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How to Sell Advertising Space on a Website
Before thinking about how to sell advertising space on your website, first you need to consider if selling advertising is something you really want/need to do. If your site is where you sell your own products or services, why would you want to display ads on it for other products or services? Think about it: If people who are interested enough to visit your site finally visit, do you want something posted there that will take them away, to another website?
The decision to sell advertising space on your website should be made only after questioning your site’s business objectives. Will offering visitors a way to leave your site cause you to lose customers for your own products/services? What is the value of placing ads there, to your site and/or your customers?
If you believe placing ads for other sites will help your visitors in a way that you're not able to help them, and if you believe doing this will add value to what your site offers, then by all means, sell ads. Just don't make, hastily, the decision to place something on your site that competes for the attention of your visitors. Be sure that your primary intent is to give your visitors a better experience by adding more value to your own site.
Once you've decided to sell ads on your site, make sure the ads/links you publish will open into a separate window. Doing this will keep visitors on your site even after they click on ads or links to other sites. If you are signed up to take part in what is known as affiliate marketing, such as Pay Per Click, Adsense, etc., you will make money when visitors click on links leading away from your site. Still, you should take time to consider how adding anything, even money-making links, will affect your site’s “visitor experience.”
If you own a blogging site filled with information on a particular topic, such as new tech gadgets, then it would probably be a very good idea to sell ads for related tech products and services on your site. Blogs and sites filled with information can work well and “seamlessly” with advertisers whose products are relevant to the site’s content. When there is a strong relationship between the blog and the advertisers’ messages, the ads will not only offer income for the site owner, they will also add value to the site visitor’s visit.
Blogs with content related to a “niche market” (a niche market is narrowly focused on satisfying a highly specialized need), are good candidates for attracting advertisers. If you have a popular blog targeting a niche market, and if you need to make income from your site, selling ads might be a good idea.
Something You Should Know Before Selling Ads
I would caution you to make sure that maintaining solid, interesting content is goal Number One, always. Never allow the selling of advertising space to become more important than your website’s content. Keep in mind that advertisers are attracted to a site based on the number of visitors it gets, and visitors are attracted based on content. Since you would not want visitors to become annoyed or too distracted by advertising, when selling ad space you will need to find a good and workable “balance” between space devoted to content, and space devoted to advertising.
How Much Traffic Do You Need?
There are no rules that say you have to have a certain amount of traffic/visitors before you can seek advertisers for your site. Even if your site is brand spanking new, you are free to place ads on it—and you might have to place them there for free (giving away space, for free, in the ad business is called “gratis”). Why would anyone allow ad placement for free? Well, one reason could be that the site owner (or a relative) sells other products offline, and if the site’s visitors are potential customers for this product, it might be a good idea to place an ad on the site, along with a 1-800 number for potential orders.
Understand, however, that most advertisers will want to know for sure their ads will be seen by lots of people before they will pay for space on your website. For this reason, to sell ad space, most people have to wait until they know site traffic is on the increase, until they have a good amount of regular visitors, or until they receive a request from a paying advertiser (see link at the end of this article to my Hub “Website Marketing Ideas” to learn ways to build traffic).
When it comes to how much traffic you will need to attract paying advertisers, the answer is: It depends. A site with a low but steady stream of traffic; one that attracts visitors capable of being converted into customers for advertisers, for example, is much better than a site with tons of visitors who aren’t interested in what advertisers have to sell. Having lots of traffic is not as important as having the right traffic, and the right traffic is potential customers that advertisers are looking for.
Make Sure You're Ready
Now that you've decided to sell advertising space on your site, there are some things you will need to do to make sure your navigation menu includes information potential advertisers will need. Be sure to include detailed information on the type of ad space you are offering (text or banner ads?), your pricing or rate information, and perhaps even a form potential advertisers can fill out to request more information about becoming an advertiser on your site. You will need to make it easy for advertisers to find out what they need to know/do. Be sure to provide as many details as possible about your site, information on your audience/visitors/traffic, and any other information that might help advertisers determine whether placing ads on your site could help them sell what they have to sell.
Next, I've included some important questions you will need to consider as you begin preparing to sell advertising space on your website.
1. Have You Decided What Space You are Selling?
You will need to be able to tell/show advertisers the size and types of ads you will sell (text or banner ads), and where you will allow them to be placed on your site. As you are making decisions, keep in mind that you should never interfere with your visitors’ enjoyment of your site. With this in mind, you should keep some site real estate private, meaning you should reserve it to be “ad free.” This should include space you devote to your own products or information about your services. Your site’s “Welcome” message, or if there is space where visitors sign up to get your newsletter, a free e-book, or your RSS feed, these spaces should be free from distracting elements like ads.
2. Are You Ready to Provide Information Advertisers Need?
Advertisers will need specific information about your site in order to make informed decisions before paying you to place ads on it. They will need data related to your site’s audience in order to determine if there is a good match between your visitors and what they have to sell. They will need to see data, called "analytics," that can only be gleaned from research. The most widely used service for web research statistics is Google Analytics, a free service offered by Google that anyone can use to generate detailed statistics about a website (a premium version of the service is also available, for a fee). Google Analytics can provide information on a site's visitors from all kinds of referral sources, including search engines, display ads, pay-per-click ads, email marketing campaigns, and even from links within documents (such as PDFs). It also shows what key words visitors used, what technology, and the demographics (statistical characteristics of a population) of visitors.
Advertisers need this information in order to determine which ads are pulling in which customers, so that—if necessary, they can adjust or readjust their message or its placement on a page or on a site. There are many other free and paid services providing website analytical services (including Piwik, W3Counter, and Clicky, among many others).
3. Are You Prepared to Learn, Continuously, About Your Site's Visitors?
It will help to gather from your site's visitors as much information as you can. What do visitors like most about your site? If they are a repeat visitor, why did they come back? One thing you could do to get answers to questions such as these is to include a comment/feedback request section on your site. Something else you can do to stay abreast of comments made online about your site/product/service is to stay in touch with visitors by utilizing social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. And, from time to time, you could get in touch with visitors by placing polls/surveys on your site (polling is made easier using services such as PollDaddy, Survey Monkey, or Twitter’s StrawPoll). Keep in mind you will probably need to offer visitors incentive to respond (such as a free e-book or article) to a poll, but it will be well worth it to have information that can be of great value to you and your advertisers.
4. Do You Know How Much You Will Charge?
You will need to decide how much you will charge advertisers to occupy space on your site and for how long. If your site is relatively new, it might be a good idea to offer space sales on a month-to-month basis. That will give advertisers a chance to find out if your site represents a good business investment. As you gain experience selling ads and as your site traffic increases, you can consider offering discounts to advertisers who want longer contracts.
A good way to determine what you might need to charge advertisers is by scouring the Internet for sites similar to yours that already sell ad space, and that have ad rate information you can look at. Or, if you’re signed up for Google AdSense, you can place AdSense units where you want to sell ads, find out how much you would make using them, then adjust and set your own rates.
5. Are You Ready to Accept Payment?
You will need to be able to accept cash and credit-card payments through your website. If you are not already set up to accept payments, you will need to do so if you plan to accept advertising. Pay Pal is one way to do this, but you will need a business account (called “premier”) if you plan to also accept credit card payments.
6. Are You Prepared to Make Contact with Advertisers?
After finding potential advertisers, you will need to make contact with them. Even though some potential advertisers might contact you through your website, others you will need to approach. How will you do it? It might be a good idea to compose and keep on your computer a letter that you can easily personalize for different advertisers. In it, be sure to introduce yourself by providing, briefly, information about you, your website, and why you are contacting the advertiser. Give enough details to let the advertiser know your site is a good match for his/her customers, and be sure to provide information on price, where ads will be located on your site, space/size availability, and so on. Keep the letter brief, no more than three paragraphs. After you make initial contact with the advertiser, If interested, he/she will contact you for more details/specifics.
Finding Potential Advertisers
The Direct Approach. Taking the direct approach to ad sales means you will be offering space to advertisers, directly, yourself—without going through a middleman or a middle channel. Where will you find potential advertisers? Take a look at websites with content similar to yours. Who is advertising on those sites? Perhaps these advertisers represent the most likely ones for your site as well. It might be a good idea to keep a folder in your bookmarks to keep the URL of sites you've seen, when surfing the net, that you think might represent good potential advertiser possibilities.
Another way to find potential advertisers is to think about things that are of interest to your site’s visitors. Remember the suggestion I made earlier about polling your site’s visitors? Now that you're thinking about finding advertisers, you can see how important it is for you to know as much as you can about your site's visitors. That's because the interests of your visitors represent potential opportunities for advertisers with products/services related to those interests. You can also find advertisers by taking a closer look at any website that is linked to yours. These sites could feature products or services that could be advertised on your site.
The Ad Network Approach. If you decide there is too much work involved in selling directly (even though you will make more money using this method), you can opt to join an advertising network. The good news about this approach is it will open the door to more advertisers for your website, and you could end up selling more space. But, the not-so-good news is you will have to pay the network for helping you find advertisers. Still, you could find that selling more space might more than make up for the fact that you will no longer be able to collect all the dough. Some popular ad networks include: Google AdSense, ValueClick Media, BuySellAds.com, Chitika, and Yahoo! Publisher Network (and there are many others).
Articles related to this topic, also by Dr. Middlebrook:
© 2012 Sallie B Middlebrook PhD