What to look for in your ad management partner

You can and should demand greatness from your ad management partner to complement the amazing content you create on your website. Not all ad management companies are alike, so it’s important to know what to look for and which questions...

By Lauren Fitzpatrick

You can and should demand greatness from your ad management partner to complement the amazing content you create on your website. Not all ad management companies are alike, so it’s important to know what to look for and which questions to ask.

Here are the qualifications to seek out while researching the best fit for your business.

1. Strong industry relationships

A good ad manager has strong relationships with companies across the industry — companies that independent publishers can’t access on their own.

Most ad management companies work with Google but the gold standard is to be a Google Certified Publishing Partner. This means Google has thoroughly vetted their business practices, products, and customer service, and they have a proven track record of working in publishers’ best interests. 

Next, your ad management partner needs to have excellent relationships across the digital advertising industry — with major brands like Verizon, AT&T, Amazon, and other well-known technology companies like Index Exchange, Rubicon Project, TripleLift, and Pubmatic. All of these relationships are crucial to connect you with tens of thousands of advertisers.

You’ll want an ad management partner with such a great reputation in the industry that advertisers are eager to negotiate unique deals, special campaigns, and exclusive access that you can’t get anywhere else

A wise ad manager also knows that more isn’t always better. Giving the wrong partners access to your site can undermine its long-term success and value to advertisers. Look for a partner who is just as committed to keeping the bad guys out as they are to working with the good guys.

Questions to ask

  1. Are you a Google Certified Publishing Partner?
  2. Who are your main programmatic technology partners?
  3. How do you vet potential partners?
  4. What makes your relationships with these companies special or unique?
  5. What do I get by working with you that I don’t get anywhere else?

2. World-class technology

Setting up a digital advertising platform for a publisher (an “ad stack”) is a complicated process.

Ad management companies use Google Ad Manager, Google Ad Manager 360 (the best in the market), or another industry-standard ad server to integrate code across your site.

To bring all of their advertising partnerships together, they use an additional piece of code called a  “header bidding wrapper”, like Prebid (the best in the market). 

On top of that, a good ad manager will have quality measures in place for your ads, automatically monitoring for spammy or malicious ads to block them from serving to your readers

Finally, the technology that connects your site to the digital advertising ecosystem needs to be efficient, optimized, and have a limited impact on your site’s performance. 

To deliver on all this, look for an ad management company with a large and talented engineering team that is building best-in-class and future-focused technology, driven by data. Ad technology evolves at warp speed — and you want your site to be along for the ride.

Questions to ask:

  1. Which ad server do you use?
  2. Which header bidding wrapper do you use?
  3. How do you monitor ad quality and protect against bad ads on my site?
  4. How can I be sure your ads won’t slow down my site and hurt the user experience?
  5. How big is your engineering team and what specialties do they bring to the table?
  6. How do you use data to drive your technology decisions?

3. A powerhouse sales team 

Any ad management company can help you connect to programmatic advertising, but a good ad management company will bring you access to BOTH programmatic and direct advertising for your site’s highest earning potential.

Talented ad sales teams are true experts at what they do and have built quality relationships with the biggest advertisers over the course of years, bringing in premium direct deals. 

These can either be traditional (meaning there’s a signed contract) or private marketplace (PMP) deals — direct access between an advertiser and your site’s inventory through the normal programmatic systems. 

To make sure you’re earning the highest ad revenue, you want a sales team that can offer advertisers unique ad products they can’t find anywhere else. Advertisers don’t want to spend their large direct budgets on products they can find through the normal programmatic methods. A sales team that delivers the best return on investment for advertisers helps you make the most money for your ads!

Questions to ask:

  1. How big is your ad sales team?
  2. How long have they been selling ads?
  3. What are some special products your sales team has created?

4. Proactive site optimization

Your ad management company should have a strong and proactive approach to optimizing your site — not just when they first set up your ads, or when you ask about new opportunities, but all of the time, so you continue to earn top dollar. 

You know your audience best, so it’s in your best interest to work with your ad management partner to design a custom layout for your site that earns the highest revenue while making sure your audience has a great user experience.

The best ad setup today might not work in two weeks, so no ad layout should be set in stone. A good ad management company will automatically monitor changes in your ad performance to identify any issues and opportunities and make personalized recommendations and optimizations. 

They’ll also innovate with new ad units and placements, keeping advertisers interested and giving them a variety of ways to place ads on your site.

Questions to ask: 

  1. What’s your process for designing an ad layout and setting up ads on my site?
  2. How do you monitor my ad performance over time to make sure my ad layout is always optimized?
  3. How often will I hear from you with customized recommendations and new opportunities for my site?

5. World-class community of publishers

Many ad management firms have minimal requirements about traffic and site quality, but joining an ad network with low standards could cost you a lot in revenue in the long run. 

The other sites your ad management company works with can influence the way advertisers bid on your ad placements. It’s crucial for your partner to rigorously vet publishers, only allowing top-notch content creators in alongside you.

Advertisers will pay a premium to ensure their brand is associated next to high-quality, brand-safe content. Make sure your ad management company takes this seriously.

While quality is crucial, scale is also vital for earning the most from your ads. 

Comscore is a ranking system for online content that’s similar to Nielsen ratings for TV, helping advertisers understand the audience they’ll reach when they buy ads. For access to the highest-paying advertiser deals, your ad management firm should have a high Comscore ranking that aggregates the reach of the publishers they work with. 

Questions to ask:

  1. How do you vet the publishers you work with?
  2. How do you enforce those standards over time?
  3. How does your network rank in Comscore?

6. Leader in industry trends

The ad industry has changed drastically over the last several years, and there are even more tectonic shifts on the horizon. When you work with an ad management company, you shouldn’t have to worry about keeping up — but they should certainly be worrying about the future for you.

Look for an ad provider who is committed to representing YOUR interests in the online ecosystem. They should be part of critical industry groups like the W3C (the international community that develops standards for the open web), the Interactive Advertising Bureau (the organization responsible for standards around online advertising), and Prebid.org (the organization that shapes the industry’s leading open-source header bidding wrapper).

If your ad provider is truly on top of their game with industry trends, they should also be able to share these insights back to you, helping you strengthen your content strategy for your niche. A good ad partner will break down technical industry concepts and trends into bite-size, applicable information for your business.

Ideally, you’ll want to look for an ad management company with dedicated, knowledgeable team members who pore over the data in order to create actionable insights, giving you a leg up on the competition.  

Questions to ask:

  1. Are you an active member of the W3C, helping shape open web standards to protect independent publishers?
  2. Are you an active member of the IAB?
  3. Are you an active member of Prebid.org, contributing improvements for all publishers?
  4. Can you tell me about your data team and how they will help me with my business strategy?
  5. Do you have team members dedicated to sharing industry insights with me?

Find the right fit for you 

Ultimately, your ad management firm should take care of all of these things for you so you never have to worry about them again — if they’re doing an excellent job, you won’t even realize all of the moving parts happening in the background. 

You’ll be free to focus on your business and develop more amazing content, creating a profitable cycle that continually increases your revenue. 

We’d love the opportunity to answer the questions from this post and chat with you about why we think CafeMedia is the best ad management firm (we coined the term back in 2013) for high-quality content creators.