Recently Nick contacted me about a free contextual advertising network he has been working on along with others. The site is called adGridWork
. Basically it is an advertising exchange network that uses contextual advertising to target the ads. Kind of like mixing link exchange and google adsense and providing it for free.
The registration process was easy and only took a few minutes to register my account, setup my ad to be displayed on other sites and get the ad code to run on the Free Links site. Note, there is an option to opt out of contextual advertising and have ads targeted based on category if you want to meet Google policies and run these ads on the same page as Adsense. (I recommend that you directly verify this with google first though to make sure it is okay).
I added the contextual advertising to free links and found the targeting to be good. I was impressed on first glance with the contextual targeting, although wondered later if category selection also plays a strong role with targeting versus contextual alone. I did some testing of this by adding a phrase about making money to the page and checked back later and did see ads directly related to making money displayed ... so in the end I give the contextual targeting a two big thumbs up based on my testing so far.
The drawback of the ads published on the Free Links site probably has to do with quality if anything. I wasn't completely turned off by the advertisers shown, but did see some pay to surf sites and others that I would consider lower quality. Of course, just like Google you can exclude sites from advertising on your site .... although you can't exclude your ad from being shown on specific sites which is an option I would like to be provided (I.e. opt out of sites you don't want advertising on your site.... plus another bonus would be if you could target/select specific sites you want advertising on). Based on my experiences, the number of advertisers participating in any network plays a big role when it comes to quality ... this may play a role with having quality ads if adGridWork doesn't have a large number of advertisers.
With ads running on Free Links, I clicked on one of the ads which was webmaster related. I noticed this site also had the network running and my ad from Free Links was being displayed along with others. Again, this gave me the impression that there are not many sites within the network yet ... and gave me a little bit of hesitation with the closely related link structure and how this might be perceived by google and other search engines (i.e. link exchange network/bad neighborhood).
Your ads are shown on other sites as your websites show ads. The website mentions also that clicks play a role, although my ads were distributed based on impression alone so I assume a boost is given to the number of times your ads are shown if your site produces clicks for advertisers. I think there is some area for abuse with what I observed, as I can run up my impressions on my own to get my advertisement diplayed on other websites. Additionally, the visitors might not convert well if their quality is low. As an extreme example, if ads are being published on paid to surf sites ... you will be promoting others while your ad impressions are being displayed to paid to surf networks that are very unlikely to purchase/convert.
Overall, I think Nick has done a great job with programming the contextual advertising system while making it easy to use and free for everyone. I have concerns about the quality of the advertisers and the number participating in the network, but I think that is typical of many new advertising networks until they start to gain traction and exposure.
Sitting back and thinking about the big picture of this free advertising opportunity, I am not sure it is the most practical aproach to promote your website although it may work well for non commercial and blog sites. If you are considering this free contextual advertising, you might also want to consider publishing paid contextual advertising (i.e. Adsense) on your site and earning revenue from it. Then based on that revenue roll it back into a pay per click campaign targeting your search keywords. I think for most marketers the conversions would be better because of the quality of a google search visitor versus a contextual advertising visitor from the adGridWork program.