Rise of Walled Gardens in Ad Tech – Explained for Publishers

Updated on: January 4, 2024
Unravel the impact of Walled Gardens on ad tech and discover their significance for publishers.

As a publisher, you’re constantly striving to maximize your ad revenue. You’ve got engaging content, a dedicated audience, and a monetization strategy in place. But despite all this, you’re not seeing the returns you expected. You wonder, “What’s missing? What am I not getting right?”

The answer might lie in understanding the broader ecosystem of digital advertising, particularly the concept of ‘Walled Gardens’. Even though it’s a term more commonly associated with advertisers, it has significant implications for you as a publisher.

Walled Gardens, represented by giants like Google, Meta, and Amazon, command the digital advertising landscape. According to Insider Intelligence, these three alone account for around 64% of all digital ad spend. That’s a significant chunk of the market!

But why should this matter to you, a publisher?

Understanding how these Walled Gardens operate can provide insights into the dynamics of the digital advertising market. It can help you comprehend why certain ads gain more visibility, why some advertisers prefer these platforms, and how the ad revenue gets distributed.

In this blog, we’ll delve into the concept of Walled Gardens, how they function, and their impact on the digital advertising ecosystem. We’ll also discuss why it’s essential for you, as a publisher, to understand this concept and how it can influence your ad revenue. So, let’s dive in.

What are Walled Gardens?

Imagine you’re in a lush, beautiful garden surrounded by high walls. You have everything you need within this garden – food, entertainment, and even companionship. However, the catch is that you can’t bring anything from outside, and you can’t take anything out. This is essentially what a Walled Garden is in the digital advertising world.

A Walled Garden is a closed ecosystem in advertising and technology where the platform provider – think Google, Meta, or Amazon – has complete control over all content, media, and even the advertisers and publishers within the garden. They decide who gets in and what goes out. The aim? To corner the market.

Strategies within Walled Gardens:

  1. First-Party Data Targeting: This involves leveraging the platform’s user data to deliver personalized and targeted advertising. The more data the platform has about its users, the more accurately it can target ads, leading to higher engagement and conversion rates.
  2. Self-Serve Advertiser Portal: This is a platform feature that allows advertisers to manage their ad campaigns autonomously. They can create, launch, monitor, and optimize their campaigns, giving them greater control and flexibility.
  3. Auction Pricing: This is a pricing model where ad spaces are sold to the highest bidder in real-time. It ensures that advertisers pay the market price for ad spaces and allows platforms to maximize their ad revenue.

Impact on Publishers:

For publishers, Walled Gardens can be restrictive in several ways:

  • Limited Bidding Options and Reduced Revenue Streams: Publishers cannot venture out and get different bids for their inventories, reducing competition and leading to lower CPM/eCPM rates. This confinement affects overall profitability and potentially hinders access to higher revenue streams.
  • Lack of Control, Flexibility, and Dependency on the Platform: Adherence to the rules set by platform providers can hinder innovation and tailored strategies. Relying on proprietary tools and analytics further limits a comprehensive view of performance, leading to potential missed opportunities for growth and diversification.

Read our complete guide about: What is Header Bidding and How it Works?

The Pros and Cons of Walled Gardens for Publishers

Walled Gardens in the digital advertising ecosystem present both opportunities and challenges for publishers. While they offer certain advantages, they also come with restrictions that can affect publishers‘ strategies and revenue. Here’s a detailed look at the pros and cons:

Advantages for Publishers

  1. Enhanced Security Measures: Companies within Walled Gardens often implement robust security measures to protect user privacy. This can be attractive to publishers concerned about data safety and compliance with privacy regulations.
  2. Opportunities for Collaboration: Being part of a Walled Garden may provide publishers with opportunities to collaborate with major advertisers within the ecosystem, potentially leading to exclusive partnerships and revenue streams.

Disadvantages for Publishers

  1. Limited Bidding Options and Reduced Revenue Streams: As previously discussed, publishers within Walled Gardens face restrictions in venturing out for different bids and often deal with lower CPM/eCPM rates, affecting overall profitability.
  2. Dependency and Vendor Lock-In: Publishers may become heavily dependent on the tools, analytics, and policies of the Walled Garden provider. This can make it challenging to switch platforms or adapt to changes in the market.
  3. Potential Data Inaccessibility: If a Walled Garden platform changes its policies or shuts down, publishers could lose access to valuable data and insights, impacting their long-term strategies.

Balancing the Pros and Cons

For publishers, navigating the world of Walled Gardens requires careful consideration of both the opportunities and the limitations. Understanding the dynamics of Walled Gardens and aligning with a strategy that leverages the advantages while being mindful of the disadvantages can help publishers thrive within these unique digital landscapes. Whether to fully embrace the Walled Garden approach or seek alternative paths will depend on individual goals, resources, and the evolving trends in the digital advertising industry.

How Walled Gardens Impact Publishers?

Ever notice how walled gardens dominate the market for publishers to sell their ad space? It allows publishers to play by the rules of these monopolies or risk being left behind.

Consider the example of The Guardian. It offers free, ad-supported content to its readers while also providing premium, ad-free content to its members for a fee. This is a classic example of a “content-walled garden,” a closed system where access to content is controlled by the publisher.

But here’s the silver lining: Publishers possess something invaluable – first-party data. As third-party cookies are being phased out, first-party data is becoming increasingly important. It provides insights into user behavior, preferences, and interests, which can be leveraged to deliver personalized and targeted advertising.

This shift in the digital advertising landscape presents an opportunity for publishers. They can create their own walled gardens, fostering trust and building close relationships with their audience. This not only enhances user experience but also opens up new avenues for revenue generation.

Moreover, publishers can collaborate with ad networks that offer solutions like header bidding wrappers. These tools allow publishers to expose their ad inventory to multiple ad exchanges simultaneously, leading to increased competition and higher ad revenue.

The Big Players: Google, Meta, Amazon, and Apple

When we talk about Walled Gardens, four names dominate the conversation: Google, Meta, Amazon, and Apple. These tech giants have created their own closed ecosystems, exerting significant control over user data and the digital advertising landscape.

Google and Meta: The Titans of Digital Advertising

In 2022, Meta, formerly known as Meta, raked in a whopping $113 billion from advertisements. Google, however, led the pack with a staggering $209.5 billion, more than twice Meta’s revenue.


As of the first quarter of 2023, Meta boasts over [2.9 billion](https://www.statista.com/statistics/264810/number-of-monthly-active-facebook-users-worldwide/) monthly active users, offering publishers an unprecedented reach. Meta’s unique advantage lies in its access to objective data. When users log into their Meta accounts from multiple devices, advertisers can target audiences with pinpoint accuracy.

Google, on the other hand, operates one of the world’s largest display ad networks, Google AdSense. Powered by the needs of over 2 million advertisers, Google Ads is a formidable player in the market. Google Ad Manager (GAM), a combination of an ad server and ad exchange (Google AdX), operates under Google’s watchful eye. With advertising accounting for 78.2% of its total revenue, Google wields enormous influence over the ad tech sector.

Learn more about: What You Should Know About Google’s Ad Exchange

Amazon and Apple: The Emerging Contenders

Beyond Google and Meta, Amazon and Apple are making their mark as significant Walled Gardens. These four tech giants, often abbreviated as “GAMA” (Google, Amazon, Meta, Apple), are reshaping the digital advertising landscape.

Apple’s iOS ecosystem is tightly controlled, encompassing everything from purchases to streaming video and music to advertisements.

Amazon, on the other hand, is projected to account for a hefty 13.3% of the total digital ad expenditure in 2022. With the launch of Amazon Publisher Services TAM and UAM in 2016, the e-commerce giant has firmly established itself as the third-largest Walled Garden, trailing behind Google and Meta.

In essence, these four tech giants are shaping the Walled Garden landscape. Their dominance in the digital advertising market underscores the importance for publishers to understand and navigate these closed ecosystems.

Creating Your Own Walled Garden – Benefits & Challenges for Publishers

Have you ever thought that publishers may create their own “walled gardens?”

Take, for instance, the New York Times. They produce interesting articles in an effort to lure readers into paying for a membership. Once a subscriber is on board, they work hard to keep them happy by offering relevant content month after month.

The New York Times is in a prime position to sell online advertising to prospective customers since it has an audience of over 8 million.

Business Insider is another media outlet that has adopted a walled garden strategy. They exploit the free availability of numerous articles of high quality to attract and retain readers. When a user is exploring or revisiting the site, they could come upon subscription-only content. Business Insider effectively builds its walled garden by restricting paying customers’ access to its premium content.

Benefits for Publishers:

Large publishers with wider audiences and name recognition will easily implement this plan. These publishers already have a sizable user base, a necessary component of any thriving walled garden ecology.

  • Publishers have control of the entire ad platform and can set the ad rates and focus on scale.
  • It’s easy to monetize your first-party data in a privacy-centric manner, as after the upcoming demise of third-party cookies, your first-party data will be more valuable.
  • Ads customization is possible in your way. Overall you will decide what your ads look like and which blends best with your content.
  • By building your walled garden, you also own the relationship with advertisers for buying your inventory.

Challenges for Publishers:

While there are several advantages of building a walled garden, there are challenges that publishers can face.

  • It’s not an easy process to build an ad platform. The process can take up to two years, upfront investment, and a complete team of engineers.
  • Also, the process you will create must be a top-shelf one to ensure that it will help publishers with better content management, managing ad blockers, privacy regulations, ad targeting, engagement, and more.
  • Lastly, publishers may need to invest in a full stack maintenance stack, tools, and support system for managing and segmenting data.

What’s the Next Step?

At the end of the day, it’s nearly impossible to compete with or overthrow tech giants like Google, Amazon, Meta, or Apple with their massive scale. However, these walled garden ecosystems play a crucial role in the lives of publishers, advertisers, marketers, and the world.

While publishers may try to construct their enclosed walled garden platforms, when it comes to advertising, the easiest path is to opt for an ad tech company. Walled gardens have emerged as viable solutions for publishers, giving them greater control over targeted ad campaigns.

As the ad tech industry continues to evolve, it is clear that walled gardens will play a crucial role in helping publishers navigate the changing advertising landscape.


Q1. Can content be shared or transferred easily in a walled garden?

Content in a walled garden cannot be easily shared or transferred due to specific formats or DRM protections..

Q2. Is it possible to access content from a walled garden on other platforms?

It’s generally challenging to access content from a walled garden on other platforms, as it is typically exclusive to that particular ecosystem.

Q3. Can publishers retain control over their content in a walled garden?

Publishers have limited control within a walled garden, often having to follow platform-specific rules, with the platform having authority over pricing, distribution, and content restrictions.


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