Alternative Ad Networks

This is a guest post from Marc Poirier, the founder of Acquisio SEARCH, a search engine marketing software company that develops advanced bid management tools for PPC advertisers.

When most people think of auction-based, online ad networks, they think of Google AdWords, Yahoo! Search Marketing and Microsoft adCenter -- with Google dominating. But there are a lot of other, often niche-based, ad networks that combine contextual and keyword based advertising on an a cost per click (CPC), cost per thousand (CPM), or cost per action (CPA) bidding model. These other networks are known as the second-tier networks, and depending on your advertising goals, these second-tier networks can represent a great source of targeted traffic.

First, a lot of these networks can help you reach new, targeted audiences. After all, many alternative networks will strike deals with publishers that the Tier One networks have limited or no access to -- think newspapers, magazines, and blogs. And most of these publishers have a niche (i.e. pre-targeted) audience.

Second, about only 5% of page views come from search. So if you want to reach the other 95% with your message, you have to spread your ads around.

Third, these second-tier ad networks often offer more competitive CPCs and CPMs, letting you pay much less per conversion.

Finally, you can get a better return on individual campaigns through second-tier networks because they let you tailor your message on a niche-by-niche basis. This lets you determine which messages performs best with what audience, and you can then optimize your campaign on a network-by-network basis.

All this being said, the question remains: So what second-tier networks are worth my while? Well, you'd be surprised just how many of the second-tier networks are associated with trusted, recognizable brand names.

Second-Tier Ad Networks

Now, this is far from an exhaustive list of second-tier networks, but it features some of the more reputable ones. Many of them are also auction-based, and they are all targeted primarily at English language markets.

Ask Sponsored Listings
This search engine's contextual ad network uses a CPC bidding model like its larger counterparts. It is focused on specific verticals, and features publishers such as Excite, Mamma, and Dogpile, as well as other lifestyle and technology portals (e.g. CNET.com). Ask Sponsored Listings also boasts a reach of over 70 million unique users.

AOL Advertising
Formerly known as Quigo AdSonar, AOL acquired this network over two years ago. This network offers contextual advertising via its AdSonar and FeedPoint products. Advertising is sold on a CPC basis, and advertisers can bid for each sponsored placement. AOL's sponsored listings are also available on sites such as The Washington Post, AOL Money and Finance, ABC.com, CNN Money, and FOX News. The network even offers rich media placements.

Facebook Ads
The Facebook Advertising platform lets you target audiences according to a variety of demographic and psychographic criteria. Advertisers can reach users by age, sex, location, education, and other targeted keywords. The ads are primarily text-based, with maximum of 135 characters, and can include a small image. Advertisers can also choose between CPM and CPC bidding options.

LinkedIn Direct Ads
For advertisers looking to target business professionals, there's LinkedIn’s DirectAds. This network boasts a worldwide user base of over 50 million professionals, and lets advertisers target users according to job title, industry, company size, and location. Advertisers also have a choice between CPC and CPM. Even though the LinkedIn network can be a very valuable for reaching certain businesses audiences, however, it’s not always the most affordable. For example, some ad categories feature CPMs of $50 or higher. LinkedIn Direct ads also offer rich media placements, but these are restricted to advertisers whose budgets exceed $25,000.

MySpace MyAds
Advertisers can also "hyper-target" MySpace user through their MyAds system. This network lets advertisers target banners according to users' gender, age, interests, hobbies, education, parental status, and location. Advertisers can choose between CPC and CPM bidding options, and since MySpace MyAds is also part of the FOX Audience Network advertising platform, advertisers can also target users beyond MySpace.

Alternative Ad Styles

The great advantage of online advertising is that it can be both better targeted and measured than other forms of advertising, and second-tier ad networks offer an opportunity to further refine the reach of your campaigns. In addition to targeting your message at niche audiences, you can often find CPCs, CPAs, and CPMs much lower (often due to less competition) than first-tier networks.

All that being said, before investing heavily in a second-tier network campaign, you should first test their traffic with a smaller budget. Doing so will help you both evaluate the quality of the traffic and whether it's appropriate for your offers. And if the traffic is suited for your ad offers, testing out a smaller budget beforehand will also give you an opportunity to optimize your campaigns around that traffic and how you're paying for it – whether it's on a CPC, CPM, or CPA basis.

Tags: bid management, cost per click, cpc, search engine marketing, targeted traffic

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