Sick of Ad Networks? Start Your Own


sick_smallADOTAS – Last month media giant CBS Interactive announced that it would stop using third-party ad networks to sell inventory across media properties and instead use its own internal ad serving platform, dubbed “Madison.”

It’s not the first time a publisher has openly rejected the use of ad networks, which are sometimes considered a necessary evil for publishers that can’t sell all of their inventory. (After all, some revenue is better than none.) ESPN,, Turner Networks, Forbes and Gawker have been very vocal about their refusal to do business with them, noting that they can greatly devalue inventory and create channel conflicts.

But as consumers’ media consumption becomes even more fragmented, single-domain publishers are finding it more difficult to provide adequate reach to advertisers, both in quantity and quality. A website with just a few million unique visitors and no sophisticated behavioral or contextual targeting capabilities is all but invisible to big brand advertisers, who will just turn to ad networks to deliver large, targeted audiences for their campaigns.

So what’s a publisher to do?

The answer is simple: reject the ad network, not the ad network model.

Instead of feeling angry that your revenue is disappearing into the pockets of ad networks, and feeling tragically ignored by big brands, consider forming your own vertical ad network, using your domain as the core niche property and surrounding it with complementary websites.

By aggregating high quality, content-related inventory across a single network, you will strengthen the authority of your brand, extend the reach of your audience, and ultimately increase the value of your ad offerings — thus ramping up revenues and bringing your digital business to scale.

Here’s how to do it.

Build Your Ad Network: The Five Step Guide

1. Clarify your offering. Who are your primary visitors? What kinds of advertisers do you want to attract?

Let’s say your content is all about the sport of rock climbing. You could recruit other similar websites and form the Rock Climbing Network, or you could open it up to skiing, fly fishing, kayaking, etc. and create The Outdoor Enthusiast Network.

Whatever you choose, just make sure you are are clear about the audience and the exact value proposition.

2. Tee up a few “friendlies.” Identify some publishers in the space and initiate conversations with them about your concept for a network in your common vertical.

Get verbal agreements that they will follow through on the idea, should you succeed in bringing in the right amount of desired advertisers. Then create a larger list of possible partners of about 20 additional sites that you plan on including in your outreach.

3. Choose a network management platform. To efficiently manage all of the moving pieces in your network, you’re going to need to license a network technology. In the past year, the number of available platforms has nearly doubled; there are now more than a dozen providers to choose from.

While you might be tempted to make your choice based on a personal recommendation, or pick the first one that seems to fit the criteria, it’s better to carefully research all of the options and select the platform that will satisfy both your short-term and long-term needs.

Don’t know where to start? See a shortlist of platforms.

4. Develop a set of unique ad products. Why should an advertiser work with you, over a bigger ad network? A smaller network maintains a close connection with its sites and fully understands its evolving audience, so it can be more creative with ad offerings and can execute higher impact campaigns.

The Rock Climbing Network could, for instance, support a contest sponsored by a climbing gear company on the homepages of its member sites, asking readers to share stories of their most treacherous climb. REI could participate in a series of product reviews that link back to their retail site.

Surely, these offerings beat buying five million untargeted banner ads from an ad network with 10,000 sites.

5. Scale the business. Invest in the most important resources: a solution for publisher outreach and your ad sales and operations team. You can’t build a network without publisher partners, and you can’t make those big advertisers you’ve just landed happy unless everything is running smoothly.

The best way to steadily increase your revenue stream is to ensure advertiser renewals. Before you know it, you’ll be able to toss out the big ad networks completely — and start to realize your inventory’s true potential.


  1. Thanks Scott, this is a great summary of the process of building a vertical network. I hope publishers won’t underestimate how critical Step #3 is – it’s a complex undertaking to define, build, commercialize and manage a vertical network. Publishers are going to need an end-to-end solution, and they’re going to need that solution to be provided by experts who specialize in serving network builders. It’s just not good enough to use a plain-vanilla adserver that was created for the purpose of ad serving on a single owned-and-operated site. And it’s not good enough to use a tech-only vendor – to be successful, the network builder will need a true partner who can provide expert advisory and back-office services like publisher payments, publisher support, and network trafficking.

    I’d also really encourage publishers to do their homework and ask the network solutions provider to supply a client list and references — we at Adify have helped a wide variety of media companies and entrepreneurs to build vertical networks, from Disney to Univision, from Martini Media Network to Hockey Ad Network.

    Bryan Sise @ Adify

  2. I like your idea, and I’d like to recommend OIOpublisher. It’s what I’m planning to use to create a nationwide network of local sites for businesses to advertise their specials:

    I’d like to get your feedback on how to interest other local sites to join with me… and if there is a better way than what I have planned…


  3. Ad Server Solutions provides ad network, ad exchange, ad server so you can run, launch your own advertising network for display, contextual and mobile. They will build and develop to your requirements. Source code purchase is available.

    An option to own and sell software to customers worldwide that is branded to your own company is also available making it easy to start your own business and software offerings without all of the headache and cost of developing.


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