Direct advertising sales is arguably the best method to monetize a website. Finding advertisers for your site and actually closing the deals, however, is not as straight forward. Over the past 6 months I had more than 10 high profile companies sponsoring Daily Blog Tips, and through out this article I will share what I have learned along the way.
* More money: The first advantage of selling your own ads is the fact that you will cut the middlemen out, increasing your revenue potential. Suppose you sell text link ads on your sidebar through a certain company, and the text links sell for $50 monthly. Since you are using the company network to sell the ads, they will eat 50% of the price, and you will end up earning only $25 monthly for each text link. If someone is willing to pay $50 for a text link on your site, though, it means that they are getting $50 of value out of it. Why, then, should you share that with someone else?
* Independence: Sure, large advertising networks have access to a wider pool of advertisers, and they have more credibility to close the deals. But if you have all the requirements in place (see the section below) and spend some time looking at the right places, I am sure that you will be able to sell your own ads just as efficiently as the larger networks.
* Flexibility: The third advantage of selling direct advertising is that you will have much more control over where and how the ads will be displayed (i.e., you can avoid intrusive advertising). Google Adsense is nice, but unless you blend it with the content – annoying some of the readers – you will get terribly low click-through rates.
* Credibility: Finally, having sponsors and direct advertisers on your blog might help your credibility. Even small and poorly crafted blogs can stick some Adsense units here and there. Having established companies that are willing to partnership with your site, on other hand, can signal that your content has quality and that the site is somewhat professional.
* Time consuming: While selling your own ads has many advantages, it is no panacea. The first drawback of this monetization option is the time that it will consume. This time will be spent optimizing your website for the ads, finding potential advertisers, negotiating with them, and handling the administrative matters (e.g., making payments, tracking statistics, delivering reports and so on).
* Many requirements: Selling direct adverting is not as easy as making money from Google Adsense. As you can see from the section below, you will need to have a popular blog, a professional looking design, special software and the like.
* Unstable: Unless you close deals for very long periods, which is unlikely, you will find your self looking for new advertisers or optimizing your website to attract new ones every other month. The opposite is true for most advertising networks, where you just need to plug some code and they will do the rest of the work. (If your site or blog is just a hobby, therefore, direct advertising might not be the best option)
What You Need to Have in Place
* A popular website: Before landing direct advertising deals you will need to have a good amount of traffic on your site. There is no “magical” number here, but a good rule of thumb would be 1000 daily unique visitors. If you are below that mark you should focus on building traffic instead of looking for advertisers. Other factors like Google Pagerank, RSS subscribers and Alexa rank might also help. (Notice that small websites might also be able to sell direct advertising, but usually the time spent on that will not justify the results)
* A clear focus: You might have the most popular site on the Internet (well, not as extreme as that, but you get the point), but unless your site also has a very clear niche and a defined audience, advertisers will not find it very attractive. This means that you should avoid rambling about 100 different topics on the website. Advertisers want to deliver a message to specific people, and the more specific the better.
* A professional looking design: If you are planning to monetize your website through sponsors, you probably should invest some money into a professional looking design. Advertisers will be associating their product or service with your website, and not too many of them would be willing to get mixed with an ugly, MySpace looking site.
* Give visibility to the sponsors: This point is connected to the previous one. Not all templates and themes will be suitable for selling direct advertising. Preferably you want to have an idea of what kind of advertising you will sell (e.g., 468×60 banners, 125×125 banners, text links) and design your website according to those objectives. Advertisers want visibility, so reserve a good spot for them.
* Adserver software: In order to serve your ads, rotate banners and track statistics you will need to install an Adserver. If you are looking for a simple solution you should try WP-Ads. This Wordpress plugin will serve ads for specific ad zones that you create. The only drawback is that it does not count clicks (only impressions). If you need a more sophisticated solution check OpenAds. You will need to spend some time learning how to use it, but it offers virtually all the features you will ever need.
* “Advertise Here” page: It is very important to have an “Advertise Here” page. On this page you want to give some details about the website, like audience, traffic and any other factor that might be of the interest of potential advertisers. Secondly, make sure that you have some link to that page on the navigation bar and if possible close to the zone where the ads will be displayed. You can see a perfect example of such layout on Copyblogger.com.
* Standard letter to approach advertisers: While some advertisers will contact you after reading your “Advertise Here” page, the rest of them will need to be directly approached by you. In that case, it is a good idea to create a standard letter to contact the advertisers. There is no “one size fits all” solution here, but you can follow some general guidelines:
1. Introduce yourself and quickly explain what the email is about
2. Explain why you decided to contact them and what they have to gain
3. Give details about your site (traffic, subscribers, topic, audience)
4. Give details about the advertising options (location on the site, max number of advertisers, monthly price)
That is it, after that information the advertisers should be able to decide if they are interested or not. If they reply, then you will fix the details. Bear in mind that all the info I mentioned should be contained in 2 or 3 paragraphs. If you send an essay to potential advertisers they will just skip it altogether.
* Accepting payments: You might have everything in place, but if you are not able to cash payments – or more importantly, if advertisers are not able to pay easily – you will end up losing deals. PayPal is the best option here. Notice, however, that a personal account will not suffice. You will need at least a premier account to be able to accept credit cards.
Where to Find the Advertisers
Once you have your direct advertising program established, you will start to receive inquiries from people. On the beginning, however, you will need to hunt advertisers down. Do not get discouraged if get turned down initially, provided you have all the aforementioned requirements, sooner or later you will find someone willing to take a shot on your site.
* People linking to your site or articles: If a company is willing to link to your articles or to add your website under its “Links” or “Resources” section, it is also probably willing to discuss about advertising on your site. Keep track of those incoming links.
* People leaving comments/e-mails: The same principle applies to people leaving comments on your blog or sending you e-mails. If among them you see an employee or the owner of a company that could be interested on your website, bingo! Contact him or her and get the conversation going.
* AdWords advertisers: Through out your search for advertisers you will notice that most of the established companies are not aware of the benefits of online advertising. If a certain company is already spending money on Google AdWords, however, it is very likely that it would also be open to other forms of online advertising. Think about some keywords that are related to your topic and Google them. Check the sponsored links that will appear and contact them. (You can also check the advertisers that appear on the Adsense units of related websites)
* Other advertising networks: While Google AdWords is by far the largest advertising network on the Internet, there are many others that could be useful. Check the companies that are spending money on AdBrite, Text-Link-Ads, BlogAds, SponsoredReviews and so on.
* Banner advertisers on similar sites: Check out popular websites on your niche and see what companies are advertising there. Provided you offer them an interesting deal (i.e., a reasonable price for your size), I am pretty sure they will be interested.
* Create a “Potential Sponsors” bookmark folder: This technique produced outstanding results for me. I have a bookmark folder on my browser called “Potential Sponsors.” Every time I come across a company or website that could be interested in sponsoring my website, I bookmark it. Currently I have over 100 bookmarked sites on that folder, and I have not approached half of them yet.
How Much to Charge
* You need to provide value: It is all about value. A potential sponsor or advertiser will want to see some returns for the money he will be spending on your site, and this can be seen as visibility (impressions) and leads (clicks and possible sales). Make sure, therefore, that your advertising deals will deliver.
* The numbers: Remember that there are some pretty cheap advertising options out there (e.g., Google AdWords), and you will need to be competitive. Provided you reserved a good spot for the sponsors (sidebar or header, preferably) you could start charging a $0,5 CPM (cost per 1000 impressions). If your blog is generating 100,000 monthly page views, therefore, a banner spot on your sidebar should cost around $50. Start low and build your way upwards. Popular blogs (e.g., TechCrunch) have a higher CPM, sometimes as high as $10, but you will need a huge credibility to arrive there.
* Cross-check: You can easily check if you are charging a suitable rate by using Adsense units on the places where you will sell direct advertising. Analyze how much you would gain with Adsense, and adjust your rates accordingly. Secondly, you can also check similar sites that are already selling direct ads.
* Be flexible regarding the terms: Flexibility is key. First of all make advertising agreements on a month-to-month basis. People don’t like to commit to something they are not completely sure about. If someone proposes you a longer deal, offer a discount in exchange.
* Offer test periods: Unless you have a very popular website, you will find potential advertisers reluctant to spend real money. If you are confident that the deal will create value for both parties, however, you can use that on your favor. Offer a free test period whenever needed. Some of the times the advertiser will turn you down after it, but other times they will confirm the deal. Either way you have nothing to lose.