Online Marketing Lesson 44: Direct Advertising and Sponsorships

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Direct advertising deals and sponsorships represent one of the most efficient ways to monetize content based websites (i.e., blogs, online magazines, news portals and the like). In this lesson we will highlight the pros and cons of this strategy, analyze the types of websites that are more suitable for it, and list some places that you can use to find advertisers and sponsors for your site.

The Pros and Cons

While direct advertising deals and sponsorships work well on many websites, they are not a panacea. Just like any other monetization strategy, this one has its pros and cons, and below we will highlight them.

The Pros

  • Profitability: the main advantage of selling your ads directly is the fact that you cut out the middleman, making the ads more profitable. Most ad networks take up a commission from web publishers, which can be as high as 50% of the ad revenues generated. If you sell the ads directly, therefore, you will be able to get 100% of the revenues generated from your website.
  • Flexibility: If you serve ads from a network, you need to play by their rules. Selling ads directly, on the other hand, gives you much more flexibility, because you will be working closely with the advertisers and sponsors. For example, you will be able to receive the money quicker, to negotiate discounts for long term buys, to create special campaigns for different sponsors and so on.
  • Credibility: having sponsors and direct advertisers on your website might increase your credibility. Most small and spam-looking websites are monetized with Google AdSense or with low quality ad networks, while professional and authoritative websites usually have sponsorship deals with respected companies.

The Cons

  • Time consuming: selling your own ads will consume some time, especially when you are getting started with it. You will need to setup the ads on your website, find the sponsors, negotiate the terms with them, handle the payments, track the statistics and so on.
  • Unstable: the advantage of working with ad networks is that they provide a relatively stable source of revenues. If you sell your own ads you might find yourself with many advertisers in a given month and very few the next.
  • Many requirements: as we will cover below, your website needs to meet some requirements before you will be able to sell direct ads effectively for it. The same is not true with ad networks, which work with virtually any website, regardless of its size and quality.

The Requirements

Unfortunately, not every website will be able to sell direct ads and sponsorships efficiently. There are two basic requirements that you must meet:

1. Your website must have a large audience

You need to have high volume traffic to be able to sell direct ads and sponsorships, else the whole process will not be worth your time. For instance, if you are getting just 200 unique visitors per day, you will need to spend a lot of time to find a sponsor willing to give your a site a try. Moreover, you will not be able to charge much for the ad space, and the advertiser will probably cancel the deal after the first month.

What is considered “high volume traffic” will depend on the niche of the site in question. As a rule of thumb, the more popular and wider the niche, the higher the traffic that you will need to sell direct ads, and the narrower the niche, the lower the traffic that you will need. If you have a blog about technology, for instance, you should aim to have at least 100,000 monthly unique visitors before you start selling direct ads. If you have a site about orchids, on the other hand, you could start selling the ads with 30,000 monthly unique visitors.

2. Your website must have a targeted audience

The higher the focus of your website, the easier it will be to find direct advertisers and sponsors. If you have a personal blog where you talk about politics, technology, fitness and environmental issues, you will have a hard time finding advertisers, because they won’t be able to identify the profile of your audience. On a website that publishes web hosting reviews, on the other hand, it would be really easy to find interested sponsors (provided the traffic is adequate), because the audience of such website is very targeted. Virtually all the visitors there are interested in learning about good hosting companies.

The Design

While this is not a requirement, having a clean and professionally designed website can certainly help in landing sponsors and direct advertisers. Remember that by advertising on your site those companies will be associating their brand with yours, and they will only do it if there is a good match.

Additionally, you want to make sure that advertisers will get good exposure. There are basically three sections that you should consider to place your ad spots, and each of them has some common ad formats.

The first place is the header of your website. The common formats for that spot are the 468×60 banner and the 720×90 leaderboard.

The second place is the sidebar. The most common format here is the 125×125 button, followed by the 300×250 rectangle and the 120×600 wide skyscraper.

The third place is at the bottom of single post pages, where advertisers usually look for a 300×250 rectangle.

Adhering to these common formats is not necessary, but it is usually a good idea, because most advertisers have banners already designed in the standard sizes.

Serving The Ads

Before you start looking for advertisers and sponsors, you need to figure out how you are going to serve the ads and track the statistics. Below we are going to list four methods that you can use.

1. HTML

Serving the ads with HTML tags is the easiest way. You simply need to create a section on your design that will hold the ads (for instance in the header or sidebar), upload the banners to your server, and then load them on your website with HTML image tags (wrapping the image tag with a link pointing to the site of the advertiser).

The advantage of this method is that it is easy to setup, it won’t slow the load time of your sites, and it also gets passed through ad blockers. The disadvantage is that you won’t be able to track statistics or provide advanced reports to the advertisers.

If you want to be able to track the clicks with this method, however, you can use a URL redirection script. Instead of making the banners point to www.advertiser.com, for instance, you create an internal redirect and make them point to www.yoursite.com/go/advertiser. Upon clicking there the user will end on the site of the advertiser anyway, but you will be able to track the clicks.

2. WordPress Plugins

WordPress has a wide range of plugins for ad management. WP-125, for instance, allows you to manage your 125×125 ad units easily. It supports one and two columns of ads, tracks the clicks, can display the ads in a random order and also has an automatic inventory filler when an ad spot is free.

WPAds is a similar plugin, with the difference that it supports any banner size and format. You can create different ad zones inside your website and specify which banners should run where, and how often.

Finally, you also have OIOpublisher, which is a paid ad management plugin. It costs $47, and its main advantage is the automation that it can create for your ad selling process.

3. OpenX

If you are looking for an advanced solution, you should try OpenX.org (formerly known as PhpAdsNew). This open source software is one of the most advanced ad servers on the market, and it comes with a wide range of features and reporting options.

The only drawback to using OpenX is the relatively steep learning curve. You will need to spend some time learning how to install it on your server, configure and use the software.

A couple of months ago OpenX also launched a hosted solution, though, where you don’t need to install the software on your web server. This version is also free up to 100 million monthly ad impressions, which is enough even for large web publishers.

4. BuySellAds.com

BuySellAds.com is a service that tries to combine the advantages of selling sponsorships with the features of an ad network. Signing up for the service is free, and you can add as many sites to your account as you want. After that you will need to create ad zones on each of your websites, and advertisers will be able to purchase those ads automatically via the BuySellAds.com platform.

The main benefit of this service is the automation of the ad selling process, and the access to their pool of advertisers. The drawback is the fact that they will take 25% of your ad revenues as commissions.

Action Points

  1. Review the pros and cons of selling direct ads and sponsorships, and decide whether or not this monetization strategy is the right one for you.
  2. Evaluate whether or not you meet the two main requirements to sell direct ads efficiently. If you don’t, work on them.
    Make any necessary adaptions to your design to be able to support the most common ad formats.
  3. Choose one of the ad serving methods that we listed in this lesson and implement it in your website.

Navigation Links

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