There’s definitely a powerful allure to building up traffic to your website and having an ad network do all the work for you. But it goes beyond allure. There can be some significant advantages to selling your ad inventory directly to advertisers.
Why would you want to start thinking about selling direct ad placements to advertisers?
Let’s get something straight here. If you tell any of our friends at the big ad networks that we said this, we’ll deny, deny, deny. But… the holy grail of online publishing is getting to a traffic volume that will enable you to recruit and cash in on direct advertisers.
We don’t need any advanced calculus to do the math on why. If you recruit advertisers directly, you keep 100% of the ad revenue. But we must clarify that statement:
If you successfully and efficiently recruit advertisers directly, you keep 100% of the resulting ad revenue.
That is why traffic volume and scale is so important. The lower your traffic, the greater the challenge of directly recruiting ad revenue that would exceed earnings from an ad network.
After all, that’s what ad networks are all about. They have the scale and efficiencies of selling and placing ads. If that wasn’t the case, ad networks wouldn’t exist.
What are the main advantages of targeting direct advertisers?
- 100% revenue share
- Premium advertising rates
Ignoring your operating costs, the margins on your direct ad sales are 100%. That means no 30%+ kickback to Google or the other big players required. However, to be successful with direct advertisers, your ad sales are going to be primarily niche targeted.
Advertisers come to you because of the specificity of your audience segments. If you have an audience that aligns with their products or services, they will pay a premium to access your site directly.
Remember, in a big ad network, you get lumped in with all other advertisers of varying levels of quality. When lower quality sites are a part of that mix, there will likely be a pulldown effect on the average CPC bid.
Advertisers ultimately want to pay only for results. Whenever they can access a highly aligned audience, it is far superior to pulling in more generic keyword based traffic. When they evaluate their results, this rule of thumb will be validated again and again.
What are the caveats of selling ads direct to advertisers?
The most obvious is the difficulty. Ad networks make everything seem easy. You drop in a snippet of code and turn your traffic into revenue. But selling ads direct to advertisers requires selling. The redundancy in that last sentence is on purpose.
It’s about selling.
Networks like Google AdSense pretty much guarantee a “fill rate.” That means, no matter what, your ad placements will be filled with ads and you will get payed for (almost) every click on those ads.
No ads = No scharole
In return for their services, Google takes a cut of your revenue. If you want to cut them out of your revenue source, Google’s not going to place a horse head in your bed but they’ll stop offering you the protection of their fill rates.
That makes you responsible for a lot of tasks: Identifying advertisers, reaching out, making the sale, providing support and settling disputes. This all takes time, commitment, and skill.
If you still manage to score a few advertisers, even big ones, you’re basically at their mercy and putting the stability of your ad revenues at somewhat of a risk.
If advertisers have a down year, they may cut or reallocate portions of their budget. So you would not want to be left without a backup plan when your ad revenue takes a significant hit.
That’s why you never completely disconnect from the ad networks but always leave them as a backup.
How to setup your website for direct advertising
Now that you’re ready to hit the streets, let’s get tactical. Like we said, if you can’t sell ads or you do so inefficiently, you’ll just erode all of the potential financial rewards you’re aiming for.
That is our focus now. We want to give you some strategies to be successful at recruiting advertisers. These ideas will maximize your chances of pulling it off.
Most of the strategies fit within the realm of pricing data, selling materials and tools, and building more attractive ad real estate.
1. Use a Dedicated Advertising Page
If you have the traffic to even begin considering selling direct advertising, you have potential advertisers visiting your site. Thousands of major advertisers have reps scanning the web for niche advertising opps.
So imagine them arriving and not knowing whether or not direct advertising is an option? You will be doing direct sales. But that isn’t to suggest that you should neglect the basics of digital marketing.
Make sure you set up a dedicated advertising page. It should give details on how your ad program is structured, the types of ad placements available, and what to do to get started. Of course, you’ll be able to use this page as a reference when you’re doing your outreach.
2. Create a Media Kit
Your media kit will complement your advertising page. While you’re not necessarily going to amplify your Public Relations reach, the media kit is still very helpful for potential advertisers.
The key elements you want to emphasize are the details of your site’s content, with a break down on your users and your traffic volumes. Those are the things most important to your advertisers. They need to vet you to ensure that your site will generate targeted leads for them.
They want to know what you’re about, what your users are like, and estimate if and how much quality traffic you can drive for them.
The more specificity the better. A media kit doesn’t have to be overkill. You can get away with a single PDF of a few pages. However, put in an effort to make it look professional. A professional document template, sharp logo, and organized layout are important.
The first impression before they even begin reading is that they discovered a professional site that will offer quality advertising opportunities. Your media kit should act like a well tailored Italian suit not a set of stained sweats.
You’ll have to do a little better than a coffee stained napkin. It might have worked for your business plan, but it won’t cut it for the media kit 😉
3. Get Data on Your Audience
If you really want to nail your media kit, aim for more user demographic data than:
Human, aged 20 to 65, with some type of Internet connection, and likes buying stuff
Remember, it’s the niche sites that break open your advertisers’ budgets. We’re going to touch on this more in the next section on pricing. For now, I want to draw your attention to Quantcast.
If you run Quantcast, you’ll be collecting extensive data that helps to break down the demographic segments of your visitors.
To go after big corporate advertisers and get the attention of ad firms, this is essential. It’s the Internet, afterall. They are going to have a huge spreadsheet of niche sites to consider.
Make it easy for them to open their wallets, no shakedown necessary. If they want to know that your audience matches their target audience, make sure that data is available.
Quantcast is a free service, so zero excuses here. Get the data, and get it into your media kit.
4. Make Sure the Price is Right
Oftentimes, your media kit will specify your ad rates. This will be broken down for the various types of ad placements you’re offering. This is what is going to get you tracked in the spreadsheets of savvy advertisers looking for good niche sites. Just like you, they are going to be crunching numbers.
You don’t just make up your pricing. The only way to ensure that you’re selling them for a premium over ad networks is to do your research. What are these advertisers paying for their CPC or CPM on the big ad networks? Undercutting yourself defeats the purpose of going direct.
One of the easiest methods to zero in on a base price is to take advantage of Google AdWord’s Display Planner. You can zero in on a similar audience, and then use the planner to get CPC and CPM estimates. These are the typical prices that your target advertisers would have to pay with AdWords.
Now that is the a great method and the lowest hanging fruit for pricing. However, you can also get your hands dirty and dig in for some deeper research. Sites like SellerCrowd have active discussions about particular niches, advertisers, and performance and pricing data.
If your ads are selling out too easily, perhaps you neglected to pay attention to the premium part. Do not undervalue the targeted niche traffic you are offering to your advertisers.
5. Grab CPM Data at BuySellAds
BuySellAds is a marketplace where some publishers sell off their ad inventory. This is a great source to find out how others in your niche are pricing their CPM traffic.
Search for other sites within or very closely aligned with your niche. And take note of the CPM rates. These are going to be your competitors. Check out their sites and evaluate them in comparison to your own site. If they are on par with you, they are giving you a good pricing signal.
If you are more professional than they are, perhaps they are giving you a base level price only. Then you can add an additional premium.
6. Choose Your Ad Server
Yes, this part would be kinda sorta important. When you sell your ads, you won’t be Photoshopping and uploading them one by one. At least we sure hope that isn’t what you had in mind!
You’re going to need to select an ad server. That will keep things running efficiently. However, our recommendation would be that you choose one that makes it easy to backfill your ad inventory. If you’re not selling enough direct ads, you do not want any dead air (or the digital ad equivalent).
When ad spots are open, you can fill this unsold inventory with AdSense or AdX ads. Remember, selling direct doesn’t mean that you are swearing off ad networks for good. For almost all sites, the ad networks will continue to be an important component of their incoming ad revenue.
7. Go with a Modern Design
Ok, in fairness we occasionally see high trafficked sites that haven’t had a design revision since say 1992. If anything is a testament to the power of great content, they are.
However, at Pangeo, we’re about efficiency and testing. So relying on great content to compensate for issues with design and user experience isn’t an acceptable strategy. Uh uh. Don’t make us come over there…
People don’t have to be designers to know what a modern design is. All they have to do is visit the web once or twice a day. As the web changes, so does their perception. They know what modern looks like. And they know what dated looks like too. You have to get on the right side of that equation.
Making sure you have a modern design ensures that you send an immediate trust signal. It says that your site is professional. But remember that they are evaluating the ad placements as well. If you have a great looking site with quality ad placement real estate, you’re going to win their business.
Jam everything together and they’ll either think you’re unprofessional or have concerns about how stuff like accidental clicks will inflate their ad costs. Design matters. Make it modern and professional.
8. Responsive is Modern Too
We’re not here to give you a crash course on responsive design today. If you’re not already familiar with it, responsive simply means that the site adapts itself to the size of the viewing device.
And if your website is somehow on the internet, we know that mobile devices like smartphones and tablets are a major component of your incoming traffic.
Just as a heads up, your site should be responsive anyway. You have your visitors to think about. That’s priority number one even before you start thinking about your advertiser concerns.
If users are not able to consume your content and see your ad spots, you’ll bounce users too quickly and diminish your overall monthly impressions. Nobody in the ad business can afford to do that. Every impression contributes to the bottom line.
Responsive is sometimes treated as a fail gracefully strategy. That refers to how can we make sure when the site breaks, it isn’t that bad. But that’s only the first phase.
You can actually do design that will display entirely new ad placements only for your mobile visitors — and you can hide stuff that is only suitable for laptop or desktop viewing.
Advertisers are going to respond very positively to knowing that their ad placements are going to look great on mobile views of your site.
9. Monetize Beyond Simple Ad Placements
There was a time when 480×60 ad banners were cutting edge (I don’t know, maybe). They are sort of the Atari in a world of PlayStation 4s these days.
So we’re not discrediting standard ad placements. They still generate revenue. However, there are all kinds of new innovations in the digital ad space. So not only may you discover that you’ll do more revenue with them, they are going to be immensely attractive to your advertisers.
Having those included on your advertising page and within your media kit sends another strong signal to your advertisers. Of course, they’ll also see them in action on your site. Head to head with other sites in your niche, the sites that have these new ad types will have an advantage.
- Overlay Ads
- Hellobar Sponsorships
- Pre-Roll Video Ads
- Social Media Sponsorships
- Newsletter Sponsorships
- Native Advertising Articles
- RSS Embedded Ads
There is a reason you see so many overlay ads. They are effective. You need to achieve balance.
By design, an overlay (or popup) is supposed to interrupt the user experience. What we want to avoid is that interruption causing them to simply leave the site. We want an ad click, or a dismissal that leads them to continue visiting your site.
However, the effectiveness of this ad type makes them attractive to advertisers. If you are giving them that much interruptive power over your site, make sure the premium rate charged for such a placement reflects it.
It’s easy setup definitely increases its appeal. You can open a horizontal ad or message at either the top or bottom of the site.
Now, typically you might want to use this to build your own email list. However, it’s also great ad real estate for direct advertisers looking for premium inventory. This kind of placement on a targeted niche site is very valuable.
Think of it as the evolution of the leaderboard ad that has been very commonly used above the content and below the nav bar. With a Hello Bar, you have more optimisation options and better tracking that an image based leaderboard.
Pre-Roll Video Ads
If you run video on your site, a pre-roll video ad is simply an ad that runs before the video content begins. Depending on the length and quality of the ad, it can be very effective for advertisers.
Of course, you’ll also be accessing advertisers with a video strategy. You’re going to generally see a higher concentration of larger scale advertisers exploring video.
Social Media Sponsorships
Instagram users have become notorious for this one and Snapchat users are quickly picking up on this trend, DJ Khaled pulls this off to perfection on Snapchat. So before social media platforms start shutting this type of direct interaction down, don’t miss out on the opportunity.
If you have a significant following on any of these channels (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.), then you can sell sponsorships.
Sponsored tweets are popular on Twitter. Remember, big advertisers are always looking for new channels to get an edge. When you start out your social media channels may not have enough followers. So, as DJ Khaled would say, the “Key” is to stay committed and build them up over time. When they reach critical mass, consider them as another premium ad offering to your direct advertisers.
Despite falling out of favor, depending on who you ask, in places like Silicon Valley, email isn’t going anywhere in the short term. It’s still being used. People still check their email, and businesses are still using it successfully for communications and marketing.
If you have an email or newsletter list, advertisers will be interested in sponsored email broadcasts to your users. You could either offer a full email promotion dedicated to the advertiser, or simply give them an ad placement within the copy of your usual email newsletter.
Native Advertising Articles
Native advertising has taken off in a big way. It’s essential a form of advertising that integrates with the site as content. Of course, ethically (and maybe legally in some places), it should be disclosed that it is sponsored content.
However, even when disclosed, visitors often read it in the same way they would your other organic content. That is sort of the idea behind it. They are sold to users who are somewhat less aware that they are being sold to. When you offer this kind of content, be sure to charge your biggest premiums.
RSS Embedded Ads
The Internet has an obsession with convincing us that every technology is dead or dying. A smart publisher or advertiser might ask:
“Well then, how dead is it?”.
Specifically, large drops in usage of a particular technology doesn’t mean the remaining user base isn’t valuable. They are still valuable channels.
RSS is one of those technologies in decline. Think of it as multiple streams of traffic. From the advertiser perspective, they will run ads anywhere and everywhere they can get access to their target audience — and get positive results.
So if you have an RSS feed that still has a significant audience, it’s one more place you can offer ad placements. Just add a feature to the bottom of every RSS feed pulled by your users.
All that being said, there also needs to be a demand for your inventory from your advertisers. So if your advertisers want 300×250 ad slots then by all means give it to them…by the way, they will.
10. Fill Empty Inventory with “Advertise Here”
Now before you take this suggestion as a command, remember that Adngin is a continuous testing team. So this suggestion is that you try this out. What we’re looking for is its impact on recruitment of new advertisers.
The alternative, of course, is filling your empty ad inventory with ads from AdSense or AdX, etc. We suggested that earlier. With a good ad server, it’s possible to both. And this makes for a great experiment.
You don’t get a much better call to action than saying “Advertise Here”. When you get web visitors who also happen to be advertisers checking out your site, it can get their attention. If they weren’t already vetting you for ad placements, it may cause them to do so. You simply feed the ad into your advertising page and take it from there. Test it!
11. Positive User Experience
We feel kind of sheepish having to bring this up. But you should have noticed a pervasive theme through all of our suggestions and strategies.
You have to send the message to your prospective advertisers that you are professional. They want to know your users have a good experience. And they must have a good experience as well. It’s about the impressions you make.
If you cover all the strategies that we discussed you’ll be in good shape. But we want to bring you full circle back to where we started.
Do you remember when we said the word selling twice in one sentence?
Yes, it was way up at the top of this blog entry. When you go down the path of recruiting direct advertisers, you are not in a sales role. You have to make sure that either you or your team members are up to the challenges of the role.
You can’t create a successful sales strategy for direct advertising if sales isn’t made a priority. Get into that mindset. You have to approach advertisers like a professional. And you can’t leave them hanging when they reply to you. They are the VIPs of your business model. Don’t do everything right with your site setup and then drop the ball on sales.
if you go to a business and don’t have a good experience, what happens next? Right. It’s very unlikely you’ll be open to going back to give them another shot.
You’re competing for ad budgets, so make sure you put a little focus into how good of an experience you are creating for your current and future advertisers.
Are You Ready to Target Direct Advertisers?
If you’ve been thinking about different ways to increase your ad revenue, going direct is one possibility. As we indicated, it isn’t for everyone. You have to have some significant established traffic to make it work.
There are premiums to be unlocked by going direct. We’ve given you a good roadmap of strategy in order to go in this direction. While we describe it in a straightforward way, we don’t want to under-prepare you.
Moving to a direct ad sales model is a significant undertaking. You’ll going to want to get the timing right when you pursue it.
Selling direct only works if you can do it efficiently. Give yourself a little flexibility as you ramp up. But long term you have to be exceeding what you could do by simply relying on one of the big ad networks.
Whatever happens, as your site scales in traffic, eventually going direct is an unavoidable necessity. 30%+ ad revenue sharing to your ad networks gets very significant as your traffic grows. Just remember, if anyone asks, you didn’t hear it from us.
Eyal Katz is head of marketing at Pangeo. Eyal also likes long walks on the beach at sunset, having a cocktail with friends, and listening to Swedish Death Metal