An ad network is a company that supplies advertising to more than one website. Usually, ad networks either supply ad content or manage advertising space on a website based on content on the site or the preferences of the user visiting the site. Sometimes, ad networks offer ads to publishers, who then choose which advertisers and content they place on their websites. Ad serving sites usually keep track of advertising activity on a website and pay the site owner either electronically or by check when a certain payment threshold has been reached.
To get started with an advertising network, webmasters first sign up to participate. Often, the ad network approves or denies the website membership to the ad network based on the content of the website. Content that can cause a website to be denied entry into an ad network can include adult content, gambling content, or hate speech. Once the site has been approved, the site owner, often a webmaster, chooses advertising content and posts the content on the website. Advertising pictures on a site can be purchased outright for a monthly fee based on space, or site owners can pay based on how many users visit the site and click on the ads.
While an ad network can be a decent way for a website owner or blogger to make money from creating content, some readers believe that advertising takes away from the legitimacy of a website's opinion. For this reason, a website owner needs to make sure that an ad network is paying for its space or remove the advertising from the website. Popular ad networks include Google Adsense®, Chitika and Adbrite®. For smaller websites that have a library of reasonably popular niche content, selling web advertising directly to advertisers can often prove more lucrative than opting for served ads from an ad network.
Large ad networks offer many choices with regard to advertisers and advertising payment terms, but larger networks can offer poor returns for smaller sites and blogs. While they can prove lucrative on some larger sites, many of the massive ad networks, like Commission Junction™, effectively discourage the use of their ad service on less active websites by keeping payment policies that are unfriendly to smaller, slower-earning websites. Such policies can include unattainably having high payout levels and imposing penalties that drain a publisher's advertising account of earned commissions if the advertising account does not produce sales frequently enough. This can mean that the owner of a slow-traffic website may make some commissions on paper from sales within the system, but if the sales do not come quickly enough, a large ad network can elect to take back the money before the webmaster ever reaches the threshold for payment.