As a publisher, you probably think a lot about optimizing and improving both your advertising operations and the revenue that you generate from ads. It might keep you up at night, pouring over CPM data and trying to do side-by-side comparisons of different advertising options.
There’s also a pretty good chance that you use Google AdSense to fill a bunch of your inventory. And why wouldn’t you? Millions of sites use AdSense to serve ads, and it’s a pretty damn good platform.
But that doesn’t mean you don’t wonder what other options are out there. Putting all your eggs in the AdSense basket is the path of least resistance, but what if there’s something better?
In this article, we’ll look at what makes Google AdSense so great. We’ll then take a look at the strengths of some of the major alternative ad networks and platforms, so you can decide the right mix for you.
What's so great about Google AdSense?
There are a lot of reasons why Google AdSense is the largest ad platform on the web.
First, it’s dead simple. Setup can be done in just a few minutes, and any site with any amount of traffic can be up and running — earning actual ad revenue — the same day. With new publishers starting websites every day, it has become the de facto starting point for burgeoning media empires.
Aside from the simplicity, AdSense also offers great service and results. Publishers can guarantee 100% fill on all of their placements because there are a ton of advertisers, both large and small, using the platform. And with fairly sophisticated filtering and quality control mechanisms, Google is pretty good at targeting ads to your audience based on site content and visitor browsing history.
Although AdSense doesn’t necessarily offer the absolute highest CPM, they pay pretty fair rates. Many sites generate all of the revenue they need just through AdSense.
Google AdSense Alternatives
Sure, AdSense is great. But what about all of those other platforms out there?
There are dozens — probably hundreds — of competing ad networks and platforms out there. We won’t ignore them just because AdSense works pretty well.
Let’s dig into some of the most popular Google AdSense Alternatives.
1. Ad Exchange / AdX
DoubleClick’s Ad Exchange (AdX), owned by Google, is like AdSense’s big brother. It’s not as simple as AdSense, but it offers more robust features and promises to help publishers optimize their revenue more effectively. It’s basically like AdSense with the training wheels taken off.
AdX provides a lot more options that allow publishers to increase the revenue of your inventory, such as better control over bidding or creating private auctions for advertisers.
AppNexus comes in just under Google for global advertising reach and spend — which means they can be a healthy alternative or addition to AdSense. AppNexus has recently released open-source header-bidder wrapper Prebid.js, and their own full-service Publisher Suite.
AppNexus is working hard to overcome a bad reputation for poor ad quality over the past couple of years. Publishers working with AppNexus can benefit from the variety and control they offer, if they’re willing to accept a solution that’s a little less plug-and-play.
3. Rubicon Project
Rubicon Project, is also a major industry leader and provides a full-service SSP (Supply Side Platform) among other pieces of ad tech. They’ve recently scooped up several programmatic direct platforms, and, like AppNexus, offer their own header-bidder. They’ve rolled this all up into a solution for publishers called Seller Cloud.
Publishers can use one or several platforms within Rubicon, and can increase revenue by optimizing or automating several aspects of their ad operations. Like it’s kin AppNexus and AdX, Rubicon’s platform is more robust than AdSense, but can take a lot more to learn and manage.
Criteo, a large SSP, offers both their own supply and demand. They are also significant buyers on exchanges such as AppNexus and AdX. The Criteo Publisher Marketplace offers over 11,000 publishers access to over 9,000 advertisers in 86 countries. Criteo is more selective about where they place ads, but they tend to pay higher CPMs than other partners.
OpenX is one of the largest ad exchanges in the world, handling 140B ad requests per month and 100K auctions per second. OpenX has recently put a significant focus on quality control, allowing publishers to block individual buyers, creative, and content categories.
Publishers can also set up inventory segments with specific categories, and OpenX offers the capability to set up private marketplaces to help publishers sell high-quality inventory at a premium.
PubMatic has recently shifted from a closed ecosystem, with their own supply and demand, to a more open model. PubMatic has several products, including Decision Manager (which provides a holistic view of all demand sources and allows publishers to find the highest CPM or yield for each impression). They also offer a Native Advertising platform, which provides a unified approach to native ads for both buyers and seller.
PubMatic’s CPMs aren’t as high as some other networks, and the quality has some inconsistencies, but they demonstrate a higher fill rate than many other partners.
Sovrn offers a large ad network that works with branded campaigns only. Ads are matched by vertical, but they do also retarget based on user.
Sovrn are very selective about which sites they work with. They use Integral Ad Science, (IAS) to scan for site quality and take a hard line with poor quality sites by banning them. As a result, they offer higher CPMs than other networks.
Sonobi’s advertising exchange works much like others, but they also have one of the fastest-growing premium exchanges, with exclusive access to advertisers that other networks don’t have. They have been working hard to grow their advertiser base, and work with a large variety of advertisers, which can impact quality.
Their campaigns are mostly vertically-driven, and they try to make up for the occasional quality issue with higher CPMs.
Yieldbot is one of the more selective ad networks in terms of site quality. Sites are approved based on vertical, brand safety and inventory need. Yieldbot backs out to CPC and therefore works best with high-CTR impressions (ATF, North American users), and will typically only fill one unit per page.
Yieldbot has also expanded into header bidder wrapping - they recently built and rolled out PubFood, a header bidder wrapper that competes with AppNexus’ prebid.js.
As a result of its purchase by Verizon in 2015, AOL is now one of the largest publishers, as well as one of the largest ad tech companies. They have consolidated their many ad technologies under the AOL One banner, a direct competitor to AppNexus’ Publisher Suite.
AOL doesn’t offer IBV (In Banner Video), but they specialize in other video units (pre-roll, post-roll and mid-roll). They use non-standard tools for fraud detection and site approvals, which can be challenging. But AOL does tend to pay medium-high CPMs, and rarely have quality concerns, which is appealing for publishers.
bRealTime is the ad tech arm of larger media company CPXi. bRealTime partners with AppNexus for their platform and, while their instance offers less functionality, they supplement with an additional layer of differentiated demand.
bRealTime is one of the most cooperative and flexible demand partners — they offer custom integrations, custom ad units, and extensive support. They are also fairly agnostic, and their consulting arm offers services to help maximize revenue with other partners.
12. Index Exchange
Recently rebranded from Casale Media, Index Exchange is very selective about the advertisers they work with. They verify each buyer, and each campaign is reviewed carefully for quality control and categorization.
Index Exchange offers SmartTag, which allows publishers to create segments by tagging inventory based on price, volume, audience type. They also allow publishers with multiple sites to set up and manage their own ad exchanges and private marketplace deals.
Media.net is the most like AdSense in terms of function and business model. Think of Media.net as the AdSense for Yahoo and Bing search demand. The units even look similar, and behave in much of the same ways, so they can be competitive or a great supplement to AdSense.
Media.net units tend to look more native than regular AdSense (if you don’t include the new AdSense native units), and are served in dedicated placements, not standard banners, although they can be made to match the same sizes.
Not sure which is right for you?
The sheer number of ad platforms and networks is exhausting to consider. Without the numbers, which vary widely due to the number of variables, how do you know which one will perform best? Are you supposed to sign up, configure, and test each individual network and platform one by one to see what works best for your site and your audience that month? You could, but you don’t have to.
That’s exactly why we built Sortable — so you wouldn’t have to spend hundreds of hours just trying to maximize your revenue.
We work with all the major ad partners (like the ones above) and our ad optimization technology lets them duke it out. If you don’t spend your days dreaming of mediating and evaluating multiple demand partners, managing creative quality across networks and other such fussy work, we’d love to talk about we can make your life easier.
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