Assessing Ad Networks for Publishers
Marketing Intelligence

Assessing Ad Networks for Publishers

August 30, 2018 | Updated August 4, 2022
  • Publishers are continuously reviewing their relationships with ad networks to ensure they are getting the most value with ad content that best suits their readers.
  • Similarweb offers publishers a cross-industry view of ad trends and competitor ad network relationships to ensure they remain relevant.
  • Different ad networks deliver different value on desktop and on the mobile web. Finding the right ad partner is key to optimizing ad revenue.

Each of the leading publishers in the US offers a choice of ad placements with different sizes and shapes accompanying almost every item of content they produce. This is the same ad-based business model that has served news media since Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette began including “new advertisements” in 1729.

Today the top 100 media publishers in the US work with an array of ad networks to make sure those placements are filled with relevant and clickable ads. Each publisher works with multiple ad networks, and the way the distribution of their outgoing ad traffic fluctuates over time reveals market trends and preferences that may be helpful for any publisher.

Ad Network Traffic from Top Publishers

There has been some significant movement among the major ad networks and the volume of desktop traffic they each received from the leading independent news publishers in the US. From May to July 2017 until the same period in 2018, the share of traffic to the Google Display Network and Criteo rose significantly from both cnn.com and foxnews.com.

Conversely, between the same three-month periods, the share of desktop traffic to Outbrain and Taboola shrank in each publisher for which they were serving ads. These two sets of changes indicate a slight withdrawal from content-based ad networks for desktop versions of publisher sites and a refocus on more traditional display ad networks.

Among the display ad networks, there is heavy competition with bbc.com shifting focus from Google Display Ads to Criteo. At nytimes.com there was a gentle swing to Criteo which ate into Google’s share of display ads at The Gray Lady.

Inside Outbrain

Outbrain acts as a content recommendation platform, suggesting sponsored links to readers for which it shares pay-per-click fees with the publisher. In addition, Outbrain can also serve recommendations to other pieces of content from within the same publisher. Links to on-site content pass through the traffic.outbrain.com URL, while sponsored links to external sites are sent through a paid.outbrain.com URL.

While the earlier comparison suggested that Outbrain was losing some of its influence as an ad network for publishers, it’s important to note that this was looking across the media landscape at desktop traffic only. Desktop traffic to Outbrain is down for both internal and sponsored links. But when you open the investigation up, you can see the superior and increasing growth of traffic to Outbrain from paid, sponsored link revealing their true strength as an ad network.

Conclusion

There are several dimensions for a publisher to consider in determining the optimal distribution of its ad placements among ad networks. There are clear industry trends as audiences lean towards or away from certain kinds of ads. There are additional metrics for qualifying an ad network that should also be judged, such as performance on desktop vs mobile. understanding each of these angles helps establish a holistic approach to understanding ad networks and offers valuable insights for negotiating with them.

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