There are different approaches and opinions on how to start an ad network and what it actually is. But this article will introduce you to the Adserver.Online team's vision. Further, we will explain how to start an ad network using Adserver.Online white-label ad server, what to consider, and how to set everything up.
What is an ad network?
Ad networks are an essential part of the ad tech ecosystem. Simply put, they act as brokers buying traffic from publishers and selling it to advertisers. And though advertising, in general, may include TV, print, or radio ads, when we hear the term 'ad network' we mean online advertising. Therefore, an ad network is an online business in which profit comes from a margin between advertisers' payments and publishers' payouts.
Since ad networks aggregate numerous publishers and sell their traffic to advertisers, they need some technology to make it happen. Moreover, with the growing demand for specific targeting and in-depth stats, ad networks need to be able to tackle that as well. Advertisers may want to track conversions, to show their ads depending on the country the visitor comes from, the device/OS they use, etc. Publishers may want to maximise their fill rate, benefit from different ad formats, or restrict certain content on their websites. That's where the ad serving technology (like Adserver.Online) comes into play.
Basically, ad networks are using ad serving technology to manage their business. Ad servers make ad campaigns run according to the settings (targeting, limits, etc.), help publishers sell their ad inventory with the least effort and provide you with all kinds of stats you need. Further, we will go into more detail on how to use Adserver.Online platform to start and run your ad network.
How to start an ad network – step-by-step manual
Now that we know what an ad network is, we can continue with a step-by-step manual on how to start an ad network using Adserver.Online platform. We will cover the essential parts, from creating and setting up an account to financial management and moderation.
How to create an Adserver.Online account
Creating an account is the first step you need to take. The registration process is transparent, easy, and rewarding – you will get a free trial period after your registration is complete. First, you must sign up. It's easy – type in the subdomain you wish to have (which will be used as an address to access your account) and a valid email address.
Since Adsever.Online is a cloud-based service, you won't have to install our software on your servers or deal with server maintenance. This lets you concentrate on running your business rather than solving tech problems. So after you receive a confirmation email, you can log into your account and start using it.
The user who registered an account on Adserver.Online platform is considered the owner of that account. Owners have the maximum access and can add and manage other users.
Two more essential user roles in an ad network we would like to point out include:
- Advertiser – the demand side – someone who wants to promote their goods or services. Advertisers pay the ad network for promotion. They have access to advertiser options only.
- Publisher – the supply side – a party that owns websites, mobile apps, etc. Publishers place snippets of special code on their websites/apps that allow ads display. Ad network pays their publishers for their inventory. They have access to publisher options only.
At first, we would recommend creating publisher and advertiser accounts by yourself. This way, you can see how the platform looks from their perspective.
Advertiser options setup
In the Settings / Common / Advertiser menu, you can set the following:
- Allow advertisers to register (when disabled, you can add them manually)
- Enable self-service (when disabled, you can manage their campaigns/ads by yourself)
- Enable payments
- Balance control (more on that here)
If you want to automate advertisers' payments, please follow the instructions from this article.
For more details on advertiser/DSP options, please read this article.
The pricing model defines your relations with advertisers in terms of what exactly they pay you for. The price advertisers pay you is often called a rate. The rate can act as a bid in an auction when the ad server needs to pick one campaign/ad to display from many candidates with similar targeting.
Each ad campaign must have a rate and a pricing model set (should be done while creating a campaign). Advertisers can do that themselves if the owner allows self-service. Otherwise, the owner has to submit campaigns himself.
Available pricing models include:
- CPM – cost per 1000 impressions
- CPC – cost per click
- CPA – cost per action (involves conversions tracking; more details here)
Since the campaign's rate is the price advertisers pay for their ads, it directly impacts the owner's revenue and profit. To keep rates under control, we recommend that you set minimum rates.
Publisher options setup
In the Settings / Common / Publisher menu, you can apply the following settings:
- Allow publishers to register (when disabled, you can add them manually)
- Self-service (when disabled, you can manage them by yourself)
- Enable payouts (publishers will be able to request payouts)
Please note there's only one payment option for publisher payout requests by default (PayPal). We can add more options upon request.
One of the most important things in these settings is a default prioritisation mode. You can read our article on ads prioritisation for more details. It affects ads display directly. Therefore, we suggest that you read the article first and then choose the prioritisation model that suits you better.
Please read this article for a more detailed description of the publisher/SSP options.
Publisher's Revenue model
The revenue model defines your relations with publishers regarding what your ad network pays them for displaying ads.
Available revenue models are:
- Flat rate CPM – cost per 1000 impressions
- Flat rate CPC – cost per click
- Revenue share – the percent of the campaign's rate your advertisers pay you
Default values can be defined in Settings / Common / Publisher. Please be aware that default values apply to new zones only. If you want to update your existing zones, please do it manually.
Usually, publishers expect to get paid differently depending on the county their traffic comes from. To manage that, Adserver.Online allows you to set country-specific rates, as explained here. You can do it for each zone separately or set default values, and the ad server will apply them to all the new zones on your network.
Where does the profit come from
Running an ad network, you (as the owner) expect to make some profit. And our platform can help you manage and calculate it. Adserver.Online doesn't take anything but the numbers from the platform into account and calculates the owner's profit as the difference between advertisers' spending and publishers' revenue. Here you will find some examples.
How to increase your profit
No matter how big your ad network is and how many ad campaigns you run, situations happen when there are no ads to display due to targeting, budget limits, or frequency capping. Every ad network owner knows that every unfilled space on a website is a missed revenue. So if you feel that increasing the fill rate may be crucial to your business, you may find this article useful.
It is vital to be sure your advertisers are not involved in any suspicious activities and won't be submitting anything you wouldn't want in your network (e.g., malware). Also, you may want to be sure publishers submit websites that meet your ad network standards.
Whether you need more or less control over the moderation process, Adserver.Online offers pre- and post-moderation options for you to choose from. You can go to Settings / Common and apply the appropriate settings.
We recommend using pre-moderation at the start. You can change that later after you build some trust with your advertisers and publishers.
Ad network options setup
The most important things you need to need to specify in the Settings / Common / Network menu are as follows:
- the main page URL
- the Terms and Conditions URL
Please remember both of the URLs should lead to your ad network's landing page (website).
Besides, you may want to enable users' auto-activation. When disabled, new users will be inactive by default.
System components setup
You can set up the following things via the Settings menu:
- Settings / Formats. This menu allows you to enable/disable ad formats on your panel. We recommend starting with simple ad formats like Image Banner, Direct Link, or VAST linear.
- Settings / Dimensions. This menu allows you to create a list of banner dimensions you allow on your network. Keeping only a few popular dimensions might be a good idea for a start (e.g., 300×250, 728×90, 160×600).
- Settings / Pricing model. You can enable/disable pricing models available for your advertisers. We recommend starting with CPM and CPC, as CPA might be more difficult to set up.
You can leave other options untouched at the beginning.
First of all, we'd like to stress that Adserver.Onine doesn't mediate your financial relations with your publishers/advertisers. We're not a financial institution. Therefore, don't process incoming or outgoing payments, don't store or accumulate your funds, etc.
What our platform does is calculation. For example, Automatic billing is the most important option in Settings / Common / Finance. It creates transactions for both advertisers and publishers based on stats.
Apart from that, you can automatically integrate certain payment systems for your advertisers to top up their accounts from their panels. Once integrated, your advertisers' payments will go straight to your account, and you won't have to process everything manually.
Different publisher payout options can be added to the panel for your convenience. Please note publishers can request payouts using our platform, but the payouts must be handled manually.
NB: Transactions are the core element of the financial system of the platform. Account owners have full control over this section. At the same time, ad serving stats are read-only and cannot be changed, updated, or somehow interfered with.
You may also want to check out our main article on financial management.
White-label options setup
There are several things Adserver.Online users can customise to give their ad network a unique look and feel. Customisation options include a custom domain, CSS styles, ads branding, and a custom mail domain and are accessible via the Settings / White-label menu. You will find more in white-label related articles from our Knowledge base.
Please note customisation options are limited to the dashboard/panel itself. We don't have a CMS, page builder, or framework for you to build your website. You need to handle your network's website's design and content.
How to start an ad network – conclusion
The Adserver.Online white-label ad server is a great platform for building an ad network.
Following the steps from this manual, you can set up a fully functional ad network with publishers and advertisers. Whether you prefer to manage everything yourself or let your publishers and advertisers enjoy the self-service feature, our platform handles everything.
Campaigns will run according to the targeting settings, stats will be recorded, and advertisers' spending and publishers' revenue will be calculated. Moreover, as the account owner, you will receive all important notifications regarding your users' activity and your own account.
We deliberately omitted some features available on our platform, but they can be regarded as more advanced to keep the emphasis on a classic way of managing an ad network. Surely, using more sophisticated targeting and programmatic features can give you an edge, but it's easier to start with more basic things. Anyway, you're welcome to browse our knowledge base, and should you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask.