Review: OpenX - open source advert/banner management
One of the few things I wanted to achieve when redesigning Seopher.com was to increase the level of control I had over advertising - I was forever allowing users who had paid for a 30-day advertising spot to run for 35 or 40 days before remembering to pull it. Therefore upon redeveloping the site I decided to yield control to OpenX - the open source adserve application.
OpenX is an open source ad server used to manage advertising on over 100,000 websites across the globe. It comes in two flavours; hosted service or as downloadable software (for you to install on your own server). I decided to use OpenX for two reasons, firstly I wanted a decent, free platform for managing my advertising and secondly, I wanted to give it a go.
Why use OpenX?
My reason is one shared by many I'm sure. Because I don't use Wordpress, Drupal or any other blogging platform (I use a custom built one), I'm not using sexy little plugins developed by others to manage my advertising. Therefore my 125x125 banners were just entered into an included file, wrapped by a comment telling me when to remove it. Obviously this meant I was forever forgetting to remove banners when the 30 days had expired. More-over, I had no idea how many clicks these banners were getting or anything. OpenX gives you the level of control to fix these problems.
Incidentily, OpenX is tracking around 900,000,000 banner impressions every day, with somewhere between 5,000,000 and 7,500,000 banner clicks each day also tracked. Make no mistake, it's big business.
You can upload banners and assign them to regions; you can then specify a set of rules to govern when and how this banner is to be shown. You can limit the hours of the day, the days of the week, the number of impressions and which dates you wish the banner to show. For the average fixed-rate advertiser this is handy because I can upload a banner and set it to display for 30 days - when those 30 days are up, it will automatically stop showing it.
However, for those users who work on a CPM model (cost per thousand impressions), you can limit banners to a certain number of impressions (if the advertiser pays for 10,000 impressions, you can ensure it's no longer displayed when that limit is reached). As an extension to this, you can limit the impressions per day, so if a user has paid for 30 days but you've caveated that with a maximum of 1,000 impressions a day; OpenX can accommodate this too.
Statistics and Reporting
Another key reason for using OpenX is for the analytical side. It'll tell you how many impressions each banner has received, how many clicks it's had and obviously your CTR (click through rate). This will help you optimise your advertising and ensure you're getting the best performance out of your adverts. You can compare statistics for any given day against any other - think Google Analytics for banners - meaning you can see how the banner has performed day-on-day over a custom defined period. This is also crucial for working out whether you're increasing the CTR or not.
Hierarchical BannersOne of the nice features is that given a specific region (that you bind a campaign to), you can specify a hierarchy of banners to display; meaning when banner A cannot be displayed (for whatever reason), banner B should be used. So if you're limiting the number of impressions (or if banner A's 30 day period expires), you're not left with an unused piece of real estate until you manually step in to change things. This ensures your website is geared up to making money 100% of the time.
InstallationInstalling it on your server is very simple, with a friendly wizard taking you through the process - if you can install Wordpress then OpenX is well within your grasp. The general idea is that it offers you more control over your advertising than you'd get normally.
AestheticsIt may be a little uninspiring to look at but it is very clean and tidy, something most welcome on such a dashboard. Obviously the system is a nigh-endless labyrnth of menus and tabular data but that's specifically what it's for.
UsabilityI actually found OpenX a real usability nightmare; there is a help section that is fairly useful, but it's surprisingly hard to find your way around. I managed to add a site and create a campaign easily enough, but there was no real explanation as to how I was going to get this campaign on a website somewhere... It wasn't until I read the help that I realised I needed to create a new 'zone' to bind the campaign to, and only then would I receive the code to embed it into my website. Which wasn't ideal.
ConclusionMake no mistake, usability issues aside it's an astonishingly powerful application and I can't fathom why they aren't selling it... You can't go far wrong managing your advertising with OpenX - I intend to use it for the foreseable future on Seopher.com
Moving forwards with OpenX MarketThey've recently started dabbling in the next most obvious paddling pool - advert brokering. Considering they're tracking 900,000,000 impressions every day it's not hard to imagine why they're moving into brokering. They have a global inventory of users selling banners, all they need to do is act as the gateway between buyer and seller and take a percentage commission. I've submitted a request to join the OpenX market but these are reviewed manually so we'll see how that goes.
Ultimately, OpenX "rocks my socks" for adserving and I have no intention of stopping using it in the near future.
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