building an ad platform with dfp


Traditionally, a "church-state wall" has existed between journalists and advertising departments. But in a world of hyperlocal sites run by small teams of independent journalists who need some way to monetize their work, there is no room for that wall. Journalists will need to spend at least some of their time thinking about advertising, which includes mastering an ad serving platform.

There are many ways to integrate ads with your web site, depending on factors such as:

  • How much manual work do you want to do?
  • How willing are you to give a cut to ad networks?
  • Are you technically prepared to maintain an ad platform?

Working with a traditional ad network like AdBrite, Burst, or CasaleMedia is a fairly trouble-free experience -- they take care of finding clients for you, as well as all the billing. In exchange, they take a hefty cut of the revenues, as much as 30-40%. With revenue potentials being as slim as they are, that's a bitter pill to swallow.

A hyperlocal site is going to find its best advertising potential in local businesses, and the big national ad networks simply can't do as good a job at drumming up that business as you can do on your own. That means you need the ability to upload ads you make yourself (or that your clients provide) into your own system.

And what if you want the freedom to use multiple ad networks, PLUS Google AdSense, PLUS the ability to upload your own ads into the system? Traditionally, that kind of flexibility meant running an ad serving platform like OpenX on your own server, which means doing your own software installation and maintenance. Ad serving can be resource intensive from the server perspective - you may need a beefier hosting plan to make it work.

One excellent alternative is to use Google's Double Click for Publishers, Small Business Edition (we'll refer to the product as DFP from now on.) DFP is completely free if you serve fewer than 90 million impressions per month, and Google handles all of the server maintenance (you'd be hard pressed to match the performance of DFP with any self-hosted solution). Most importantly, DFP lets you mix and match network ads, AdSense ads, and your own "creative" however you like, with ads competing in real-time for the highest-paying fit on every page request.

There are a lot of ad serving systems out there to choose from, but in a nutshell, here's what we like about DFP Small Business:

  • Free! (if fewer than 90 million impressions/month)
  • High performance/no maintenance
  • Nice back-end management system
  • Inventory forecasting
  • Sophisticated audience targeting
  • Lets multiple networks compete, plus AdSense
  • Good reporting tools

Note that DFP does not include a billing system. DFP will report how many impressions or clicks each ad has generated, which campaigns have run and what you're charging for them, and will help you keep track of companies and the contacts within them, but it's up to you to generate invoices and process payments on your own. This makes a certain amount of sense since some of the ads you'll be running will come through external ad networks that already have their own billing systems. And Google will of course pay you for the AdSense ads you run. But it would be nice to see an integrated billing system for the parts of the system it makes sense for.


If you're just getting your feet wet, start with plain vanilla AdSense, then evolve to DFP Small Business. Once your traffic starts hitting that 90 million impressions/month limit, graduate to Double Click for Publishers, which includes more sophisticated tools.

DFP Consultant Rainey Smith was a guest speaker at KDMC's March 2011 Independent Journalists workshop, and delivered an excellent 1-hour presentation on maximizing ad revenue with DFP. While not strictly part of this DFP tutorial, Smith's talk is highly recommended, so we've embedded it here:

Filed under: Web Development