Publishers And Advertisers: Differences Explored

If you’re in the world of digital marketing, you’ve probably heard the terms “publishers” and “advertisers” being used a lot. When you’re new to marketing, you might think that these two terms are interchangeable, or you might not know what they mean at all, and that can make doing your job a little difficult! 

There are fundamental differences between what a publisher does and what an advertiser does, and understanding those differences will help you to become a better and more efficient marketer. Without further ado, let’s take a look at the differences between what publishers do and what advertisers do.

Publishers “publish” content

Let’s start by defining what a publisher is. In ad tech terms, publishers are the people who “own” ad space, i.e. the places where you’re actually going to see ads. These include website hosts, bloggers, content creators, and podcasts, as well as anywhere else that you’d see, hear, or otherwise interact with ads. They’re called “publishers” because they “publish” their content online for everyone else to interact with, and in specific ad tech terms, “publishers” essentially issue ads online in the same way that magazine distributors might have done during the height of the print age.

Advertisers buy ad space

Conversely, advertisers are the people who actually want to put their ads out there for everyone else to see. An advertiser is the person or company that actually creates the ad and wants everyone else to interact or engage with it. Let’s say that a restaurant wants to put out ads for its services on a major website. The website would be the “publisher” in the ad tech world, and the restaurant would be the “advertiser”. Anybody who has a product or service they want to advertise is classed as an “advertiser”, and anybody who has a platform on which that ad could be shown is a “publisher”.

Publishers might not be who you think

While there are more obvious examples of publishers, you might also want to think outside the box when it comes to people that could be publishers. Let’s take a look at some more unusual examples of who a publisher might be.

  • Digital storefronts. You might not think of digital storefronts as obvious “publishers”, but consider that a storefront will promote products or services as a matter of course. Let’s take Valve’s Steam platform as an example. When you log into Steam, you’ll see games and other things promoted that aren’t necessarily the things you’ve come to buy. In essence, Valve is acting as a “publisher” here, while the games’ developers and publishers (in the video game sense) are acting as “advertisers”.
  • Streaming services. Netflix, Prime Video, and other places could also be considered “publishers” in this sense, because you’re seeing movies and TV shows that you might not otherwise have interacted with. Technically, those movies and TV shows are being advertised via the “publisher”, which, in this case, would be the streaming service.
  • A podcast. Again, you might not think of a podcast as an obvious “publisher”, but if you’ve ever listened to a podcast and it’s been interrupted by ads, then those advertisers have paid for space on the podcast just like anybody else would on a website. The podcast is here acting as the “publisher” for the ads.

What is direct advertising?

A related term when it comes to publishers and advertisers is “direct advertising”, which you’ve probably heard before. Direct advertising is simple to explain: it’s essentially a way by which advertisers reach their customers. An email campaign created by an advertiser, for instance, would constitute direct advertising, as would a social media campaign with which the advertiser is hoping its audience will “directly” interact.

This stands in contrast to “direct deals”, which are a different thing entirely. A direct deal is when an advertiser strikes up a particular deal with a publisher to buy up ad space and display an ad. It can get a little confusing, but remember this: direct advertising is a campaign strategy, but direct deals involve a business agreement between an advertiser and a publisher.

What to look for in a good publisher

If you’re an advertiser and you want to know who a good publisher would be for your ads, then there are certain things you can look for. Here’s what marks out a good publisher in the ad tech space.

  • High traffic. Naturally, you want to look for high traffic, because that indicates a publisher is getting a lot of views on their content, which also means your ads will attract more users.
  • High-quality content. High traffic might not mean much unless the content itself is good. This indicates that people are coming back to view the content regularly, which increases your chance of getting a repeat audience.
  • Engagement. Even if a site has a lot of views, it may not mean much if engagement is low. Engagement indicates a higher session duration (time each user spends on the site), which also means there’s more time for them to see and potentially engage with your ad.

What to look for in a good advertiser

Conversely, if you’re a publisher and you’re looking for a good advertiser with whom to strike up a direct deal, here are some of the things you may want to look for.

  • High-quality campaigns. A good advertiser will create high-quality, good-looking campaigns with good graphics and strong branding. That will make your site look better in turn.
  • Honesty. Obviously, advertising involves a certain degree of hyperbole; it’s the nature of the job. However, if an ad is overtly dishonest or misleading, then it’s going to reflect badly on you as a publisher.
  • Communication. If you’re striking up a direct deal with an advertiser, it’s a good idea to look for those who are communicative and friendly, because that indicates a good working relationship in the future.

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