Ad network

Ad networks are platforms where digital advertisers and digital publishers trade in online ad space. Ad networks are designed to match supply of ad space inventory with advertiser demand. They utilize a range of technologies to support auctions and advertiser bidding in real time. For website owners or app publishers looking to host paid advertisements and monetize their online real estate, and advertisers searching for the right ad placements for their product or service, using an ad network is an essential and effective tool. 

What is an ad network?

An ad network is a technology platform that allows media owners and media buyers to reach a common goal: the sale and purchase of digital advertising space. Publishers need buyers for their ad space inventory. Advertisers need relevant, budget-friendly ad options to connect with prospective customers.

Ad networks serve both these needs by:

By mediating the automated buying and selling of online ad space, ad networks play an important role in programmatic advertising.

How does an ad network function?

The chief purpose of an ad network is to collect ad supply from publishers and match it to advertiser demand. Although there are different types of ad networks, most use a common business framework to carry out this function.

1. The ad network platform is made accessible to both media owners and media buyers.

2. Publishers with available inventory place ad tags generated by the ad network on their websites.

3. Advertisers use the ad network to create campaigns based on factors like budget, target audience, and ad frequency.

4. The ad network connects ad buyers to sellers by matching available publisher inventory with advertiser requirements.

5. When there’s a match, the ad details are forwarded to the publisher.

6. The advertiser can then use the ad network to track, measure, and manage their ad’s performance.

By removing the need for publishers to contact advertisers directly to sell their ad inventory – and making it easier for businesses to consistently boost their sales funnels – ad networks benefit both parties in the ad sale transaction.

Why are ad networks important?

Because they effectively map supply to demand, ad networks are important for helping publishers and advertisers flesh out their digital marketing strategies and reach their business goals.

On the supply side, content publishers rely on advertising networks to:

On the demand side, advertisers and marketing agencies rely on advertising networks to:

Not only are ad networks an efficient way to navigate the digital advertising process, programmatic advertising as a whole is predicted to generate 89% of all digital advertising revenue worldwide by 2027.

Ad network examples

When it comes to finding or providing ad space online, there’s a wide range of ad networks to choose from.

Although your audience, industry, and budget – as well as the ad type, topic, and format you’re looking to buy or sell – will largely determine which partners you choose, here are some examples of top ad networks you might want to consider.

Google Ads and AdSense

As one of the best-known ad networks, Google AdSense gives publishers access to an extensive advertiser network which can mean more money, more relevant ads, and more ad spaces filled. Google Ads meanwhile (formerly AdWords) gives advertisers access to an extensive network of publisher websites (including Google search results) on which to showcase their products. is one of the largest contextual ad networks – and the first to develop a server-side header bidding platform (where publisher inventory is sold on a programmatic ad server instead of the user’s browser). The Marketplace is powered by exclusive access to search demand from the Yahoo! Bing network.


Geared toward creators with a heavy lifestyle focus (think pets, travel, food and automotive, for example), AdThrive relies on features like advanced ad code, custom ad strategies, and premium ad campaign access to deliver higher RPM (revenue per thousand ad impressions) growth. 


As a native advertising platform, Outbrain connects consumers browsing the internet with interesting and relevant products, services, and content via contextual “recommendations”. By offering ad placements on thousands of leading publisher sites (like CNN, MSN, Euronews, Sky News, The Washington Post and more), Outbrain helps businesses promote their goods and services on the open web and helps publishers drive traffic and revenues from visitors who click and engage with Outbrain ads.

Amazon Associates

Amazon affiliate links are a quick and convenient way for publishers to monetize the content on their websites. Simply put: every time a visitor clicks on an affiliate ad network link (and makes an Amazon purchase) the website owner earns a commission.

Facebook and Meta Audience Networks

Advertisers can use the targeting power of Facebook and Meta Audience Networks to increase conversion opportunities. Ad campaigns may be run on Facebook alone, extended to reach website and app audiences on mobile and desktop devices, or run as a standalone placement when using in-stream video.

Ad network vs ad exchange

Although both tools play an important role in programmatic advertising, ad networks and ad exchanges offer distinct services.

Here are 3 of the key differences that set them apart:

1.     An ad network is an intermediary. An ad exchange is a digital marketplace.

2.     Ad networks collect unsold ad inventory from publishers and sell it to advertisers. Ad exchanges allow advertisers and publishers to buy and sell ad inventory directly.

3.     Ad networks facilitate programmatic direct buying (advertisers buy guaranteed ad impressions or space on select or specific publisher sites). Ad exchanges use a real-time bidding (RTB) process to facilitate the sale and purchase of targeted ads across a range of apps and websites simultaneously.

Many marketers use a combination of programmatic direct and RTB to maximize their benefits and ensure the most effective digital ad placement mix.

Ad network benefits for publishers

In addition to securing buyers for unsold ad space, publishers and website owners can gain a number of benefits by partnering with an established ad network.

Faster monetization. Whether your goal is to cover operational costs or earn a solid income, ad networks maximize user interest with a range of ad formats that help generate revenue faster

Greater audience engagement. The best ad networks for publishers often provide a dynamic, customizable recommendation experience to engage a wider audience segment

Expanded advertiser reach. Premium, targeted ads provided by ad networks allow publishers to take advantage of native search, display, programmatic, and video demand to satisfy more visitors, encourage more views and clicks, and attract even more quality advertisers

Ad network benefits for advertisers

In addition to reaching customers at every stage of their buyer journey, advertisers and SMBs can benefit from working with an ad network in several ways.

Find best-fit ad supply. Working with an ad network connects you to a bigger publisher pool, making it easier to find ad inventory that matches your budget and audience, choose the most profitable deals, and optimize your ROI 

Reach a larger audience. The more premium media owners an ad network introduces, the more people can discover your brand and the better you can educate and influence your audience

Boost direct response and conversions. Driving performance goals through direct response is one of the biggest advantages of using an ad network to trigger conversions like purchases, sign-ups, downloads, video views and more.

Choosing an ad network that’s right for you

Choosing the right ad network is the first step in a successful online advertising strategy.

Vertical ad networks, for example, are topic-specific (think fashion, sports, or entertainment) while others are more inventory-specific (they might focus heavily on video, display, banner or mobile ads, for example).

Horizontal ad networks, meanwhile, offer a broad-scale ad inventory, while premium networks work predominantly with popular or top-tier publishers.

To make the best choice, start by understanding your:

As we approach a world free of third-party cookies, you should also consider prioritizing contextual advertising as part of your digital marketing strategy. Learn more about it here.