Ad optimization and management can increase your ad revenue by as much as 150% (as PubMatic did with BikerOrNot). Or at least that is what companies offering ad optimization and management solutions are saying. If you are a professional blogger, you already understand that monetizing your content is extremely important. Google AdSense is a start. But it is only a start. To make the most of your content you should work at optimizing your ads to increase the revenue that your ads generate.
Photo credit: Norebbo edited by Andre Deutmeyer
But successfully monetizing content and optimizing your ads is a daunting task. There are hundreds of ad networks to work with. Most people start with Google AdSense because it is the largest, but there are countless other ad networks that target your niche and can serve higher quality ads and offer more return than AdSense.
The question is how do you decide what ad networks to work with? Once you have decided, how do you manage those ads to optimize your return? And finally do you really have the time and know-how to optimize your ads via multivariate testing - rotating through different ad types (content / display), different ad sizes, different ad formatting, different ad spaces, and different ad networks? If you are an independent publisher the answer is probably not. Although you recognize the need to monetize and increase the revenue being generated from your ads, your time is better spent creating good content for your readers than it is optimizing your ads.
So here to help you out are a few solutions that will assist you in handling that daunting task of optimizing and managing the ads on your site in order to save you time and earn you more money.
In today's article, I will explore five tools that can help you make the most money possible with the least effort. The first section of this article will look at two ad management tools: Google Ad Manager and OpenX. Both of these tools will assist you in managing / rotating / changing ads and offer mountains of data so that you can see how your ads are performing across your site.
And the second section of this article will look at three services that automatically run the multivariate testing I mentioned earlier on your ads and display the ads that will provide you with the highest return so that you get the most revenue possible from your ads: Rubicon Project, YieldBuild, and PubMatic.
In this first section, I will take a look at two software tools that can help you manage your ad inventory, and provide in-depth coverage of your ad statistics so that you can decide which ads are preforming best for you and rotate your ads accordingly. The tools reviewed are Google Ad Manager and OpenX. Both solutions are free and hosted, though OpenX does provide an installable self-hosted version if you are a control freak or if you would like to avoid paying the minor service charge that OpenX charges if you serve more than 25 million ad impressions per month.
- Google Ad Manager
Google Ad Manager helps sites manage ad inventory and creative. If you don't have display ads to fill your ad inventory, then Google Ad Manager provides a convenient back-fill option with AdSense. With Good Ad Manager ads can be filtered by geo-targeting, browser, and domain targeting.
Setting up Google Ad Manager is fairly simple.
- You first specify ad spots that can be filled with ads.
- Google Ad Manager then uploads any direct-sold creative, and any impression or click caps associated with each creative.
- Finally, Google Ad Manager will ask you to specify what it wants done with remnant inventory (ad spots that can’t be sold via direct-sold ads). AdSense and other participating networks can be used to make sure ad inventory doesn't go unfilled.
Once you have completed the above process, ad tags are generated and you will need to install them on to the site template. This process needs to be done only once. All the following creative and inventory management is done through the Ad Manager console.
Cost: As mentioned earlier, the cost for Google Ad Manager is free. And because it is a hosted solution, no installation is required. The only coding necessary will be the insertion of the ad tags into your site template. Neither is there a cap on the total number of ads that can be served via Google Ad Manager.
Unique Characteristics: Google Ad Manager offers some basic ad optimization, though not as robust as PubMatic, YieldBuild, or Rubicon Project. Google Ad Manager can decide whether a remnant (i.e. AdSense or similar) ad can outperform a direct-sold ad and serve it instead.
OpenX is designed to help sites manage ad inventory and creative. For unfilled ad inventory, you can choose to have OpenX supply ads for that space via your default ad network, whether that be Google AdSense or another. If you are a publisher who is weary of letting Google gather too much information on you, OpenX is a more than competitive alternative to Google Ad Manager. Like Good Ad Manager, OpenX can filter ads by geo-targeting, browser, and domain targeting.
Until recently, OpenX was a self-hosted solution. But as of October 29, 2008, publishers can now sign up for OpenX Hosted, which provides all the benefits of OpenX without having to install the software on your own server. If you choose to install OpenX on your own server, rather than using the hosted solution, keep in mind that their is a high learning curve. And for most publishers, OpenX Hosted is all that you need.
Because OpenX is an open-source platform, support for OpenX is offered only through the community forum, unless you sign up for OpenX Premium. With that said, however, the forums are helpful and responsive.
Cost: As mentioned earlier, OpenX is a free ad management solution. It can be downloaded and installed on your own server if you choose, or you can utilize OpenX Hosted and avoid the hassle. OpenX Hoster is free to publishers who serve less than 25 million ad impressions a month, which is just another way of saying that unless you are a really big publisher, you won't have to pay a dime. For publishers serving more than 25 million ad impressions a month, the company charges a low fee. Publishers can upgrade their accounts at any time to the premium hosted packages and in addition to serving additional ad impressions, the premium package offers support resources, service level agreements, customized solutions, and training.
Unique Characteristics: OpenX Hosted users will notice access to a feature called OpenX Market. The OpenX Market, currently in alpha, will let publishers participate in an ad exchange. In other words OpenX Market will allow advertisers to directly bid on your ad inventory. Higher level of customization than Google Ad Manager.
The next three ad optimization solutions below are designed to optimize the ads displayed on your site. Keep in mind that these tools can not be run simultaneously on the same page / template with the ad management tools listed above. And unlike the tools above, these tools cost money if you want complete access (excluding PubMatic which remains completely free in its Beta form). Each of these solutions are hosted, so no installation will be required on your end. And getting these solutions running on your site (with the exception of YieldBuild) is a painless process and takes about 30 minutes from sign-up to finish.
However, that none of these tools make any guarantees of increasing your ad revenue (some may even affect your ad revenue negatively), but they do claim to have increased ad revenue by as much as 150% for some of their clients. So try these tools at your own risk.
- Rubicon Project
Rubicon Project runs multivariate testing, optimizing the ads on your site by testing ads from different ad networks to find the ads with the best click rate. Rubicon Project deciphers your ad inventory based on demography, geography, content and many more factors, and then matches each ad impression with the optimal money-making opportunity.
You do not have to be previously signed up with an ad network for it to be used by the Rubicon Project. Rubicon Project will automatically choose ad networks for you and once chosen you can manage them through your Rubicon Project account. However, there’s no evident way to manually sign up for and add additional networks to your list through Rubicon Project even though Rubicon Project is partnered with over 300 networks.
The reporting is thorough, probably the best of the three ad optimization tools reviewed here. Rubicon Project consolidates reporting to display impressions and estimated clicks by date, by ad size (by date and by ad type), by ad network (by date and by size), and by geography, all with customizable date ranges. The whole lot come with attractive charts and are exportable to Excel.
Payment: Rubicon Project consolidates ad network payouts into a single check with payments to publishers being made within 15 days of the ad networks paying the Rubicon Project.
Cost: Rubicon Project offers two packages: Manual (Free) and Automatic (Premium). If you choose the Automatic package you get full access to the features and like YieldBuild the first 30days are free. After the trial period, there’s no (easily visible) price tag for the service. Rubicon charges publishers 10% of any income generated from the ad networks served through Rubicon, so of the three ad optimization services Rubicon Project is the most expensive.
Unique Characteristics: Rubicon Project does not test text color / background color combinations of text ads, nor does it test ad location on your site. Rubicon Project doesn't require you to bring your own ad networks, and will automatically sign you up for ad networks that fit your site. Rubicon Project consolidates your ad network payouts into a single check.
YieldBuild focuses on text ads only - they do not serve display ads - YeildBuild attempts to differentiate themselves from the other two solutions by focusing on layout and design optimization (Rubicon Project does not do design optimization, but PubMatic does). The YieldBuild algorithm is designed to optimize your ads with the most profitable combination of ad layout, style, and network. Like PubMatic, YieldBuild runs multivariate testing on your text ads, rotating through your ad networks and changing background / text color combination for the text ads on your site. But in addition to that, YieldBuild also tests ad spots (where the ads are displayed) to find the optimal layout for the ads on your page (PubMatic does not do this).
It takes about 100,000 page impressions for the system to find the optimal configuration. Also, as users become ad blind, it’s supposed to switch to another profitable combo of ad networks and ad layout.
Yieldbuild offers consolidated reporting so that you can monitor your performance from a single location.
Although the site claims that there is no size criteria for publishers who would like to give YieldBuild a shot, signing up for YieldBuild was a bit disappointing for me. Rather than allowing you to immediately jump into their service, you must wait to be contacted by YieldBuild before access is granted. As of the time that I wrote this, I am still waiting (it has been 4 days). Granted I used my personal blog, which is much smaller than MasterNewMedia, but that fact doesn't reconcile the lack of response from YieldBuild.
Payment: YieldBuild, like PubMatic, does not take receipt of payments from ad networks as Rubicon Project does. Instead, publishers continue to receive payments directly from the ad networks that they choose to work with.
Cost: YieldBuild is free for 30 days after which YieldBuild will take a cut of 3% of your ad revenue.
Unique Characteristics: YieldBuild focuses on text ads only. It does not do display ads. YieldBuild optimizes the ad layout on your page.
PubMatic runs multivariate testing, optimizing the ad network as well as background / text color combination for the text ads on your site. Instead of having to do split testing on the ad unit and to keep trying different color schemes in order to maximize the click rate, PubMatic rotates a variety of different ad unit colors through the ad unit and tracks what works and what doesn’t. If you do not want PubMatic to adjust your ad unit colors, you have the option of choosing your own color scheme (as with Google AdSense). It takes between 50,000 - 70,000 impressions for the system to optimize, after which the highest converting ad formats will be displayed in your ad spaces.
Like Rubicon Project and YieldBuild, there is no monthly impression criteria that a publisher must meet in order to use PubMatic. Anyone can sign up for PubMatic. However, larger publishers are eligible for the PubMatic VIP program.
PubMatic gives you a place to centrally manage all of your ad networks from within the PubMatic interface and publishers can quickly join ad networks directly from PubMatic without having to apply separately. Also, like Rubicon Project, PubMatic has an option that publishers can select to have PubMatic automatically apply to ad networks that match your sites "size, vertical, and geography".
Pubmatic consolidates reporting from all of your ad networks into one page. Pubmatic displays the winning eCPM for each day in bold. Reporting contains impressions and estimated clicks by date, by ad network, and by geography. If you prefer to view your reports visually, PubMatic can create attractive charts, and all the data is exportable to CSV.
Payment: PubMatic, like YieldBuild, does not take receipt of payments from ad networks. Instead, publishers continue to receive payments directly from the ad networks that they choose to work with.
Cost: At the moment PubMatic is free. There is no charge, and PubMatic takes no cut from your ad revenue.
Unique Characteristics: PubMatic optimizes display ads and text ads like Rubicon Project and optimizes ad formats (text color / background color) like Yieldbuild.
Do you see any mistakes in these reviews? Or have you used any of the above to help you manage your site ads? If so, I would love to hear about your experience with them. Please, feel welcome to leave a comment here below.
Originally prepared by Andre Deutmeyer for MasterNewMedia and first published on November 10th 2008 as "Online Ad Optimization And Management: Software And Services To Maximize Your Site Advertising Revenue".