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10 Brand Tactics for Working with, and Managing, Mobile Ad Networks

Published: April 24, 2018

Author: Sophia Fen

Continuing our Mobile App Blog Week is a collaborative post from Senior Mobile Account Managers Sophia Fen and Mike Thomas, with strategic tips for working with mobile ad networks. 

1. Demand transparency into the sites and apps your ad is running on

You should know that this could limit your scale because not all networks or publishers are willing to provide transparency. However, if you’re willing to risk having a smaller breadth of scale, you can gain some significant benefits. Working with transparent mobile ad networks helps prevent fraud, allows you to check inventory quality, and aids in brand protection.

2. Determine fraud thresholds, and put them in writing

These can include metrics like click-to-install conversion rate, mean time to install, etc. Make sure everything is documented in your contract. You should also maintain an ongoing website and app blacklist, including common offending publishers and fraudulent devices to exclude.

3. Don’t run on incentivized inventory with mobile ad networks

Hold to this (except in a select few cases, such as a chart burst campaign). Write this into the contract, and ask questions about the user experiences across the network’s supply.
Incentivized traffic can mean a variety of things, so be sure to ask how each network defines it. For example, a network may consider an install as incentivized, since they reward the user if they download the app. However, since a new app registration isn’t incentivized, the network may not classify the registration traffic as incentivized. In some cases, the argument can be made that an incentivized install may lead to a quality user, but you need to make sure that the user is not confused by how they receive the reward.

4. Pay on CPA when possible

Paying the networks out on your key metric (example: registration, purchase, etc.) helps incentivize them to drive quality users past the install. It also helps mitigate click and install fraud. However, advertisers still need to watch out for “organic sniping,” which is where the install and post-install event are still “real” and valuable, but should have been classified as “organic” and would have come in with or without the paid media.

5. Pass back as many down-funnel goals as possible

Even if you’re only paying out on an install or registration, it is helpful to pass back all down-funnel events to the network. This helps them optimize towards higher-quality users and drive more in-app actions.
You should also develop a high-value postback (in-app conversion event) that is right for your app, whether it’s app usage, purchases, game play, etc. This event can be used to better determine ROI and will also help you compare performance across advertisers.

6. Ask the mobile ad networks what type of inventory they are buying and how they are accessing it

Networks have a number of ways to access inventory:

  • Software Development Kit (SDK) inventory: This is the best option because the network has direct access to the publisher’s inventory via their SDK. This can be a bit more expensive, though, since it’s more valuable and in demand.
  • API integrations: Through server-to-server connections, networks can directly access a publisher’s inventory or other network inventory.
  • Exchanges: By using their own bidder or working with a demand-side platform (DSP), networks can access the open real-time bidding (RTB) exchange and place bids on inventory via an auction.
  • Affiliate networks: If networks need to backfill their inventory or bring rates down, they can work with affiliate networks who re-broker traffic. These types of exchanges can open the door to more fraud risk, since the offer can change hands numerous times before an ad gets served (if it’s ever served). However, they also provide more volume at cheaper rates.

Also, make sure to ask if they are just buying off other ad networks. This is common, since part of a network’s job is to aggregate inventory so that an advertiser doesn’t have to work with a dozen different partners. However, as an advertiser you should make sure you have fraud thresholds and a fraud process in place (ideally using your attribution provider’s service). This is because your inventory could be re-brokered any time another party touches an inventory offer, so there is a higher probability that the inventory will be impacted by some form of fraud.

7. Make sure the ad networks are integrated with the 5 main attribution providers: Kochava, AppsFlyer, Adjust, TUNE, and Singular

Attribution providers are the source of truth, determining which channel should receive credit for a brand’s paid media efforts. They help police the ecosystem and serve as a required technology service. Without in-app tracking, it’s very hard for an advertiser to determine the incrementality or return on advertising spend (ROAS) of investments.

8. Understand fingerprinting attribution and have a stance

Since mobile web traffic, and some in-app traffic, doesn’t pass users device identifiers, you will need to enable fingerprinting if you want to track attribution across this inventory. Attribution providers can use the data they collect from a given user to perform attribution. These additional data points can include IP address and user agent.  Fingerprinting isn’t flawless yet, but providers continue to improve its capabilities and technology.  However, you still risk some errors when the attribution provider uses fingerprinting to perform attribution if device IDs aren’t available.

9. Make sure to include IAB standards in your IO as a catch-all

Make sure to include the IAB Standard Terms in your network IOs. The Interactive Advertising Bureau has already gone through the effort to research and develop standards for digital marketing. There are comprehensive legal terms that can be added to IOs, in addition to advertiser specific terms.

10. Perform incrementality tests to gauge the true incremental value of the ads

While there isn’t yet a universally adopted solution to gauge the true impact of paid media campaigns, there are a few options:

    • Certain ad servers have the ability to create ad tags, which can determine if a user sees either a dummy ad, a Public Service Announcement, a cross-channel advertisement, or the actual product ad. These tags can be distributed across your channels, so the ad server can control which ads users in the test (usually in a given geo) are served. These users then remain in the same controlled or exposed group (depending on which ad they are served), so there is no cross-contamination. Using device IDs, you can then monitor organic vs. paid conversions to determine the true lift of paid media.
    • You could also run a similar test without a third-party ad server by telling networks how to break out users. This option is less reliable since you are asking the networks to perform the breakout, and just one network not following the same logic could contaminate the test.
    • Another option is to pause all paid media and measure the impact of organic conversions, and then compare to when the paid media campaigns are live.

These types of tests can also be used to determine what view-through windows should be used, if any. View-through windows should be tailored to each advertiser. Some advertisers with known brand names, should have shorter windows, since they may have stronger organic conversion rates and a paid ad may be less influential (and therefore should not receive credit).
Looking for help with mobile ad networks? Contact our mobile team today.

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