Whats the best mobile ad network for you? 10 more important questions than: whats the biggest?

Since when did biggest mean best? Do you buy a car because it is the biggest? Do you buy a car because it is made by the largest car manufacturer? Or do you buy the most suitable car for your requirements (based on speed, fuel economy, looks, reliability, exclusivity, expense, price, comfort etc).

So, while the recent media excitement over mobile ad networks (post Google’s plan to acquire AdMob, in November 2009) is welcome, the speculation over which mobile ad network is biggest is counter-productive.

  • First, no one really knows what ad network is biggest (as research operations such as IDC or Nielson will tell you). The only way to tell is by revenue and (unlike car manufacturers) no network reveals revenue data. Any figures you read about market share or revenue are estimates, if not pure guesswork. (We’ll explain later why working out market share is almost as tricky as alchemy).
  • Second, mobile ad networks are not created alike. Advertisers, publishers (and, for that matter, investors) should choose a network based on its suitability. Networks have different business models, geographical coverage, publishers/advertisers on the network, targeting capability, pricing, sales model etc – all much more important considerations for a potential advertiser or publisher than guestimates about market share.
  • Analyzing the data submitted by the 14 networks (so far) profiled in The mobiThinking guide to mobile advertising networks suggests 10 considerations that are more important than revenue.

  • Questions advertisers should ask when choosing an ad network
  • Questions publishers should ask when choosing an ad network
  • Why calculating market share is so difficult
  • Questions advertisers should ask when choosing an ad network:

  • Click on the ad network, for a detailed profile.
  • For definitions and more details on each category or network see the section in the mobiThinking guide on blind networks; premium blind networks and premium networks.
  • 1) Where do you want to advertise?
    Each network allows you to target ads at particular countries on their network. As most networks are heavily focused on just a few markets, it helps to know what proportion of their business is in your target country (but only some will share this information).
    Primary markets for mobile networks (where available includes the proportion of the network’s revenue or impressions coming from that country):
    USA: Millennial Media (85 percent), Jumptap (75 percent), AdMob (49 percent), Quattro Wireless (majority of business), Advertising.com/AOL (majority of business), Nokia Interactive Advertising (primary market), Google, Microsoft Mobile Advertising, Admoda, Adultmoda, BuzzCity (5 percent).
    Europe: (check profiles for countries covered) Admoda, Adultmoda, YOC Group, AdMob (13 percent), InMobi (14 percent), Jumptap, Microsoft, Nokia, Google.
    UK: YOC (50 percent), Admoda, Adultmoda, AdMob (4 percent), BuzzCity (5 percent), AOL, Microsoft.
    Asia: (check profiles for countries covered) BuzzCity, InMobi (55 percent), Pudding Media, AdMob (22.5), Nokia, Google.
    China: Madhouse (100 percent).
    India: InMobi, BuzzCity (8 percent), AdMob (6 percent), Nokia.
    Indonesia: BuzzCity (32 percent), InMobi, AdMob (4 percent).
    Africa: (check profiles for countries covered) BuzzCity, InMobi (18 percent), AdMob (5 percent), Admoda, Adultmoda, Google.
    South Africa: BuzzCity (34 percent), Admoda, Adultmoda.
    Latin America: (check profiles for countries covered) AdMob (5 percent).
    Brazil: Hands.
    Note: Prioritized list of geographies unavailable for Google, Microsoft.

    2) What type of publisher do you want?
    a) Lots of different, often small, publishers’ sites and applications? Choose a blind network: AdMob, Admoda, Adultmoda, BuzzCity, InMobi.
    b) A number of premium sites, but don’t mind which? Choose a premium blind network: Millennial, Jumptap, Madhouse or Quattro Wireless.
    c) One or a few premium sites, but you want to choose which and where? Choose a premium network: Microsoft, YOC Group, Advertising.com/AOL, Nokia, Pudding.
    Both carriers and mobile publishers will have close or exclusive relationships with these premium networks.
    Note: a blind network will only give a few examples of what publishers might be on the network at a time. A premium network should give a media pack with full details of each publisher/carrier. (See network profiles for details).
    For more details on each type of network see the section in the mobiThinking guide on blind networks; premium blind networks and premium networks.

    3) What sort of advertising do you require?
    a) Key word on search engines: Microsoft, Jumptap, Google, Yahoo.
    b) Display (e.g. banner): all networks.
    c) Adult: Adultmoda.
    d) Applications: AdMob, Nokia and others.

    4) Do you want to pay for clicks or eyeballs?
    a) Cost per click – aka performance advertising: CPC is the predominant pricing model for blind networks e.g. AdMob, Admoda, Adultmoda, BuzzCity, InMobi.
    b) Cost per thousand impressions – CPM is the norm with premium networks and prestige sites e.g. Microsoft, YOC, Advertising.com/AOL, Nokia, Pudding.
    Premium blind networks do a mix of CPC and CPM e.g. Millennial, Jumptap, Madhouse or Quattro.
    c) Cost per action/acquisition – some networks offer CPA also, where the advertiser only pays if the customer clicks through and then buys, signs up etc, such as Google, Microsoft, Advertising.com/AOL, Jumptap, Madhouse.
    Ask the network what proportion of the business is CPC, CPM and CPA.

    5) Do you want budget or top of the range?
    a) The cheapest type of mobile advertising is run of network (RON) on a blind network – this is the scatter-gun approach. In some markets prices are as low as US$0.01 CPC.
    b) Semi-blind or in-channel advertising – the price of CPC or CPM will increase with targeting, i.e. focusing the campaign by geography, type of publisher (e.g. sports) for example, will increase the price.
    c) Precision marketing – premium networks will let you buy a premium slot on a prestige publisher at peak time – it doesn’t get more expensive than this.
    All networks – even those with self-service auctions – should make a price range available to customers. Some networks share this information more readily e.g. BuzzCity, Millennial, Jumptap, Madhouse, Advertising.com/AOL, Pudding.

    6) Do you want to bid in a self-service market-place or get the red-carpet treatment?
    a) All blind networks are predominantly help-your-self online (but most do also have a dedicated team available for big-spenders).
    b) Premium blind networks combine both self-service and direct sales.
    c) With premium networks, you’re more likely to get the human touch from the accounts team.

    7) How precise do you want to be?
    a) Most blind networks offer some targeting (at a price) by channel (i.e. content category), country, carrier, device, platform (e.g. Symbian, BlackBerry, iPhone, Palm, Android), device capabilities (e.g. video).
    b) Expect slightly more sophisticated targeting with premium and premium blind networks, such as time-of-day, user demographic and location. Millennial, for example, can identify a user across all sites on the network – they are grouped into audiences, based on their observed behaviors on sites, participation and review of click-stream data, so campaigns can be targeted at specific audiences.

    8) Tools to track and optimize the campaign
    a) Online tools – all networks offer an array of tools, check that they meet your requirements.
    b) Integration with third-party tools – some networks e.g. Millennial, Jumptap, Quattro Wireless integrate with tools such as Atlas, DoubleClick DART, Omniture, Eyeblaster, PointRoll.
    c) Big spenders with premium and some premium blind networks will receive tailored reports from the account manager.

    9) Return on investment?
    Ask for click through rates. Some networks share these more readily than others for e.g. Admoda, Adultmoda Jumptap, Nokia, Pudding. Even when shared the range is considerable.
    Ask for click through rates for different types of campaigns.

    10) How wide do you want to throw the net?
    The breadth of ad networks tends to be recorded in reach (potential audience) and ad impressions/ad served. Individually each can be misleading (and, some rivals allege, manipulated), but – where both are available – together they can be a useful indication.
    a) The problem with measuring impressions is it makes networks that do a lot of performance/CPC ads and lots of smaller sites/applications, look bigger and networks that do a lot of CPM advertising to fewer premium sites look smaller. Note: with CPC, advertisers pay for clicks, not impressions; with CPM, they pay for every impression.
    b) The problem with reach/audience is that most networks won’t or can’t tell us actual figures for unique visitors. Figures quoted usually common from analyst organizations such as Nielsen, who estimate the potential audience of those sites and carriers on each networks client’s list. This method favors networks that have a lot of large publishers on their list, particularly if they only provide a proportion of the advertising that appears on the sites. This is why premium networks are much keener to quote reach than blind networks.
    Reach and ad impressions for each network (using the most recent figures provided to mobiThinking by the networks):
    Blind networks (mostly CPC): AdMob (reach: N/A; impressions: 10 billion); InMobi (reach: N/A; impressions: 4 billion); BuzzCity (reach: N/A; impressions: 3 billion); Admoda, Adultmoda (reach: N/A; impressions: 2.1 billion).
    Premium blind networks (mix of CPC and CPM):
    Millennial (reach: 53 million; impressions: 7.3 billion); Jumptap (reach: 40 million; impressions: 5.5 billion) ; Quattro Wireless (reach: 30 million; impressions: 4 billion); Madhouse (reach: 88 million (1st half, 2009); impressions: 1 billion).
    Premium networks (mostly CPM): Microsoft (reach: 32 million; impressions: 2 billion ); YOC Group (reach: 35 million; impressions: 0.5 billion); Advertising.com/AOL (reach: 29 million; impressions: 1 billion).

    NB: If this is starting to sound too much like hard work, consult your mobile agency or consider using a media-buying specialist such as RingRing Media.

    Questions publishers should ask when choosing an ad network:

    1) What’s our share?
    The first question publishers should ask is what percentage of the advertiser’s $ do they receive. This varies considerably and many networks refuse to reveal revenue shares publicly. Admoda and Adultmoda have one of the highest remuneration rates for publishers at 65-85 percent; followed by BuzzCity (65 percent); InMobi (60 percent); Advertising.com/AOL (50-70 percent); Millennial Media (>50 percent) and Madhouse (>50 percent).

    2) Is the network a good match for your site/brand?
    Publishers should ask similar questions to advertisers (see above for details and examples of each):
    a) What is the geographical coverage?
    b) What sort of network is it?
    * Blind network e.g. AdMob, Admoda, Adultmoda, BuzzCity, InMobi.
    * Premium blind network e.g. Millennial, Jumptap, Madhouse or Quattro Wireless.
    * Premium network e.g. Microsoft, YOC Group, Advertising.com/AOL, Nokia, Pudding.
    c) What sort of publisher is on the network – lots of smaller ones (typical of blind networks) or fewer big ones (typical of premium networks)?
    d) Which publishers are on the network? (See profiles)
    e) What proportion of the advertising is display, text, applications, search, adult etc?
    f) What proportion of the business is CPC, CPM and CPA? Typically there is more CPC on blind networks and more CPM on premium networks.
    g) Is it self-service or direct sales? Typically blind networks have more self-service and premium networks are dealt with by the accounts team.
    h) Will advertisers know you are on the network? Can they choose to advertise with you specifically? Blind network: no; premium: yes.
    The mobiThinking guide defines and categorizes the blind, premium blind and premium networks. See the individual profiles for publishers on the network etc.

    3) Who are the advertisers? Questions to ask ad networks:
    a) How many advertisers are on the network?
    b) What is the typical advertiser profile? Big or small?
    c) Who advertises on this network?
    d) What do they buy?
    e) How much do they spend?
    f) What proportion of advertisers target your country? Your category?
    For a-c see the profiles of each network in the the mobiThinking guide, though some networks refuse to share this information publicly.

    4) What tools – and protection – are available for publishers?
    a) Is there a strictly enforced content policy in place?
    b) To what extent can you set parameters for ads to be placed on your site, by relevance and appropriateness?
    c) Can you block ads from competitors etc?
    d) Can you pre-vet and/or refuse ads and advertisers?
    Publishers get more control on premium networks than on blind networks. See profiles for more information.

    5) What is the fill rate
    Ask the network what percentage of ads on your site they will fill on a) CPC and b) CPM and at what price.

    How to calculate ad network market share

    The media have been quoting estimates about ad networks market share, revenues and impressions as fact (and in some cases seem to have made up their own estimates); misquoted US estimates as global figures; and drawing conclusions about who is the largest and dominant network.
    When you read these reports, please note that even the research organizations that produce these estimates, such as IDC and Nielsen, caution that no one really knows who is biggest (even when you just looking at the US market).

    There are three possible ways to measure market share:
    1) Revenue – Problem: mobile ad networks refuse share revenue information – they won’t even share confidentially with research organizations like IDC.
    2) Impressions/ads served – Problem: some ad networks don’t release this information. Problem: impression data makes blind networks look good (see below).
    3) Unique visitors – Problem: most ad networks refuse to release this information. Instead, many release figures from organizations like Nielsen. Problem: Nielsen’s figures are based on estimates of audience of publishers and carriers on each network, most of which are not exclusive to one network. These make premium/blind premium networks look good.

    So revenue would be best way to estimate market share (and it’s how most businesses do it), but it’s hardest to work out. Here’s why…

    For each mobile ad network, (in mobiThinking’s reckoning) you need to:
    1) Take the number of impressions.
    Note: On blind networks, advertisers can serve a lot of ads on a lot of random (almost) publishers on a CPC basis, so advertisers only pay if consumers click through.
    Note: With premium publishers, advertisers usually pay CPM, so pay for each impression, so premium and premium blind networks will have less (but more valuable) impressions.
    2) Work out what percentage of impressions for each network is on a CPC and CPM basis. Many networks won’t reveal CPC/CPM split.
    3) Estimate CPC cost and CPM cost.
    Note these are usually set on a case-by-case basis and with many networks in a self-service auction.
    4) Multiply CPC impressions by estimated CPC cost. Multiply CPM impressions by estimated CPM cost.
    4) Calculate and subtract the revenue share for publishers. Note this percentage varies with size of publisher and network. Also many networks, such as AdMob, Microsoft Mobile Advertising; YOC Group; Nokia Interactive Advertising; Pudding Media, keep this percentage a secret.
    5) When you have an estimate for each ad networks operating in the geography, add them all together and then calculate the market share.
    Note: we know there are at least 10 significant mobile networks in the US, probably a lot more. And worldwide – five times that number? 10 times? 20 times?

    Result: ???

    So, do you still think size matters? Let us know your top tips for choosing an ad network. Comment below or email editor (at) mobiThinking.com.

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