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For marketers and advertisers setting up display ads, here’s a thought: “You can have it fast, cheap, or good, but not all three.”

That’s in a piece today from Jamie Elden for Ad Age, pointing out digital marketers can definitely put ads on premium sites – but those will come at a cost. Yet if marketers skimp on the ad placements, their ads could show up on sites that run sketchy, pirated content, which could do a lot of damage to their brands’ reputations.

So to prevent marketers from placing their ads on sites that could be questionable or even illegal, Elden has come up with a number of tips for buying ad slots from vendors.

1. Validate – – Ensure the vendor you’re going with is trustworthy, and not one that will push your ad content onto a potentially embarrassing site. One good spot for checking a vendor’s reputation is with the Interactive Advertising Bureau, which keeps a list of ad networks and performance data.

2. Test your vendors. – Just trusting your vendors when they demonstrate their performance isn’t enough. Marketers need to ask if vendors use tools from recognized names like Nielsen and comScore, ensuring that viewers will see the ads that you’re paying to show them.

3. Test a potential campaign. – Once you get into more serious talks with a vendor, give them a request for proposal on a campaign you’ve already run. See how its account representatives would handle your campaign, ask them about their solutions, and ask them important questions like where the ad will run, whether it’ll run on the right sites, whether it’ll run on other sites as well, and whether you’ll be able to get reporting from every site. If the vendor is reputable, these questions shouldn’t faze any of its salespeople.

4. Get proof that a vendor is as reputable as it appears. – Aside from asking the tough questions, Elden also suggests getting screenshots of domains where your ads appear, reporting on each site, click through rates, and shares. By checking these against your own key performance indicators, you can ensure your campaign is performing as well as a vendor says it is. Also, this way, you can be sure your vendor is taking the time to audit its publishers – ensuring you don’t get caught out with your brand’s ad in a questionable place on the web.

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