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How to Make Money Blogging: The Pros and Cons of Joining an Ad Network

We’ve talked about affiliate marketing and private advertising as ways to make money blogging. Another income stream to add to your blog is to join an ad network.

Ad networks are basically advertising brokers. You offer the advertising space on your blog and they try to sell the space for you. If they sell the space, they take a cut of the sale (usually 40-50%).

Some people love using an ad network. Others haven’t had such great experiences. Here are a few of my thoughts on the pros and cons of joining an ad network:


Ad Networks Require Little Effort

Instead of private advertising where you have to do all the legwork of selling the ad and setting up the ad, when you join an ad network, you do nothing but sign a contract, put some HTML code on your sidebar, and then get checks.

Ad Networks Usually Earn You More Than Private Advertising or Affiliate Ads Do

How much you make with an advertising network will vary widely. I’ve heard of people making as low as $1-$2 CPM (per thousand pageviews) or as much as $15 to $20 per CPM.

However, remember how I said last week that you could charge $0.50 to $1 per CPM for selling private advertising? Well, that’s very much on the low end for ad networks. From what I’ve researched, most people make $2-$4 CPM on average with most ad networks. If you’re just starting out selling private advertising and haven’t had enough demand to warrant raising the price, you will very likely make more with an ad network than you will with private ads.

Ad Networks Often Sell More Than Just Ads

While the revenue from sidebar advertising can be good, the revenue from other advertising opportunities is usually much better. I don’t accept sponsored posts, but I have done a few underwritten post series (such as my Christmas Gift Guide & Giveaways series).

My Christmas series paid very well and I never would have gotten that opportunity had my ad network not made the phone calls and coordinated the details to close that deal. Since they are working with multiple bloggers, they are able to attract advertisers with big advertising budgets–something I’m not usually able to do on my own.


Ad Networks Give You Less Control

I shied away from joining an ad network for a number of years because I wanted to have control over what ads showed on my sidebar. Every single ad network I talked to was unwilling to let me have control over what ads showed on my sidebar.

I finally discovered that Federated Media would give me a say and joined their ad network early last year. While some unapproved ads have slipped through the cracks on occasion (due to hiccups with their ad placement system), they have been exceptional about removing any campaigns immediately if I request it. From what I’ve heard, most ad networks are not always so compliant.

Ad Networks Can Be Difficult to Get In With

It took me a number of months and persistence, plus a kind friend giving me a shoe-in, before I was able to get in with Federated Media. The best ad networks often have a long waiting list and few openings.

Things to Consider Before Joining An Ad Network:

::Will they offer you a guaranteed CPM rate? Most ad networks that are actively “courting” bloggers are new or struggling. They’ll make you all sorts of great-sounding promises, but very few are willing to back those up with a guarantee in writing. If an ad network will only guarantee you pay of around $2 or less per CPM on average, you will probably do better to just stick with using Google Adsense on your sidebar.

::What are the terms of the contract? Is it an exclusive agreement that would bar you from being able to run private ads or affiliate ads? If so, don’t agree to it. How do you get out of the contract? Have these details in writing ahead of time so you don’t get stuck in some bad situation.

::Will you have control over the ads they run? If you run a blog on healthful eating, you probably don’t want McDonald’s Big Mac ads running on your sidebar. Sending mixed messages to your readership is a quick way to lose your integrity. Make sure that the ad network promises in writing to remove ads you deem to be inappropriate for your blog.

::What do other bloggers in the network think of it? One of the best ways to determine whether or not a network is right for you is to go find other bloggers who are a part of the network and ask them how it is working out for them. You might find that what the ad network reps promised you on the phone is entirely the opposite of what bloggers in their network are actually experiencing. Firsthand knowledge is priceless and could save you a huge headache.

Are you a part of an ad network? If so, I’d love to hear your experiences–both good and bad!

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  • Angela R says:

    SO timely. I’ve been contacted by an ad network and am setting up a phone call with them this week. I appreciate your insight, Crystal!

  • I have personally not used an Ad Network because like you, I want to keep control over what is on my site. I will have to research this more as I know a few bloggers that are using private ad networks, giving both pros and cons as well. Thanks for the continued articles!

  • I just applied to Federated Media this week…after first applying several months ago and not hearing anything back. Crossing my fingers! 🙂

  • Hmmmm, I will have to look into this a little more. I only have Google Adsense right now. Maybe once I’ve built my blog up a little more I’ll start checking around. Thanks Crystal!

  • I want to add that it can be VERY flattering when an ad network contacts you. Try your best to keep your wits about you and be careful of what you sign, and know what you are locking yourself into.

    I also think that everyone should see how Google Ad Sense performs on their blog before jumping in with an ad network. You might be pleasantly surprised.

  • I just read yesterday on Little Green Notebook how much SHE liked Federated Media. I’m impressed now that I’ve read positive reviews from two blogs I not only enjoy reading, but respect the way they’re run.

    • Crystal says:

      From the research I’ve done and the many ad networks I’ve talked to via email and phone, I’d have to say that Federated Media is one of the best, if not the best. They look for bloggers who have built a community, they never push you to do something you don’t feel comfortable with, they respect all your requests to remove ad campaigns, and they are very prompt in dealing with any issues that arise.

  • Very timely information Crystal! Thank you for this series. Ad networks were next on my list to research as the affiliate ads have been doing well and I am ready explore further. Your insight and experience is appreciated for the rest of us on the learning curve. Thank you.

  • kayla aimee says:

    Q: what is the difference between a sponsored post and an underwritten post? TY!

    My ad network lets me have a say in what ads run and are great about removing an ad if needed. Payout time can be a little slow but the customer service is great.

    • Crystal says:

      A sponsored post would be where they write the content or specifically dictate what the content must be written about. Typically, you’ll need to showcase a specific product and link to a specific page on their site.

      An underwritten post is where the company “underwrites” the post. They are listed at the top or bottom of the post as an underwriter with a short blurb/link. Then, you can write whatever you want in the actual post. For instance, in my Christmas Gift Guide, Pier 1 underwrote the whole series. They asked that I write one post a week every six weeks, they had me set it up on a special section of my site and we set it up so that only their advertising displayed on those pages during the Christmas season, and they wanted a blurb at the top of each post. Other than that, I could write about whatever I wanted to write about. The money that they paid for the series made it worth the extra effort plus funded the high-value giveaways I paid for during that series. My readers loved it and it turned out to be a big win-win for everyone!

  • I’ve been pretty happy with BlogAds – like FM, they can be difficult to get into, but I got lucky and had a friend who invited me when I asked (and I don’t even known how one gets invite power b/c I don’t have it). Their customer service has been responsive when I’ve contacted them, and they pay out consistently.

  • This is great information. Right now I use Adsense (not sure if that is considered an ad network) and tried to format the ads as much as possible to make them as relevant as possible for my blog. It has brought in some money not a lot but I notice that as my my numbers grow so do the earnings.

    My traffic while growing is not nearly enough that I think any ad network would approve my blog. What would be an average daily unique visitor count and page views that you think we should strive for to make decent money from an ad network and also so an ad networks would approve us ? I know some want about 1000 visits a day. Curious on your thoughts.

    Thanks again for this great post.

    • Crystal says:

      I think it really varies with ad network to ad network. I used BlogAds back in the beginning on another blog and I know they would accept blogs with a few hundred pageviews per day. Federated Media has huge blogs and much smaller blogs. To them, the traffic is not as important as showing that you’ve built a strong community.

      My advice to you: if you want to pursue an ad network, just go ahead and try. I know many have gotten in when they have a few hundred pageviews a day. So if you’re anywhere near there, it’s definitely worth a shot. The worst thing that can happen is that you learn you need to grow your traffic a little more.

  • Lori says:

    Burst Media is my ad network. They do give me control over which ads show on my site. I can log in and review the ads available, how much each pays and the criteria for how/when it would show in my site. Then I can choose which ones to allow.

  • I have been considering joining an ad network for awhile now. Thanks for your insights – so helpful!

  • This is especially timely, as I just got started with two ad networks (which I mentioned recently on my blog). I am very happy with both of them because both of them allow me to personally remove any ads I’m not happy with and they both provide quality ads that I think make my blog look even more professional! Plus, even though my blog is not that big traffic-wise, I was able to get in with both of them and have been able to make a little extra money from them. I’d recommend both of them!

    Here’s the post I made about them:

  • Will any ad networks allow someone in with lower page views? I don’t have 100,000 page views or more…yet. 🙂 I was declined by one advertiser network because of low page views.

    • Crystal says:

      Many of them will. Definitely try! Two commentors mentioned having great experiences with BlogAds and Burst Media. I know they accept blogs that don’t have huge numbers of pageviews (or at least they used to).

  • Thank you so much for all of this great information. It is so helpful to hear from all of you that have been blogging for a while!

  • Carmen says:

    I work in the web marketing industry and wanted to chime in. While ads are important (you have to make money!), be very careful in the execution of them on your blog.

    We’ve all been to blogs that are overrun with ads – yuck! That’s poor user experience and drives people away. What people may not know is that it can also prevent people from finding your blog in the first place!

    Google takes into consideration the proportion of ads to real content and you can be docked in your search rankings if your site meets their threshold of too advertising “spammy”.

    I know this is counter intuitive – shouldn’t Google be encouraging you to use their products abundantly (Google AdSense)? But Google is very careful about separating the search side of their business from the advertising one, in an effort to maintain the integrity of their search rankings.

    So the short of it – you can use AdSense and other advertising vehicles but do it carefully. Hope this helps!

  • Lori says:

    I always wish numbers & money were mentioned, but I know that none of us feel comfortable with that! I do quite well with Google Adsense, far better than I did with any ad network I tried (a few years ago) on my busy education blog. But I always wonder if it could be even more at a network. When I specifically asked – with numbers – at a blog conference last fall, it sounds like networks wouldn’t reach Google numbers for me. I think Adsense works very well for definite niche blogs, but not at all well with “mommy” blogs or varied interest blogs (such as my Just Pure Lovely blog, which I signed in with). I don’t even bother at that blog.

  • I am SO new to this whole thing, but am ready to take the next step (something other than adsense). I am taking notes here on the other ad networks…Federated Media, Blog Ads, Burst Media…what are the other ones out there that people like? So you apply, and they select you? Does it work like Adsense?

    I’ve only been blogging for a couple of months now, and have had a great response, but it is all very confusing and it seems like you need to spend a lot of time sitting down and researching all of this!

  • I’m currently using a mix of Adsense, Burst and private ads; It’s quite high-maintenance!

    While Burst let’s you choose the ads you want, you’re automatically opted in to every ad, which means you need to log in and deselect all new ads every day if you want to monitor what’s showing on your site. That might sound like I’m being overly controlling, but otherwise they’ll put up ads that literally pay $.04 cpm or $.07 cpc. On the flip side, they do have plenty of ads that have decent-to-great cpms.

    I truly wish I could get into Federated Media. They seem like the cream of the crop. I was rejected a year ago and, while my traffic has increased, I don’t want to be the one who keeps applying when there’s no hope!

  • sharon daniels says:

    I would really like to start a blog in my area but don’t know where to start and would appreciate any input as to where to start there aren’t that many in my area could anyone point me in the right direction

  • Crystal,
    I am yet another blogger who finds your post to be incredibly timely! I’ve just started investigating ad networks, and this post and the subsequent comments sorted it all out for me perfectly! Thank you so much! I’m going to try getting in touch with Federated Media and go from there. Thank you, again.

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