Bloggers and website owners are always looking to get advertisers and sponsors on board. Selling your ads directly, in fact, is one of the most profitable monetization strategies.
How to do that efficiently, though?
Instead of answering it ourselves, we decided to ask the CEOs and marketing managers of some online companies. Who better than the people actually spending the money to give us advice on that topic, after all?
Here is the a list of the participants:
- Patrick Gavin from Text Link Ads (Ad Network)
- Dmitry Buterin from Wild Apricot (Social Software)
- Fraser Kelton from AdaptiveBlue (Widgets and Software)
- Cory Miller from iThemes (Premium Themes)
- Zac Johnson from ZacJohnson.com (Affiliate Marketing)
1. How much does your company spend monthly in online advertising? How is that number changing over the time?
Patrick: Sorry I can’t put an exact figure for you but safe to say tens of thousands of dollars. It has stayed relatively stable over time as we try to just buy in places where it converts well and use a portion of the budget to rotate in and out new test sites.
Dmitry: Sorry, can not disclose. Quite a bit.
Fraser: Anywhere from $0 – $2,000. It fluctuates on a month-to-month basis as we experiment with what works and what doesn’t.
Niz: Our company spends around $2500 monthly in online advertising. This keeps on changing with time, depending upon the number of clients and work we are able to pull off. If we are overwhelmed with work, we usually drop on the costs of our PPC campaigns.
Cory: iThemes spends less than $2000 a month currently. That number will depend on how well we develop a community and client base.
Frank: I can’t give you the number but it does vary over time. We are always testing out new advertising methods. Starting up new ones and closing off ones that no longer perform.
Zac: While most projects are on auto-pilot with search and viral marketing, ad costs can vary monthly form $500-$10,000 a month depending on what I’m focusing on.
David: Our company spends around $1,000 a month in advertising costs, because we focus most of our efforts on word of mouth.
2. How is that amount divided into PPC, direct banners, single event sponsorships and other formats?
Patrick: Roughly 50% PPC and 50% banners.
Dmitry: PPC — 50%. Direct banners — the rest.
Fraser: It’s split between PPC and 125×125 banners. We’re exploring a few sponsorship ideas.
Niz: Around $1000-$1500 are direct banners on popular websites/blogs, and the remaining is PPC. We also sometimes take few sponsored reviews now and then.
Cory: Right now, it’s just direct banners. We’ll be starting PPC soon.
Frank: We do some PPC and mostly banners/sponsorship. PPC in the web hosting world is very competitive.
Zac: I prefer to promote web sites and direct campaigns through PPC, while setting up banners, articles and contest sponsorships for blogs.
David: We spend very little in PPC and direct banners, but we really like blog contests. If I had to put some numbers, I’d say 20% PPC, 10% banners, and 70% word of mouth such as blog contest sponsorships.
3. Do you mind getting approached directly by site owners? If yes why? If no, what information should be included to capture your attention?
Patrick: I definitely don’t mind. The biggest issue is at times the opportunities that come direct in general are of the small nature which can be difficult to manage many such deals direct at once.
Dmitry: No. Ability to test-drive the offering. The number of visitors/hits etc. is pretty meaningless per se — it’s a question of a match with audience. If I can do a 1 or 2 weeks test drive and see my clicks and sign-ups then I can know what it is worth to me.
Fraser: It depends on the format of the email. If the email from the site owner is clearly a template then it’s rarely well received. I’m okay receiving direct email if the blogger has spent a few moments to tailor the email towards our company and needs. Share as much information/stats as possible in the original email: traffic, price, options, etc. as well as why the audience of the site makes sense for our product/service.
Niz: No, we don’t mind anyone contacting us directly. You should explain to us, how you can help us in popularizing our name, so that people start talking about us. Tell us why the price you are charging is worth our money. And, even better if there is a special offer, like free for the first month or a couple of weeks or something like that.
Cory: Yes and no. No, I don’t mind if the site has good deals compared with traffic and target audience. But yes, I mind it when it’s obvious they’ve seen an ad on another competing site and email to solicit with nothing really to offer. I have noticed though that because we’ve advertised on a number of blogs, we’re getting more advertising “calls” now.
Frank: We don’t mind getting contact at all as long as the content is relevant.
Zac: When being contacted by a web site, trying to pursued me to by advertising on their site, it should never be a copy/paste email that’s sent to many other blogs and should also offer a discount or special deal, as its an un-requested offer. I much prefer to advertise with site owners I currently already know or blogs I’m already a reader of.
David: Not at all. We, and our clients, are always looking for unique advertising opportunities that aren’t publicly displayed. Clear information on terms, like pricing and length, and readership numbers would capture my attention, especially if its a good value or could have a very positive return on investment.
4. How important is the design of a blog to an advertiser? What aspects are good and which turn you down?
Patrick: I think it is very important to portray a professional design as it gives the advertiser confidence in the quality of the property. Another important factor is where on the page the ads will appear.
Dmitry: Not very important, as long as it works for readers.
Fraser: Somewhat important, but not critical. If the design obscures the ad units then obviously it’s a negative thing. We’ve experienced some of our best results from poorly designed sites because the audience of the site was targeted for our product.
Niz: As an advertiser, we must be able to get a lot of click-throughs and exposure to our ads. If the publisher uses something like “Recommendations” instead of “Sponsors”, that is an extra positive point for us. The blog should be neat (and not messy). Also, your blog shouldn’t compromise on your actual readers’ experience, as only then it can reach a large number of people, which was the first reason we thought of advertising on your blog. There are a lot of paid premium wordpress themes available in the market which are ideal for the purpose.
Cory: Very important. If the ad is buried behind the design, then it’s not an attractive offer. As a publisher, you have to offer value to your advertisers, or they won’t continue advertising. For us, that translates into exposure and clicks. In the first five seconds I’m on a site I can tell if an ad on that site offers us value — in exposure and clicks.
Frank: The blog design is really not important to us. Content that is relative to hosting is much more important.
Zac: I would not want to advertise on a blog where the advertisements are lost or hidden. Ultimately though, it comes down to the blog user quality.
David: For us, design is particularly important. We liked to be associated with websites and brands that care about their image as well. A custom designed website and logo are a big plus and one major negative is excessively flashy advertisements.
5. What other factors do you look for when selecting the websites where you will buy advertising?
Patrick: Where the ads will appear. How many other advertisers will appear. Who are those other advertisers. Will a sponsored post thanking sponsors be included to ensure reach of rss readers.
Dmitry: Audience matching our target niche.
Fraser: Without a doubt the best results have occurred when the ad was on a blog with an audience that was a perfect fit for our product. The readership/traffic can be substantially lower than other sites, but because the fit is ideal the results are great. RSS subscriptions are important only as a proxy for overall traffic, but not a valuable metric on its own. How active the community is (# of comments) is more important than feed subscriptions but is not a stat that’s often cited.
Niz: The following questions pop up in our heads when we buy advertising: Will it help us getting our name out there, building our brand, people start noticing us and hopefully start talking about us? Is it related to our theme? Will the visitors on the website be interested in what we have to offer? Is the website popular enough for our purpose? Will it offer any advantage(s) from SEO point of view? Is the guy/girl behind the website friendly and helpful enough to get started as an advertiser on his/her website? Is all of the above worth the money? Will I be able to pull off a decent ROI?
Cory: Target audience and cost. I’ve already mentioned exposure and the potential for clicks (traffic), but one of the first things I look for when advertising is the target audience that a blog offers. I believe you need to offer a niche audience to advertisers. It’ll make your job easier and more likely to sell out your ad inventory if you cater to a specific group of people.
Frank: I’m going to sound like a broken record but relevant content is most important. When we advertise on blogs it would make no sense to be on a political blog (as an example). Blogs about blogging, design blogs, webmaster blogs are example of places where we do advertise.
Zac: The most important factor to selecting a blog to advertise on, is choosing a blog with relevant content and that can provide readers whom my blog and relate with. Second is ad pricing. Without a balance between the two, most ad campaigns won’t succeed.
David: Some of the factors we look at when selecting a website where we will buy advertising are (in no particular order): traffic and readership numbers, content, reader demographics, number of RSS subscribers, price and length of advertising, advertisement size and placement, main source of traffic, pagerank.
6. How do you track results? Do you think reporting is an important side of the equation?
Patrick: Yes we do and it is important. Obviously it is difficult to measure brand awareness created but measuring traffic and more importantly publisher and advertiser sign ups is key.
Dmitry: This is the biggest part of the equation! We use Google Analytics. Knowing how the blog audience changes over time is very important to baseline the data. Ability to rotate different creatives is very attractive and important.
Fraser: We track click-throughs, and then have set-up goals within google analytics so that we can track what the conversion rate is. reporting is a critical side of the equation. we’ve discovered that some low-traffic, highly-targeted sites have yielded better results than other high-traffic sites. figuring out cost / conversion is the important result to track because you can normalize a number of advertising channels (cpc, display ads, sponsorship, etc) and compare apples-to-apples.
Niz: We track the “referrer” of our each sale/lead on our website through PHP. It is very important to know where your sales/leads come from so that you can plan ahead.
Cory: Currently, click-thrus…. Reporting is very important to me. I want to see that people are arriving on our site and being exposed to our products. (Ultimately, we’d love them to become customers. But right now, we’re more focused on brand awareness.)
Frank: Tracking clicks is extremely important. On some blogs we can’t track things at all. Other blogs use tracking system and yet other let us use our own system. Our system (of course) works best for us as it tracks all the way through conversion.
Zac: Google Analytics, RSS and blog reader emails/comments are my favorite ways to track results. Nothing beats getting actual user feedback from new readers.
David: We track results via lead conversions using Google Analytics and Google Adwords. However, we also track results by number of visitors, how long they stayed, if other people wrote about our website, etc. There’s a lot more to “results” than direct leads and a lot of companies don’t realize that yet.
7. If you could give one advice for a blogger aiming to get more sponsors and advertisers, what would it be?
Patrick: It would go without saying to increase readership is the biggest factor but in addition it would be to package in value ads like a sponsor post and possibly multiple ad unit runs on the same page to ensure the advertiser is getting seen by the visitors.
Dmitry: Be responsive and proactive in talking to advertisers. E.g. sometimes we need to change a creative — it’s important to get quick turnaround on that.
Fraser: Sell and be responsive. it blows me away that a blogger looking for sponsors or advertisers is not responsive. I’ll send emails inquiring about advertising or asking for stats and far too often I’ll get an email with too little information or, even worse, a response a week or two later. in many cases it feels like you expect us – the advertiser – to work hard to place our ad on your site, which is the completely the wrong way to approach the situation.
Niz: Ask the price which is absolutely worth it, accompanied with some special offer. Additionally, read the above answers carefully and see what we want from you and try to provide us with those things.
Cory: The one piece of advice I was give bloggers is … provide value to your advertisers and build a relationship with them. Go above and beyond to court clients. Offer incentives, bonuses. And just be responsive to their inquiries. I’ve had a couple of advertisers just point me back to their advertising information page. Then others have checked in periodically to ask how things are going, or even do posts about their new advertisers. Those kinds of publishers will most likely get more of our ad budget.
Frank: Target the right advertisers and price things properly for your web site. Don’t try to run too many ads either. Most sites need to start out small (number of advertisers and price) and then as your site / reputation increases so can your pricing.
Zac: Provide quality content and aim to please the advertiser. It’s much easier to keep one advertiser in the long run, then having to try and find a new one each month. Cater to your advertisers by making them deals, pointing them out in various posts and rewarding them with quality traffic.
David: Have a clear advertising page. Make sure it includes current readership numbers, RSS subscribes, what’s included in the advertisement, what payment is accepted, if their are openings, reader demographics, how to contact you for more information, and testimonials from current advertisers.
1. Flexible budget. Apparently the advertisers have a flexible budget, which might increase or decrease month over month, depending on their requirements and on the available opportunities.
2. 50% PPC, 50% banners. Most advertisers reported a quite balanced division between PPC and banner advertising, which should indicate a favorable scenario for websites selling banner space directly. Other advertising methods such as event sponsorships and sponsored reviews are also considered.
3. No canned emails, please. Advertisers do not mind getting approached directly, but if they notice that you just used the same template to dozens of companies they might skip it.
4. Be clear. Additionally, if you are going to contact a potential advertisers directly, make sure to include all the necessary information (e.g., price, traffic, type of audience) and possibly to include a special offer or deal (e.g., free trial period) to entice the advertisers.
5. Design is important, but not critical. Some companies might prefer stylish websites, but most of them are just concerned with the position of the ads. As long as they are in a visible position, where they will get both exposure and clicks, the companies are fine.
6. Relevant audience is vital. The most important factor for advertisers is by far the relevance of the audience and of the content. Keep this in mind the next time you decide to contact an advertisers that is not related to your niche.
7. Other factors. Other factors that advertisers might take into consideration include the price, traffic, number of RSS subscribers, and activity of the community (comments).
8. Offer additional features: The ability to rotate creatives is important to some advertisers. Secondly, writing a “thank you” post that will reach your RSS subscribers might also be a plus in their view.
9. Tracking the results. Most advertisers are concerned with click-through rates mainly. Google Analytics is a popular tool for that purpose.
10. Be responsive! The biggest turn off for advertisers is when the website or blog owner is not responsive. Answer to their queries promptly, provide sufficient details, and make sure that they are getting value out of the deal. It is about building relationships and win-win situations, after all.