Getting Started with Selling Ads on your Website

Welcome to the world of Sellertown. This post is for website owners, so if you don’t sell advertising on your website, or are not planning to, you don’t have to read this but we think you should. It’s a doozy but it’s very important and valuable information.

selling ads on your website

Should I sell ads at all?

This is a very personal question, and I believe you can actually answer it by listening to your gut [I make many decisions on my gut feelings, which isn’t what they teach you in business school, and it makes my husband want to kill me sometimes]. Gut feelings are the best decision makers when it comes to blog ads.

Most of the time, you start a blog or website without even thinking about advertising. You want to tell your story, share your thoughts, communicate online; ads are not even in your field of vision. Then, one day, out of the blue you get an email from someone asking for your ad rates. Then, you think, “Hmmm…should I be selling ads on my site?”

This is the instant that you start thinking your site is more than just you and photos of your dog or your artwork and could possibly become part of your business model.

If you make the decision that selling ads is something you’d like to pursue, then congratulations! We’re here to guide you the whole way. Even if you’re already selling ads, it’s a great refresher to read this post. You might even learn something new!

Why should someone advertise on your site?

You need to make sure that your site is enticing to advertisers. This is something that is done gradually, and it basically involves the same things you need to do to attract readers!

Be sure to keep writing. The content that you’re writing that is attractive to readers will also attract advertisers. You likely won’t attract advertisers from day one, so don’t expect to receive any inquiries right away.

It takes time to build up advertisers just as it does readership, and it also takes time for you to feel comfortable with the direction of your blog and your own voice.

How do I sell my ads?

You already know that there is fixed rate and impression-based pricing (CPM). Deciding on which model is actually easier than you think. Blogs that are starting out and have a handful of readers per day should begin with fixed rate pricing.

When you get to the point when you’re dealing with thousand of hits per day, you can then consider switching to a CPM-based model. Many times, with smaller numbers, it just doesn’t make sense to sell CPM ads.

Don’t worry — you may never even get to the point where you will switch, and that’s OK, too. Smaller, niche blogs can bring in lots of advertisers on a fixed rate model and be quite comfortable.

Selling ads is a big commitment

Since we’ve already gone over media kits, we won’t talk about them again. However, do be aware that selling ads is much more than just throwing some statistics into a PDF.

Working with advertisers does require a level of customer service and a time commitment that not all bloggers realize. It’s very important to keep your advertisers happy, but with a balance of integrity.

First of all, some advertisers are demanding. Although you have a say as to who advertises on your site and can stop an ad campaign at any time, sometimes it’s hard to do so if you have a well-paying advertiser that is nothing more than just a pain in the behind.

Sometimes just doing what they ask is enough to keep them happy and put food on your table. Many advertisers like to replace their ad designs often. This can be frustrating for a blogger, but this can also be curbed by adding something in your media kit that states ads can only be changed a certain number of times.

Often times they will try to negotiate with you until you give in, but if you are already offering an appropriate discount for multiple months, then stick to your guns!

Working back and forth via email also takes up time. I spend probably 4-6 hours a week working with my advertisers and also potential advertisers. I probably spend an hour just sending out media kits from requests.

We all know in the beginning of a business, everyone works many extra hours to get things underway. However, now I really value those 4-6 hours, because that is time spent not doing other things. Therefore, I need to be sure that my ad fees cover that time as well.

How do I put ads on my site?

If you’re comfortable with HTML, then you can place ads on your website yourself. If not, then it might be a good idea to get your geeky friend or family member to help out. (Hint: Don’t have the funds to pay a programmer up front?

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Consider giving them a % of ad sales for the next two years. Erin did this and her programmer was thrilled with the extra income. In return, she got incredible service and established an ongoing relationship with a great programmer.)

Ad graphics also need to be hosted somewhere, or in other words, they need to live somewhere other than your hard drive. You can put them directly on your site and host them there, or the advertiser sometimes likes to host their graphics themselves (which makes things easier when they want to change them!).

WordPress and other blogging platforms may also have ways to make adding the ads to your site much easier. There are lots of add-ons and plugins out there that assist with ad management. Check out what your blogging platform might have available.

For blogger, you can try:

For WordPress, check out:

For TypePad:

Once you get to a point where things are constantly changing or you’ve grown beyond your current space constraints versus demand, then you can check out an ad server like OpenX or Google Ad Manager (these are free! Yay!).

An ad server is a way to easily manager your ads while also providing statistics such as how many clicks they’re getting. Ad servers are also helpful when you want to rotate multiple ads in one space, or if you are going to use a CPM model. These servers calculate impressions and allow ad campaigns to be turned off when their allotted impressions have been used up.

It’s much easier than trying to remember when your advertisers’ campaigns expire, then get renewed, then expire again, and so on. I managed Design Milk manually for 3 years before I migrated to an ad server.

This was the point at which I was getting over 10k people visiting the site per day. My advertisers were demanding space I didn’t have available, and I had to find a way to track my statistics more closely and set ads to expire and begin automatically. I believe that in hindsight (which is 20/20), I should have done this much sooner than I did.

Joining an ad network

If you’ve got the traffic, but no bites on your ad space, you can supplement that space by joining an ad network. I am currently a member of a few ad networks that I have found to be pretty decent. Here is a sampling of a few popular ad networks:

Some of these ad networks are by invitation only, and others accept just about anyone. It doesn’t matter which one you join, just be sure you feel comfortable giving up control of what kinds of ads show up on your site.

Most times, you have control over disabling gambling, pharmaceutical, or adult ads as well as removing pop-unders, popups, and other annoying and interfering ads.

This is very important to me with my blog — at one point Google was serving political ads that I disapproved of. I had to find out because a disturbed reader contacted me.

As a result, I had to pull all Google Adsense ads from my site until the political issue had blown over. So, it happens here and there, but just be aware of what’s being shown on your site as often as possible so you don’t get any surprises.

Note: Beware of shady advertisers, ad networks, and paid content. Creepy advertisers will inquire with you and then try to send you posts to write in exchange for text links, offer you lots of gifts, or try to get you to join their new ad network that doesn’t really exist.

Be sure to do your research, and never do anything unless it passes the “gut test” I mentioned above. I’ve built my blog on integrity and I never get paid from someone to write a post. At the end of the day, I still make a living off of the ads on my blog.

Handling contests, sponsorships, and giveaways

Oh, the blog giveaway. I do one almost every week on my site and Erin does them, too. However, we know what our readers like and we know they don’t want a remote control shoe shiner.

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Erin hand picks all her giveaways for her readers so she knows it is quality content that she can stand behind and would probably post about anyway!

Conversely, I charge a fee for a giveaway, and giveaway sponsorship is something I have outlined in my media kit. Giveaways can be a lot of work, but it should be paid or worth-it work. Advertisers know what they’re getting from you when they do a free giveaway on your site — free advertising.

Be wary of weird, out-of-the blue inquiries, and if you’re not comfortable, send them a media kit and tell them “No, thank you, however — here is our media kit. Please feel free to contact us if you are interested in securing an ad on our website.”

Dealing with money

Let’s say you’re doing OK at this point and making a few bucks off your website. First of all, you’ve probably already read in the previous post about buying ads that it’s a great idea to open up a PayPal account to accept payment.

I still accept checks and money orders, PayPal, and Google Checkout. Just, you know, cause checks don’t charge fees. Plus, I love to get mail!

At this point, it’s time to decide how much to charge. I would advise knowing your market very well first. You need to know who comes to your website, which you’ve already been tracking so that you can create your media kit. Here are some things to consider:

  • What your competition charges for ads and their traffic stats [I advise you to just go ahead and ask for them].
  • Your hourly rate [to determine this, see this great post and take a half hour to sit down and calculate if you haven’t already done so].
  • How much you typically spend on taxes [what’s your tax bracket? 30%, 40%?].
  • How much traffic your blog gets [do you get 2,000 hits/day or 12,000?].
  • Whether or not you are paying anyone else to design, implement, or manage you ads.

Note: Don’t forget that ad revenue is considered profit by the government and you will be expected to pay taxes on it. Don’t ignore this or fail to report this revenue or you could be in big trouble.

Another Note: Erin has a fun little ad formula that she considers her best-kept secret. If you can’t decide what to charge per month, complete this handy math problem:
Monthly Ad Rate = $.01 X Daily Readership. (In other words, if you have 1,000 readers per day, start out with a monthly rate of $10/month).

Hiring an ad management professional

When do you need to bring someone on for help? Well, that depends on a lot of factors. Ask yourself the following questions first:

  1. Do I have less and less time to devote to advertisers’ inquiries and customer service?
  2. Am I still feeling confused or uncomfortable about ad jargon, placement, and managing ads myself?
  3. Is my time worth more than the effort and money?
  4. Do I have too much to handle alone?
  5. Advertisers are not directly approaching me, so do I need someone to go out and sell ads for me?

If you said yes to two or more of these questions, it might be time to consider hiring someone. To be completely honest, I don’t know anyone who directly performs ad management.

However, I bet after some Tweets, blog and Facebook posts, and Craigslist ads you will be able to find someone. If you’re working with someone you don’t already know, be sure to ask for references.

If you decide to go with someone you know, be sure you trust them and that they respect you enough to work hard for you. A simple commission-based structure should work well for compensation.

Note: Erin has worked with an amazing ad sales rep, so email her directly if you’d like the name/contact info!

OK, I think I’ve completely exhausted you with this one! I hope you’ve taken away at least this:

  • Go with your gut.
  • Start out with fixed rate.
  • Get some help if you’re not comfortable with something.
  • Pay your taxes!

Your assignment is coming up next, so stay tuned!

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