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Updated September 2021.
Whether you’re a seasoned PPC advertiser or you’re just getting started, there’s always room to explore new ad networks (i.e. channels for online advertising) to grow your business.
Every platform has a slightly different audience, targeting options and bidding methods – not to mention costs. Popular platforms like Google Ads tend to be a lot more expensive than cheaper alternatives.
So which is right for your business?
In this article, we’ll help you decide. We’ll cover (click the link to jump right down to that section):
- Types of Advertising Platforms
- 8 Popular PPC Platforms for Targeted Traffic
- Reasons to Consider an Alternative Ad Network
- 22 Alternative Ad Networks You Should Definitely Consider
- Which Factors to Consider When Choosing Other Ad Networks
Types of Advertising Platforms
Not every advertising platform works in the same way or offers the same options.
Here’s a quick overview of the different types of ad networks you’re likely to come across.
Search advertising platforms allow an advertiser to place text ads in the search engine results page, above or below the organic results.
Here's what it looks like:
Advertising on paid search platforms can be a powerful way to attract relevant traffic. Usually you’ll use a pay-per-click (PPC) model and bid to get in front of highly targeted users. That means your ads are shown only to those who are already looking for what you have to offer.
Display advertising platforms connect webmasters who wish to monetize their site with companies that want to get in front of their audience, and these ads appear across millions of sites, videos and apps.
Here's what they look like:
Websites that monetize their site through display ads can sign up to an ad network and allocate space to insert ads. That might be, for example, in the sidebar, footer or in-article placements of various shapes and sizes.
A company can then sign up to that platform, select various targeting settings to identify the right market, create their ads, and start placing them on relevant sites. Once again, this is usually a PPC model.
Display ads are also commonly used in retargeting. After a person visits a website, they can be retargeted on other sites they visit regularly. The goal is to have them return to take a specific action (e.g. buy, make an inquiry).
The main difference between Search and Display ads is:
“While Search ads show up to potential customers the moment that they start looking on Google for what you offer, Display ads show up while people are visiting sites across the Google Display Network.”
Bloggers who monetize usually use Google AdSense because it's a free, simple way to earn money by getting paid to display relevant ads next to their online content.
Social advertising platforms are quite similar to display advertising, but the ads are placed on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram.
Here's what it looks like:
Social advertising spend has grown rapidly. For example, in Q4 2020, Facebook earned $27.19 billion in ad revenue (compared to $8.81 billion in Q4 2016 five years earlier!).
Advertisers are clearly finding a return on investment (ROI) in their social spend.
Each social media platform has its own placement and targeting settings. On Facebook, for instance, you can bid for newsfeed placements, desktop right sidebar, story ads, and so on. On LinkedIn, you can bid for text ads, dynamic ads, sponsored InMail and more. Every platform is different.
* 11 Ways to Improve Your Facebook Ads Relevance Score
* 9 Tips for Creating Instagram Video Ads that Actually Generate Sales
* LinkedIn Ads for Enterprise B2B SaaS: The Only Guide You’ll Need
Although you can run video ads on other ad platforms, including social media, video ad platforms cater specifically to video content and thus are better able to efficiently optimize your video campaigns.
Here's what it looks like:
Dive Deeper: The Ultimate Guide to YouTube Advertising in 2021
86% of marketers say that they’ve been able to increase website traffic by using video, so it’s well worth considering if you aren’t yet.
Video ads are typically placed either within another video (as seen in YouTube ads) or strategically in and around other content, like display advertising. Bidding for video ad placements can work in various ways. The most common are CPM (cost per 1,000 impressions), PPC or CPV (cost per view).
8 Popular PPC Platforms for Targeted Traffic
Before we hit the list of alternative ad networks, it's worth taking a quick look at the eight most popular ad networks that every marketer uses.
There’s a reason why they’re so popular. From Facebook to Google to Amazon, these sites have enormous and highly engaged audiences, as well as increasingly sophisticated audience targeting systems.
That being said, if you’re a seasoned advertiser looking for new ideas and an alternative ad network, feel free to skip down to our 22 alternative ad platforms.
1) Facebook Ads
To kick things off, you won’t be surprised to see Facebook as #1 on our list.
With a mind-boggling 2.98 billion active monthly users and a growth chart that looks like one side of Mt. Everest…
…it’s no wonder that companies flock to Facebook’s ad platform to reach their audience. And with Facebook earning up to $27 billion in ad revenue per quarter, it clearly works.
On Facebook you can run a variety of ad types in a variety of locations. Ad placements include:
- Desktop newsfeed
- Mobile newsfeed
- Desktop right sidebar
It is a self-serve platform, meaning anyone can sign up and start running ads for their business. Ad targeting and delivery settings are becoming more and more automated, which makes the platform beginner-friendly.
Performance can be measured by installing a Facebook tracking pixel on your website to track conversions. The tracking pixel also gathers data about what type of person is most likely to convert. As it learns, Facebook can then automate your ad delivery to find other people with a similar demographic and interest profile who are likely to convert.
Lastly, if you’re planning to run ads on Facebook, make sure you optimize for mobile.
94% of all Facebook ad spend happens on mobile.
To maximize your chance of achieving a positive ROI on the platform, you need to be thinking mobile-first when designing your creative, writing your copy, and building your landing pages.
2) Google Ads
Next on our list is the king of search, Google.
When you advertise through Google’s platform, you can choose to use the Search Network and/or the Display Network.
Google Search Network
Ads on Google’s Search Network appear at the top and bottom of Google's SERPs, as well as on Google’s search partner sites.
These are ideal for getting in front of prospective customers at the exact moment they’re seeking your solution.
Google Display Network
Ads on Google’s Display Network lets you place ads on a network of millions of websites that have chosen to sell ad space in their content.
These ads help you get in front of your target market before they start searching for your solution. That means the potential reach is much higher, but the expected click- through rate and conversion rate is lower.
On the Display Network, you can run static image ads, responsive display ads, and video ads optimized for clicks or engagement. You can also place ads in Gmail at the top of the user’s inbox.
Google’s PPC platform can be expensive, with CPCs in some industries, such as legal, averaging over $6 per click. But with an average return on ad spend (ROAS) of 2:1, and millions of advertisers profiting from Google Ads, it’s well worth testing.
Dive Deeper: 9 Google Ads Trends You Can’t Ignore in 2021
3) Bing Ads
Google isn't the only search engine that can drive paid search conversions for your business.
Bing ads run on three search engines: As well as tapping into Bing’s own audience, your ads can also run on Yahoo! and AOL searches to increase reach.
Although the maximum potential from this platform is lower due to fewer searches, the average cost-per-click is lower. The exact numbers vary in different verticals, but for example, WordStream found that Bing had an average of 33.5% cheaper CPCs than Google.
In addition, Bing users have a high buying power, with 36% having a household income in the top 25th percentile, and over a third of users being college graduates:
If you have Google Ads campaigns set up already, Bing has a handy import feature that lets you copy over your campaigns to get you up and running quickly.
4) Instagram Ads
Instagram is a mobile social networking site that focuses on sharing photos. The site has almost 1 billion active monthly users, so it's a great platform for engaging with customers who enjoy consuming visual content.
Instagram ads are created in the Facebook Ads manager, and use the same audience targeting and bidding settings. To create an ad for Instagram, you simply choose Instagram placements (such as newsfeed or story ads) during the ad creation process.
Compared to Facebook ads, with Instagram, you can expect to see a higher CPC, but also higher engagement:
71% of U.S. adults aged 18-29 are active on Instagram, along with hundreds of millions of other users, young and old. There’s a good chance your target market can be found there.
5) Twitter Ads
Twitter’s advertising platform is another that has seen major growth in recent years, reaching advertising revenues of $1.05 billion in Q1 2021.
On Twitter, you can optimize ad campaigns around objectives such as:
- Website traffic
- Video views
- App installs
A variety of ad formats are available, including plain text, images, GIFs and videos.
As with Facebook, you can use audience targeting settings such as geographic, age, gender and interests. On Twitter though, you can also target by keyword, choosing to include (or exclude) people who searched or tweeted a particular word/phrase.
6) LinkedIn Ads
LinkedIn is the premier social network for professionals, so it’s a great place for B2B advertisers to promote their messages. Advertising on the site is self-service and can be targeted by geography, job function, seniority and industry.
It’s one of the only ad networks that lets you target viewers by their role in an organization, and they have the best data on job titles, company size, industry, and more. This makes it much easier to build an audience that represents your potential customers. Even better, they report to you about how your ads are performing on all of those metrics, even if you aren’t targeting them.
LinkedIn has four main types of ad placements, most of which are self-serve:
- Sponsored Content. These are posts that show up in the newsfeed, just like you’d see with Facebook ads.
- Sponsored InMail. This is when you pay to message people directly in their inbox. It’s essentially simple email marketing for LinkedIn.
- Text Ads. Simple display ads that show above and to the right of the news feed.
- Dynamic Ads. These are also displayed to the right of the news feed, but offer more features that the user can interact with. Only available to clients who spend at least $25,000 in a single quarter (not self-serve).
If you sell a B2B product or service, LinkedIn is definitely a channel you need to check out. To help you out, we've created this short video LinkedIn Advertising 101: How to Get Started:
7) Amazon Ads
Amazon is forecast to have a massive 50% of the e-commerce market share in the U.S. in 2021.
When customers want to buy a product, most often they skip the search engines and jump straight on to Amazon. To help sellers reach those customers, they’ve created Amazon Marketing Services (AMS). The system is completely self-serve, so you can launch ads ASAP (although they only let you advertise products that are on sale within their ecosystem, no outbound URLs).
They have three types of ads, all of which can be targeted based on keyword or product category and are bid for with a PPC system):
- Headline search ads. These display three or more products at the top of the search engine results pages (SERPs).
- Sponsored products. These appear at the top and bottom of the SERPs with organic listings (like Google Ads). These can also display under the “Related Products” sections at the bottom of other product pages.
- Display ads. These are essentially banner ads that display on the right-hand side of some screens.
One bonus is that they allow you to do conversion tracking to see how your ads are performing. This is big because currently there is no way for outside advertisers like Facebook and Google to track conversions post-click.
8) Pinterest Ads
Pinterest is a visual social platform where users share “pins”, which can be anything from recipes to interior design inspiration to martial arts. Almost any subject you can think of, there’ll be a Pin Board for it.
Pinterest has a successful advertising platform, with audience targeting settings available for demographics, interests, keywords and more. Very similar to what you’ll find on Facebook.
Ads on Pinterest are particularly effective in the early awareness and discovery phases of the decision-making funnel, since Pinterest is often used for discovery, inspiration and new ideas:
If you’re wondering whether your target audience is on Pinterest, the answer is likely to be yes. There are 454 million active users, and that number is growing. Over 60% of Pinterest users are women, but the gap is closing, with male users growing by nearly 50% year-on-year.
Reasons to Consider an Alternative Ad Network
Now let's take a look at the advantage of other ad networks.
The obvious drawback with popular advertising platforms is that they’re, well, popular. Most PPC platforms use auction bidding systems to price their ad inventory. That means the more people who use the platform, the more expensive it gets for you to buy traffic.
So while the market leaders like Facebook and Google Ads are great platforms for driving targeted traffic, there are reasons to test alternative channels.
First of all, there’s the cost factor mentioned earlier. The cost of advertising on these networks is pretty high, given the amount of competition. For instance, the average CPC in Google Ads across all industries is $2.69 for search and $0.63 for display:
And the average CPC of Facebook ads is $1.72 and rising steadily as advertisers flock to the platform:
In addition, these popular networks have started to implement stricter restrictions on advertisers, which makes it difficult for businesses in certain verticals to use the networks effectively. These include companies in the adult, pharmaceutical, gaming and weaponry businesses, as well as affiliate marketers.
22 Alternative Ad Networks You Should Definitely Consider
Ready to give a new ad network a try? That doesn't mean you can't also use a popular ad network, but if you're a smaller brand or just getting starting with advertising, we suggest you give these ones a try.
We've compiled this list of 22 of the best alternative ad networks that you can leverage in your business:
TikTok is a video sharing mobile app that surged in popularity in recent years. This platform has a predominantly Gen-Z audience, but the number of older uses is rising, too. If you’ve used Facebook Ads, the TikTok Ads manager will feel quite familiar in terms of campaign setup, audience targeting, billing events and conversion tracking. Also similar to Facebook, TikTok uses a tracking pixel to help with measuring website performance.
Here’s a list of placements available.
Dive Deeper: How to Launch a TikTok Ads Campaign for E-commerce
YouTube is the most popular video sharing site and the third largest search engine in the world, and its advertising network is just as powerful.
Note: Technically, when it comes to search engines, YouTube is the third biggest, after Google and Google Images. But when looking at domains, YouTube is the second biggest. Do these details matter? Probably not.
YouTube advertisers can use the service to run highly engaging display or overlay ads in videos, in addition to targeting the people viewing your ads by demographics, topics, keywords and interests.
One great thing is how they count views compared to most platforms. On YouTube, a view is only counted when someone watches 30 seconds or completes your video (whichever comes first). But since it’s so large, it’s also a bit more complicated with tons of targeting features and display formats.
Dive Deeper: The Ultimate Guide to YouTube Advertising in 2021
3) ONE by AOL
ONE by AOL is a self-service mobile advertising platform that runs ads across nearly 50,000 mobile applications and websites. It provides a lot of flexibility with targeting, bidding and customizing creatives. There’s no minimum deposit, which makes this network ideal for mobile advertisers that are trying to get started on a very small budget.
Opt-Intelligence is an advertising solution that specializes in helping users build their email lists. Advertisers can promote their email opt-in forms to customers across hundreds or top-tier websites and mobile apps. Use it if your own email marketing efforts have been lacking, and you feel a broad appeal could be beneficial for your brand.
Inmobi is a mobile ad solution that offers some extremely unique features to maximize your conversions. The developers have carefully studied customer behavior to understand when they’re most receptive to marketing messages and most likely to make key buying decisions. Give the network’s Moment of Maximum Opportunity feature a try to maximize your mobile ad conversions.
SpotX is a specialist video advertising platform that helps you place video ads across various websites, mobile apps and TV screens. They offer programmatic enablement, which means a hands-off automated approach to ad delivery. SpotX is not a self-serve platform; they have a dedicated team who help with managing your campaign planning, targeting, and optimization.
7) Ad Recover
Ad Recover is an ad network that works by recovering your ad blocked inventory. Because of this, the network is able to monetize this in a way other publishers are not able to, which gives you a larger range of publishers to deploy your ads on, despite the rise of ad blockers.
MediaVine is an advertising service that focuses on influencer marketing and programmatic advertising. Their inventory includes thousands of sites, with a reach of 125 million monthly unique visitors, with particularly good reach in the lifestyle niche. For both advertisers and publishers, they offer fully managed services to help you maximize the effectiveness of your campaigns.
Centro was the first self-serve media buying network and remains the largest to this day. The company currently serves 31 billion ads per day across nearly 70,000 websites. Centro offer real-time bidding and reporting, which enables advertisers to keep close tabs on their campaigns and optimize them for the highest possible ROI. Advertisers can also use the Centro platform to reach consumers via other networks such as Google, Appnexus and Adtech.
The Epom ad server lets advertisers reach customers with display, video and mobile app ads. One of the unique selling points of the Epom Ad Marketplace is that they offer a 30-day trial through which you can receive up to 1 billion free impressions. They’ve also partnered with a number of other ad networks such as InMobi, AdMob and Millennial Media to give advertisers broader reach and more targeting options to boost their campaigns.
11) Propel Media
Propel Media is arguably the most popular pay per view (PPV) advertising solution in the world. Use it to reach customers through contextual text links and display ads. Propel Media makes the platform as effortless as possible with visualized analytics that help you to monitor trends and editing features that help you easily edit your campaigns.
AdRoll is an advertising platform that offers retargeting and multi-device display advertising services. Their retargeting feature is available for ads on Facebook, Twitter and countless other sites, while their staff offers excellent support to help you leverage retargeting to its fullest potential. Check it out if you’re new to retargeting and need some hand-holding to help get you up-to-speed.
Adblade is a content-style ad platform that advertisers can use to deploy their content to specific target audiences across the web. They’ve got a variety of big name publishers on their network, including Fox News, ABC, Yahoo, and 1,000 other branded sites. They’re vigilant about screening which websites they allow onto the platform, which means that you won’t have a bad ad placement on a site that you don’t want to be associated with.
Taboola is another native digital advertising platform worth looking into. They claim to have wider reach than Outbrain and other native ad providers, including placements on the following publishers in the Taboola network: The Motley Fool, The Atlantic, Ben & Jerry’s and Netflix.
Operating since 2008, BuySellAds offers advertisers a mix of display ads, media buys, sponsored content and custom unit opportunities. It also boasts 2 billion guaranteed ad impressions a month, working with 1,500+ well-known publishers like the Atlantic, NPR and PBS. Overall, it’s a great way for businesses that have proven their paid advertising ROI to scale their campaigns.
The podcast business is booming, and if you want to get your message in front of this captive audience, Midroll is your advertising partner. The network currently works with 120+ different shows that are downloaded more than 15 million times a month, in addition to providing advertisers with 24/7 access to spots and metrics.
Dive Deeper: The Ultimate Guide to Podcast Advertising
17) Ad Maven
Ad Maven has additional monetization strategies, including banner ads, light boxes, interstitial ads, and slider ads. This company serves hundreds of millions of impressions in over 200 countries so advertisers have a wide range of options when it comes to geotargeting. One of the key elements that separates them is a well-constructed RTB system, which helps them give you precise targeting with your ads.
18) Yahoo Native Ads
Native image and video ads on Yahoo reach over 650 million mobile users across a network of over 1,000 apps, including Yahoo properties and top syndication partner apps. And Yahoo Search reaches 117 million unique searchers every month.
This is a great option for advertisers who can use the engine’s advertising network to target users based on geography, age and a number of other demographic factors. They offer search ads, display ads, sponsored ads, image ads, native video ads, carousel ads, app install ads, and mail ads, which have click-through rates as high as 4X industry averages.
19) Vibrant Media
Vibrant Media is an ad network that helps advertisers place their content on over 6,600 premium publisher sites. They have a variety of ad formats available, including in-text, in-image, lightbox, storyboard, and mosaic. Some of the features they offer advertisers are:
- Native ad placement. Vibrant can place your ad in the middle of premium content on different publisher sites so that it gets seen by an engaged audience, and so that you establish consumer trust.
- Real-time targeting. Vibrant analyzes the content that your ad appears in, so that it also appears in the right context.
- Designed to engage. Vibrant takes branded content and deploys it in such a way that it tells your brand’s story through interactive experiences.
Over the past decade, Spotify has taken the music industry by storm. Boasting over 140 million users, it’s one of the largest streaming companies on the market. About 50% of their users have a free account, which means they pay for the service through advertising.
Spotify breaks their advertising into 4 main categories:
Their main selling points are that they are highly integrated into the lives of users (2+ hours of streaming daily) and that their real-time streaming data lets them tap into the personalities and activities of users. One study in the education space found a 24% increase in brand recall following an audio ad campaign.
At the moment, most of their services require that you contact and work directly with Spotify or through a partner agency, like Single Grain. But they do have a self-serve option at Spotify Ad Studio which is currently accepting a waitlist.
Snapchat is a social media mobile app. It is designed so that, by default, when you share an image or a video, it is only available for a short amount of time. If your target market includes Millennials and Gen Z, Snapchat could be a worthwhile social platform to increase brand awareness and sales. Their mobile ad platform allows you to run story ads, create sponsored filters and AR lenses, and more.
SmartyAds offers a programmatic media buying platform (DSP) that connects advertisers to premium global publishers, SSPs, and ad networks who attract various types of audiences. These audiences can be easily tracked with cross-device and cross-channel targeting options tuned up in self-serve DSP dashboard. Targeting narrowly, advertisers show ads only to the relevant audience, eliminating expenditures on ineffective impressions.
Key features of SmartyAds DSP include cost efficiency, omnichannel targeted approach, and unlimited ad formats – display, video, native, mobile web, and in-app – all within a single platform.
Which Factors to Consider When Choosing Other Ad Networks
There are many excellent ad networks out there to choose from, but which one is best for your business model?
Unfortunately, there’s no clear answer to that question, as there are so many different factors that come into play. Here are a few variables you’ll want to take into consideration as you make your decision:
The Devices Your Customers Are Likely to Use
In 2021, the question is no longer “is mobile marketing important?” but rather “mobile marketing is important; now how do I take advantage of it?” People still use different devices for different reasons.
For example, desktop computers are still used during the workday (at work), but mobile devices are used more during the evening for that audience and, of course, they are used day and night for many people:
- More than 79% of people have made a purchase on a mobile device
- Only a third of consumers used both a mobile device and a desktop for the same purpose
- 80% of consumers used a mobile phone to research products and prices
The Targeting Options Available to You
Today’s ad networks offer much more sophisticated targeting options than ever before, such as geographic location, demographic data, device, income and other elements. Some also include retargeting features, which enable you to put your ads in front of customers who have already visited your website.
This is an incredibly valuable option, as conversion rates on retargeted traffic can be double that of standard advertising. Familiarize yourself with the different options each network allows before deciding which is most appropriate for your goal.
Many of the ad networks listed above allow you to have your ads placed on random websites in their inventory. There are pros and cons to this option:
- The downside is that your ads may not be displayed on the highest quality or most relevant sites in the network.
- The upside is that this can be an efficient way to test multiple sites to see which ones are consistent with your branding and traffic goals.
The Relevance of the Network’s Niche Publishers
Large ad networks typically work with thousands of different publishers. Try to find out which publishers are in their inventory and see if they’re relevant to your target audience. Remember, there’s no point running ads on websites that your target demographic isn’t viewing.
There are many different factors that you need to take into consideration when determining where to run your ads. Since testing a new network requires an investment of both time and money, it’s important that you figure out which ad networks are best suited for your business first.
That said, remember that you aren’t required to stick with the first ad network you test. If you’ve given a network a good try but aren’t seeing the results you need, don’t be afraid to pick another option from this list and try your luck elsewhere.
(Alternative) Ad Networks FAQs
Do ad networks still exist?
Absolutely. Since their roots in the 1990s, ad networks have always been around in some form. In the last two decades, they have evolved a lot, with new audience targeting methods, new ad formats, and sophisticated tracking.
When it comes right down to it, though, an ad network is still fundamentally the same: They connect publishers with those who wish to get in front of their audience.
What are alternative ad networks?
When you think of an ad network, chances are the first ones that come to mind are the big players: Facebook, Google, YouTube, Amazon, and so on. An alternative ad network is one which is simply less well known (sometimes because they're new ad networks, sometimes because they're just small platforms), and is therefore used by fewer advertisers.
Alternative ad networks can often yield superior results compared to popular channels. Fewer advertisers means lower costs with auction-based bidding, and you may find a network with a highly relevant niche audience, too.
How do advertising platforms work?
Digital advertising platforms deal with two main stakeholders: content producers (usually website owners) and advertisers.
The advertising platform connects the two parties so that the content creator can monetize their site by selling ad space, and the advertiser can pay to get in front of the right audiences.
What is the best advertising platform?
When it comes to choosing an ad platform, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Every platform is different. You should research the audiences that each network has, and find one that aligns with your campaign and business objectives.
For example, if you’re looking to raise brand awareness for a wedding dress company, Pinterest is likely to be a great bet. If you’re looking to generate inquiries for a local emergency locksmith, Google or Bing search ads are likely to be best.
Which is better, Facebook Ads or Google Ads?
It depends on your goals.
With Google Ads, the advantage is that you get in front of searchers at the exact time that they’re looking for your solution. This carries a higher average cost per click, but high intent and high conversion rates.
With Facebook Ads, you have a much wider audience to advertise to. You aren’t waiting for the person to search; you can proactively get in front of your target market. You have a lot of audience targeting methods at your disposal, such as demographic and interest targeting, lookalike audiences, retargeting, and more.
Test each method, and scale up the one that gets the best results in your unique circumstances. Or take a look at this article for more inspiration: A Simple Hack to Combine Facebook Ads and Google Ads