVP and group media director at Digitas Chicago.

We decided to poll a random group of media professionals as to the questions they feel are vital to ensure a successful online buy. Below find eight of the burning questions you need to be asking of your ad networks, ranging from the no-brainers to the complex, before you even consider signing on the dotted line.

Why should we consider you and your ad network? How do you differentiate yourself?
This is perhaps one of the most simple but essential questions to ask of your ad network. While vendors will be eager to provide a wealth of data and inventory options, it is important that this question can be answered clearly, concisely, and articulately. "When asking this question, we are looking for ad networks to tell us more regarding the areas of inventory, data sources and privacy," says Anne Enright, SVP and digital director at Starcom Mediavest Group. "We often determine who is going to make the cut based on where they fall in those areas."

Ultimately, you want to work and form a relationship with a vendor that is going to actively search for ways to ensure that your online campaign succeeds. Whether it is optimization or working with you to solve implementation and technical challenges, you want to be sure to sign on with a true partner that will continuously look for ways to help you make good decisions that will ultimately improve the media buy's overall performance. "This is one of these essential questions that your ad networks should be able to answer effortlessly," says Marsey, who also works as an adjunct professor at The University of Chicago's Graham School of General Studies and is teaching a class entitled about web marketing strategies. "If you see them having a hard time coming up with an articulate answer to this one, it's a sure sign that they are an option you might want to ultimately avoid."

How do you go about targeting not only your audience, but your overall online environment?
One of the most crucial changes in the online marketplace in recent years is the onslaught of ad exchanges. And for buyers, it's important to look at what networks are targeting around content and how they are ensuring the quality of their inventory. "You want to take a close look at how they consider behavioral insights," Marsey adds. "Do they look at not only their user's interests, but their passions?"

"We are constantly looking at behavioral segments, and you should always make sure your ad network truly understands your client's segment," Enright says. "They should fully understand what actions make up those classifications."

When approached with this particular question, Goodway Group COO Jay Friedman says the answer is rather simple. "We start with the predictive data to construct a fully customized site list," he says. "This automatically gives us a big headstart in performing better than other partners. From there, we look at the various data segments available which are most relevant to our clients' goals, apply those, and then the active optimization process begins. Ultimately, there will be ad networks out there that say they don't need to use third-party data providers because their own data is so significant and robust. Be careful, because the 30-plus third-party providers have built their entire business on nothing by offering the best cookie data possible. A network that has 'no need' for that might be missing something. "

What are your total unique impressions per month? How many sites make up your network?
"The client should know how many clicks to expect for every 1 million unique impressions," says Minahan, who has also authored the business book "The Business Mechanic: 9 Simple Ways to Improve Your Business." "A great campaign will never be over one-tenth of 1 percent. That's after months of network optimization. It's important for the media buyer to explain to the client what kind of click rate to expect. If you don't do that before you execute the buy, you will have a short-lived campaign. Knowing this kind of information and being able to share it with your client will allow the whole team to quickly tell how good the network is. They might have 10,000 websites with 80 percent of the traffic coming from 100 websites, and the rest are junk."

Starcom's Enright goes on to add, "Just because an ad network has a large number of sites certainly does not mean it is a better network."

Is your inventory acquired directly through publishers? Via third parties? A combination of both?
Buyers are constantly aware of the importance of brand integrity within the client's campaign, so asking for full disclosure regarding the ad networks' brand safety policies is crucial. "This is an increasingly important question," Marsey says. "Some ad networks will purchase additional inventory through other, smaller ad networks. It's hard to protect the integrity of where your ad appears when the network is essentially 'outsourcing' part of the buy."

Are there costs above and beyond the media itself (e.g., serving fees)?
Buyers beware. Some ad networks do charge for various media verification services, used ultimately to ensure that your ad placements are within safe content.

How easy is it to implement online video?
Regardless of the form of online advertising -- whether display, video, or mobile -- the questions remain the same. And since online video is so prevalent these days, it's important to know and manage your client's expectations. "With all of the steps involved surrounding online video, it's imperative to know what the turnaround time is going to be to actually implement video," says Julia Casale of Toronto-based Casale Media. "If a network's turnaround time is going to be anywhere from nine days to four weeks, it might just not work in your overall video campaign."

How can you ensure transparency? Can I vet which sites my ads will be delivered to before they run?
It's imperative to ask for a list of sites on which your client's advertising will run and feel comfortable knowing that you can eliminate the sites that simply aren't going to work. "This is an area in which we shine," Friedman says. "Most networks are simply 'approved' by certain verification vendors. We've spent the money to integrate Adometry's ad verification platform into every campaign we run to ensure full compliance from all of our publishers. Adometry also helps us measure things like placement on page, time on page, and conversion by frequency, which is added benefits that show up in client performance. Of course, our clients are also welcome to use their own verification vendor if they wish."

How will you best optimize the buy?
It's every online media buyer's worst nightmare. You hear about their network and how great it is, and two months into the buy, you realize things aren't going as well as planned. Therefore, it's imperative for networks to clearly explain their optimization techniques and the algorithms that are behind them. "It really depends on your goals for the media buy and whether you are using networks to optimize on reach or performance," Enright says.

Tricia Despres is a freelance writer.

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Original homepage art by: Marco Bellucci.


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