By the end of my undergrad college years, most of my income was coming from my websites. This was 6-7 years ago (damn, time flies!).
Back then, I always struggled with monetization. I was playing the ad revenue game, which is a tough game–particularly, if you rely mostly on Google AdSense. That’s when I began to shift my focus and research from AdSense to direct ad sales.
Around that time, the big thing to sell was sitewide footer links on a highly indexed site with good PageRank. I sold hundreds of dollars worth of those footer links. I sold them as monthly subscriptions, so month over month, my income would increase, as I continued to pack in those footer links.
These days, due to changes in Google’s algorithm, sitewides aren’t nearly as hot of a commodity. Nonetheless, the ways to find and make a direct ad sale from the years yonder still apply today. I know this, because, just last month, for LocalClericalJobs.com (the subject of my 300K Case Study), I made $100+ worth of direct ad sales.
Here’s how you make direct ad sales.
First, in other to make a direct ad sale, you need have a compelling ad offering–i.e. value proposition–for your potential buyers. There are essentially 2 reasons why someone would buy an ad from you:
- SEO – For SEO purposes, you want to be selling text ads. These buyers look for 3 primary things: 1) a related niche, 2) a good PageRank, and 3) a high number of indexed pages.
- Traffic - For gaining visitors, you want to be selling graphic ads (e.g. banners, buttons). These buyers look for 3 primary things: 1) a related niche, 2) your traffic (uniques), and 3) ad size and location.
It’s best to have all 3 criteria for the type of ad you’re selling, but it’s not necessary. For LocalClericalJobs.com, my value proposition was based on a very high number of indexed pages. Here, take a look at the ad I posted at DigitalPoint: direct ad sale example.
How do you price your ad?
The best way to determine this is just to check out what other similar ads are selling for. This quick and dirty research gives you a sense of the market rate for your ad. For most ads, I like to price it slightly below market, so that I can generate more ad sales. After all, the beauty of selling ads is that you usually have an unlimited inventory to sell. It’s not like you’re selling a bike, where you want to get the best price possible. With a text ad, if the market price is $10/mo, I would rather price mine at $6/mo and sell 2 (making me $12/mo) than to only sell 1 (at $10/mo). Note that this doesn’t apply to ads with very limited spots (e.g. a leaderboard ad at the top of the page).
Also, be aware that different marketplaces have different market prices. Therefore, you can price discriminate across market places. More on this in a bit.
So, where can I sell my ad?
For LocalClericalJobs.com, I tried out 3 forum-based marketplaces. Here they are, along with my thoughts on each.
- DigitalPoint – Link Sales Forum – Of the 3, DigitalPoint has the biggest market for link sales. I’ve had the greatest success here, as well. To do your research on the market price, just do a search “[WTS]” (which stands for “Want to Sell”) and your niche. Because this forum is so active, prices here are also very competitive (i.e. low). Note that as a regular member, you’re only allowed 1 thread bump a month. (If you’re premium member, you can bump once a week.) Posting here is free.
- WarriorForum – Reciprocal Links Buy Sell Swap – This forum is semi-active. You can bump your thread with a reply to it, which is great. I had moderate success here. The market price here is also slightly higher than DigitalPoint and SitePoint. Posting here is free.
- SitePoint Market – Web Ad Space – The SitePoint market has the least activity among the 3. SitePoint used to have a very active link sales forum integrated with SitePoint Forums. However, it has since been separated out to the SitePoint Market, which is a different part of the site. It even requires a separate registration process from the forum. Ridiculous, I say! I had low success selling ads here. It’s hard to determine what the market price is, but I gauge it’s between that of DigitalPoint and WarriorForum, closer to DigitalPoint. Posting here costs $10–more if you want to add bells and whistles–per 30 days.
In addition to these forum marketplaces, you can also try a number of other similar webmaster forums. Unfortunately, I don’t have experience with others. Another channel to advertise your available ad spots is your newsletter/mailing list. I had decent success with this, but obviously, your success will depend on the size and responsiveness of your list. If you don’t have a list, you can go to the WarriorForum Joint Venture Forum to find people selling solo ads on their mailing lists.
Alright, so that’s Direct Ad Sales 101 in a nutshell. I’ll leave you with one last thought to munch on. When most people do research in picking a niche for a site, they focus on monetization through AdSense, right? They use the Google AdWord Keyword Tool to find niches that would generate a large amounts of traffic and assume that traffic will convert to AdSense clicks. But, what if you’re aim is to monetize through direct ad sales? Then, the best way to research a niche is to go to these forum marketplaces and see what ads are in hot demand. How do you do this? Just go to the Digital Link Sales Forum and do a search for “WTB”–i.e. “Want to Buy.” See what niche has a lot of buyers and create a site targeting these buyers.