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Ad Network Advertising 101

Ad networks are great way to monetize your blog, but they can also be confusing. Use this beginner’s guide to learn how to make money with ad networks. #makemoneyblogging #makemoneyonline #adnetworks #onlineadvertising #blogging #bloggingtips #monetization #blogmonetization

Ad networks can be a very effective and relatively low-effort way to monetize your blog. But, when you are just getting started, trying to figure out the ins and outs can also be a little bit confusing. Thus, today I thought I’d put together a quick & easy tutorial.

For starters, Ad networks are companies that sell ad space on any sort of internet real estate, like a blog or a website. You supply the real estate, the ad network sells that real estate to a company that wants to place an ad, and you get a percentage of the sale.

Think of it like renting a room in your house, but all you have to worry about is providing the room. 

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Make sense?

Ad networks are a great monetization tool for just about anyone who can provide real estate for ads. For any niche, any industry, the ad networks will deliver relevant ads to fit the internet real estate they occupy.

So, since ad networks are a great tool no matter what the niche, that means they’ll be a great tool for you, too!

Here’s the skinny on ad networks, how they work, and how they can make you money.

How Do Ad Networks Work?

First, let’s start with how ad networks work.

Many ad networks use cookies to determine which ads are relevant to viewers. Cookies are small files that get stored on a computer after a person visits a particular website. Ad networks access those cookies to see where the user has visited and then serve ads accordingly.

For example, let’s say you went to the Pottery Barn website to look at a dining room set. Then you noticed you were served an ad for that exact same dining room set while you were visiting your favorite blog the next day. That’s because the ad networks accessed your cookies, saw you looked at the dining set, and served you an ad to drive you back to the product page.

Now, ad networks that rely on cookies might not show ads that are completely relevant to the content of your website. Since they’re serving ads based on user behavior, they would serve that Pottery Barn ad, whether your blog was focused on recipes or business or deep sea fishing — as long as the person visiting your website had previously visited the Pottery Barn page.

There are also ad networks that serve ads based on the content of your website. So, if you have a blog about knitting, they might show ads for an online knitting course or a craft supply store.

How You Make Money From Ad Networks

The way you make money from ad networks is based on the value of the internet real estate you provide —in other words, your page views.

The more page views you have — and the more space you have for ads on your website — the more money you’ll make from ad networks.

There are two ways to get paid from ad networks: pay-per-click and cost-per-thousand-impressions (CPM).

Pay-per-click is pretty straightforward — you get paid every time one of your blog visitors clicks an ad on your site.

CPM means you get paid a set amount for every 1,000 people that view an ad on your blog (which is the same thing as getting paid for every 1,000 page views).

How much you get paid from CPM can seriously vary depending on your niche, your audience, and how well your ads are optimized. Some industries have low CPMs (like gaming, which averaged at $1.77 in 2015), while others are much higher (like technology, which could get up to $12.50 that same year). So the higher the CPM in your industry, the more money you’ll make off of your traffic.

Even if your blog is in a niche genre or you only have a few pages on your blog, if you’re working with a high CPM network (like PropellerAds), it can be very lucrative.

Whether pay-per-click or CPM is a better ad model completely depends on your blog, your traffic, and how well your ads perform.

Types of Ad Networks

There are two main types of ad networks.

Horizontal Ad Networks

Horizontal ad networks are ad networks that accept all types of advertisers and all types of publishers. In these networks, the advertiser has limited control over where their ads are shown (also known as “blind networks”). So, if you have a baking blog, you might get a baking ad… or you might get a fishing ad or a workout DVD ad.

As a publisher, horizontal ad networks are appealing because they’re super easy to get into. All you really have to do is apply, show the ad network you have traffic, and follow their rules of conduct.

The not-so-appealing part is that horizontal ad networks take a bit of a “throw spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks” approach to ad placement. Your audience might not be interested in the ads on your website. And since horizontal ad networks pay per click, it can be harder to generate income without serious traffic.

Vertical Ad Networks

Vertical ad networks are more specialized and allow advertisers to choose which publishers to work with, which means that the ads are much more targeted. So, in order to join a vertical ad network, you have to be involved in the niche they serve.

Vertical ad networks are great because they’ll deliver targeted ads that your audience will be genuinely interested in — which means it can be much easier to generate clicks.

Within these two types, there are tons of individual ad networks you can try out. Do your research and test which ones you think would work best for your blog. You can either test one at a time, or you can work with multiple ad networks at once and see which performs best.

If that all sounds a little technical and complicated, you can also use an ad management service to take care of it for you, like AdThrive or Metric. They’ll set you up with an account manager, and they’ll handle the entire process for you. Is it an investment? Yes. But it can definitely be an investment that pays off once your ads are performing well.

Signing Up For Ad Networks

So now that you know the types of ad works, let’s get a little more specific and talk about the most popular ad networks in the space – and exactly what they require for you to get started.

Google AdSense

Google AdSense is, hands down, the largest and most popular ad network in the world – and it also happens to be the highest paying ad network for most bloggers.

AdSense requires you to have an above-the-fold ad on your website and allows you an additional three image ads and three text ads per page.

To sign up for AdSense, you’ll need to create an account and submit your website for approval. If your blog violates any of AdSense’s policies, Google will let you know and give you a chance to fix any issues. Once your website is approved, your account will be fully activated and ready to roll!


Ad-Maven is a solid alternative to Google AdSense and gives you a ton of flexibility in terms of monetization – you have the option to use all sorts of ad types, including Banners, PopUnder, Interstitial, and Slider Ads.

All you have to do to get started with Ad-Maven is create a publisher account.


Media.net has an exclusive partnership with Yahoo! and Bing and uses a slightly more advanced formula based on CPMs and per-click data to serve the most relevant ads.

An interesting aspect of Media.net is that they work strictly in text ads that can be customized to best fit your site. And while they prefer above-the-fold ads, it’s not a requirement.

You can get started with Media.net by signing up for a publisher account. Once they do a quick review on your website, you’ll be ready to go!

Amazon CPM Ads

Amazon has its hand in just about everything else under the sun, so it was no surprise when they launched their own ad network.

In order to get started with Amazon CPM ads, you’ll need to an Amazon affiliate (if you’re not already part of the Amazon Associates network, it’s super easy to sign up). On your Amazon Associates dashboard, you’ll see a dropdown for Amazon CPM ads, where you can ad your site and get your CPM ad codes to add to your site.

Ad Optimization Services

Now, I’m not going to lie to you: managing the ad process takes time and energy. If you’re not thrilled about the idea of setting up and testing your ads, there is another option: ad optimization services.

Ad optimization services can be a great way to maximize the effectiveness of your ads and increase your ad revenue. They’ll manage the entire ad process and test different factors – like ad placement, ad format, ad network, site layout, and ad design – to get you the most bang for your buck.

Ad optimization services typically charge a percentage of the revenue their ads generate, but generally the results they are able to get far exceed their fees.

If you are interested in using an ad optimization service, two that we strongly recommend are AdThrive and MediaVine. Both have minimum requirements–AdThrive is 100,000 pageviews and MediaVine is 25,000 sessions –as well as requirements for the quality of your traffic.

How Much Can You Earn From Ad Networks?

So, now for the million-dollar question…

How much can you earn from ad networks?

The answer is, it totally depends on page views.

For us, we get an average CPM of $10 from our ads.

Let’s say you had the same average CPM. How much would you make if you had 100K page views?

100K (total page views)/1000 = 100 x $10 (CPM) = $1,000

What would happen if you had a million page views?

1 mil (total page views)/1000 = 1000 x $10 = $10,000

So, as I mentioned earlier, when it comes to ad networks, more page views = more money.

Some Issues With Ad Networks

Essentially, you just slap a billboard up on your blog and collect your rent check every month. Once it’s set up on your blog, there’s really nothing else for you to do.

That being said, ad networks aren’t without their problems. The first problem is that the only way to generate a significant amount money is to have a pretty decent amount of traffic.

Just look at the example above! 100K page views is a LOT of views, but it only generates $1K payout.

Now, if you’re just doing this as a way to make extra money on the side, $1K is fine. But if you want to build a blog that can financially support you and your family, $1K isn’t going to cut it.

That is why, if you want your blog to generate a full-time income, you need to diversify your income streams. Ad networks can be one part of the equation, but they can’t be the WHOLE equation.

I know lots of bloggers who are making a full-time income and have LESS than 100K page views each month — they’re just not relying solely on ad networks to bring in cash.

There are so many ways to leverage your audience and make money off of your blog. You can partner with affiliate programs with high payouts. You can do sponsored content for brands you love and believe in. You can create your own products.

If you rely on ad networks for your income, you’re essentially relying on your page views. So if something happens with your traffic, you’re toast.

But if you diversify your income streams, you’re not only bringing in money from all sorts of places — you’re also not dependent on one stream for your income. So if one crashes, you have plenty of others to keep you afloat.

When I first started blogging, I was completely reliant on ad networks to drive revenue. In fact, almost 90% of my income used to come from ad networks! But as I started to learn more about blogging, instead of focusing on page views and ad networks revenue, I started to focus on a new metric: dollar per unique visitor.

In 2013, when the vast majority of my income was still coming from ad networks (around 70%), I earned $.03 per visitor. In 2014, when ad networks were responsible for 50% of my income, I earned $.05 per visitor. In 2015, my ad network revenue was down to about 10% of total income, and I earned $.10 per visitor. Then finally, in 2016, when I had completely diversified my income streams and ad revenue was only responsible for 3% of the total, I earned $.50 per unique visitor.

So why am I sharing this? Because it can be so easy to obsess about page views when you sign up with an ad network.

But when I was relying on ad networks to drive revenue, I wasn’t optimizing my traffic. Once I started diversifying my income streams and driving revenue in new ways, I started making more money from each person who visited my blog.

More income streams = more income. So again, while ad networks are a great addition to your revenue tool belt, they shouldn’t be the only tool in there. [For more ways to boost your blog’s income check out 7 Surefire Ways to Boost Blog Income Overnight! This super helpful mini e-book will help you maximize the revenue you are earning from the audience you already have. Grab it HERE.]

Is there something else you’d like to know about ad networks? Leave your questions in the comments below!


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  1. Hi Ruth,
    Have you written anything about this:
    “You can do sponsored content for brands you love and believe in.”
    How does this work?
    Thanks much!

  2. I’m a new blogger and I decided to sign up for Google AdSense from the very beginning. I read that it’s better for your readers to get used to the ads early on vs. being bombarded with ads later on. ( I think that was from Ruth’s book actually)
    Diversifying your sources of income is a great idea. I have an Amazon associates account and I offer design services. I plan on adding pre-designed, interior design packages so that my clients can see it, love it and buy it without needing the one on one, which I’m hoping translates into more sales.

  3. But, as a brand new blogger this is not even feasible, right? No traffic yet…..So how do you overcome that issue and start getting traffic so you can use an ad network?

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