Successful Strategies For Selling Ad Space On Low-Traffic Websites

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Upon first thinking about it, the idea of selling advertising on a website or blog with limited traffic seems a bit daft. After all, aren’t most advertisers interested in putting their product in front of the highest number of eyeballs possible? Approaching them with piddly visitor numbers seems like a surefire way to end up in the deleted folder.

But though it may feel like putting the cart before the horse, there are many good reasons and ways to sell ad space on low-traffic websites. What you need to always keep in mind is that, while advertisers are drawn to high traffic numbers, they desire something else even more: high conversion rates. There are plenty of success stories of websites that have limited traffic but sell a ton of advertising. These websites succeed because they do one thing well: they deliver the right type of customer to the right type of business.

You may also want to take a look at our previous related articles:

What Do You Have To Offer?

Now, before you rush off and draft your first advertising offer, take a page from the Greeks and “know thyself.” This means you have to research your website first so that you can pitch it effectively to potential advertisers. Here are some good ways to research your website and its audience.

Clicky

Clicky3

Clicky4 has the advantage of providing real-time analytics, unlike Google Analytics. Areas to look out for are:

  • What do people look at when they visit my website?
  • What are my most popular pages?
  • What pages do people stay on the longest?
  • What keywords do they use to find my website?

With this knowledge, you can develop a picture of what interests your visitors and what kinds of advertisers would pay for access to people with those types of interests.

Here are some other analytical tools:

  • Piwik5: Open-source analytics that you install on your server.
  • Woopra6: Real-time analytics. The free plan is limited to 30,000 page views per month.
  • W3Counter7: Free hosted website analytics.

Poll Your Traffic

Getting feedback8

To delve even further into your visitors’ interests, put together a quick poll to find out what makes them tick. With a polling service, you can quickly put together a questionnaire that sheds further light on where your advertising focus should be. To get the best results from your survey, make it short, and perhaps even give away a gift to make it worth the respondents’ time. People rarely fill out surveys without an incentive.

Polling services include the following:

If you would rather not go this route, a simple request for feedback might work. Just put the word out that you are looking for input and then ask for comments.

Keep Your Ear to the Ground

Tweet Deck
Here, in the Smashing Magazine Team, we are monitoring all mentions of our products and services and reply to our customers when they have problems, ask for support or just share their opinions.

Another great way to find out what interests your audience is to track what people say about you on social networking websites such as Twitter13 and Facebook14. Twitter lets you track mentions of your website or a particular phrase in tweets. See which of your posts gets a lot of retweets or what people are saying about your website.

Also, watch for articles that get bookmarked on Delicious15 and other social bookmarking websites. Searching for your domain name reveals articles that have been the most interesting to your visitors.

Finding Advertisers

Now that you have a good understanding of your website’s traffic, it’s time to get out there and find advertisers. Is there a minimum number of visitors you should have before approaching advertisers? While nothing is set in stone, 500 to 1000 unique daily visitors is probably a good starting point. However, numbers below these can still be workable, especially if your audience is highly targeted.

Here are some places to find advertisers:

  • What websites link to yours?
    One place to look for advertisers is in your own analytics. Look for websites that currently link to yours and that offer a service or product you could advertise.
  • Who’s commenting?
    Visit your commenters’ websites to find any advertising or promotional opportunities.
  • Let Google AdWords lead the way.
    If you run Google AdWords16, make note of which advertisements come up. After all, they are already spending money with Google, and Google is saying that your website is a good match for theirs. Approach them with an advertising opportunity that would give them greater visibility than what Google AdWords can deliver.
  • Research websites with similar content.
    Who is advertising on those websites? They would probably be interested in your website, too.
  • What names jump out?
    After compiling your visitor’s interests, some businesses may immediately spring to mind. These businesses will likely gel with your content. Make a list of them and contact them directly.

Check out the following article for additional information:

How to Approach Advertisers

Now that you know about your website’s visitors, you will want to draft an advertising package to present to potential advertisers. Here are a few things you may want to include:

  • Demonstrate visitor interest.
    List the interests of your website’s visitors. Advertisers want to know that what they’re selling will appeal to your visitors.
  • Disclose bounce rate, average time on site and page views.
    Advertisers will want to know how sticky your website is. If much of your traffic stays for only a few seconds, advertisers would want to know that. The longer your traffic sticks around, the higher the chance that ads will be seen and clicked.
  • Showcase your monthly stats.
    Advertisers will want to know your website’s statistics over several months to see what kind of increase you have had and how many unique visitors you are getting per month. A steady climb in traffic shows great potential.
  • Track outbound links.
    You certainly don’t want to overpromise the number of clicks an ad will receive. If you’ve been tracking outbound links with a service such as Google Ad Manager18, you will have pretty concrete numbers to work with when approaching advertisers (assuming, of course, that you have already run at least one test advertisement on your website).
  • Keep it personal.
    Don’t blanket email advertisers with a cut-and-pasted pitch. Advertisers will more likely respond if they feel you have personally researched their product and matched it carefully to your website.

These statistics will be a great help when you are ready to approach your first advertiser. Your goal is to show how you’ll be able to leverage your audience to deliver a highly targeted customer to them. Doing that successfully will show value even if your traffic is relatively low.

To give you a real-life example, I recently ran some advertising on a website that averaged 92,000 daily page views, along with one that had only 2,000. The website with less traffic brought in 41 clicks, while the bigger website brought in only 2. Which website do you think I would spend my advertising dollars on? Traffic is one thing, but conversion numbers are much more important.

Keep Advertisers Happy

Happy dude

So, you’ve landed your first advertiser. Good work! But getting the advertiser is merely the first step. If you want to develop a long-term relationship with your advertisers, you’ll need to know how to keep them happy:

  • Give them the information they want.
    Conversation rates are king. To keep advertisers happy, deliver information on how their ads are doing. The good news is that most ad-management services have built-in reporting that sends advertisers updates on how their ads are doing.
  • Promote your website.
    Give your advertisers your best content and promotions. That may mean holding back some premium content while you get advertisers lined up, especially if you will be guest posting or foresee a huge spike in traffic. You want all of your ads positioned so that they can take advantage of that new traffic.
  • Keep them informed.
    Introducing a new ad size? Writing a new series of articles? Give your current advertisers the first crack at these premium ads spots.
  • Run promotions.
    Advertisers love a deal. Sweeten the pot with occasional promotions. This is a great way to bring back former advertisers that have recently dropped out.
  • Get feedback.
    Ask your advertisers outright what they think. They’ll appreciate that you care, and you will receive a heap of useful information that you can use to improve your ad strategy.

Sell Ads Yourself Or Join A Network?

Handling your own advertising or joining a large advertising network each has its pros and cons. Some large networks may not give you the time of day if you don’t have enough traffic to begin with. Here are some ways to sell advertising; you can mix and match methods to come up with your own solution.

Sell Directly

OpenX19

If you prefer the hands-on approach, then you’ll probably want to sell your advertising spots directly to advertisers. Using one of the following programs will alleviate some of the stress that comes with selling directly:

For more options and management tips, check out the article Ad Management Plug-Ins And Tutorials For Your Website24.

Remember, handling your own ad sales will net you the biggest slice of the profit, but it also requires the most work.

  • Limit your offering.
    No advertiser wants to see 10 different “Advertise Here” boxes on your website. Start small by offering one advertising slot, and then increase as you sell them.
  • Get the word out.
    Use social network websites such as Twitter to spread the news that you have advertising spots available. You don’t want to spam your network, but an occasional reminder won’t hurt.
  • Partner with websites with similar interests.
    If your traffic is too low to attract the kind of advertisers you’re interested in, why not partner with other websites that share your interest? Start your own mini-network, and then offer advertisers the opportunity to pay one price to advertise on multiple websites.
  • Start a promotion.
    In the beginning, you may have to give away ad spots for nothing or next to nothing. So, offer a promotion to get advertisers in the door. If you’ve done your research and you deliver high-quality traffic, those advertisers will be much more willing to pay when the promotion runs out. Remember to track outbound traffic on these links because it contains valuable information that you can use when you contact your next advertiser.

Selling Through Ad Networks

Ad networks can put you in touch with many more advertisers, but they also take a chunk of your bottom line. Often this chunk will be negligible, considering the network will allow you to sell more ad space. Here are a few good networks to try:

BuySellAds.com25
Unless you live in a cave, you’ve probably already heard of BuySellAds.com. Though a relative newcomer to the advertising scene, BuySellAds.com has achieved great market penetration. One caveat is that it focuses on websites for designers and developers. So, if your website falls beyond this category, you may want to try elsewhere.

BuySellAds26

Project Wonderful27
Project Wonderful is a great place to start your advertising campaign because its prerequisite to join is relatively low. The idea behind the website is to allow potential advertisers to bid on your ad spots. The more that advertisers want what you offer, the higher your daily advertising rate. While Project Wonderful promises to bring advertisers to you, you may find yourself sitting in the $0 per day budget range as you build traffic or until an advertiser decides to take a chance on you.

Project Wonderful28

Chitika29
Chitika is a little different than other ad networks because it scans the search strings of people who are directed to your website and then serves up ads that match those search strings. Think of it like Google AdSense with a twist.

Chitika30

Whichever ad network you choose, make sure it pays per click (i.e. pays money for every click the ad gets) rather than uses CPM (i.e. money for every thousand views your website gets).

Here are some additional ad networks:

Be Careful With Your Advertising

Not all advertisers will be a good fit for your website, and you may be forced to decide whether to run an ad that falls beyond your website’s objectives. For example, you’ve probably seen hundreds of websites lately that advertise teeth whitening and weight loss services. While the revenue from such ads is probably good, would the ads be appropriate for your audience?

Ask yourself these questions before deciding to run an ad:

  • Does this ad fit the content of my website?
  • Would the ad offend or annoy my visitors?
  • Would it distract visitors from the content?
  • Would it call into question the integrity of my website?

Always remember that any advertisement that drives away traffic from your website, even if it pays wells, will ultimately hurt rather than help. You will hear loud and clear from your community if it thinks you have sold out for advertising dollars. Don’t let it get to that point; set firm advertising standards ahead of time.

You may be interested in the following further reading:

Summary

Selling advertising on a low-traffic website doesn’t have to be mission impossible. With the right research and pitch, you’re well on your way to landing your first advertiser. Figuring out what works for you and your website doesn’t mean picking one strategy and sticking with it. Try multiple approaches, and track the results. Whether you prefer to sell your own ad spots, partner with other websites or join a network, mix and match methods to create a strategy that works for you. Advertising on your website is an ongoing organic process that takes research, patience and time.

Have you had success in displaying ads on your website? What has worked for you? We’d love to hear your tips in the comments!

Additional Resources

About the Author

When Travis King is not using all of his energy to survive the frozen Canadian tundra, he spends his time as a freelance Web designer49 and writer50 for FreelanceSwitch. In an attempt to control his obsession with Japan, he also runs one of Canada’s premier Japan travel websites: I Heart Japan51.

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Footnotes

  1. 1 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/06/19/ad-management-plugins-and-tutorials-for-managing-ads-on-your-website/
  2. 2 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2008/12/03/online-advertising-and-its-impact-on-web-design/
  3. 3 http://getclicky.com/
  4. 4 http://getclicky.com/
  5. 5 http://piwik.org
  6. 6 http://www.woopra.com
  7. 7 http://www.w3counter.com/
  8. 8 http://vector.tutsplus.com/articles/news/looking-for-feedback-on-vectortuts/
  9. 9 http://www.surveymonkey.com/
  10. 10 http://polldaddy.com/
  11. 11 http://www.micropoll.com/
  12. 12 http://strawpollnow.com/welcome/
  13. 13 http://twitter.com/
  14. 14 http://www.facebook.com/
  15. 15 http://delicious.com/
  16. 16 http://adwords.google.com
  17. 17 http://www.dailyblogtips.com/how-to-find-advertisers-for-your-website-the-ultimate-guide/
  18. 18 https://www.google.com/admanager/
  19. 19 http://www.openx.org
  20. 20 http://www.openx.org
  21. 21 http://www.oiopublisher.com/
  22. 22 http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/random-ads
  23. 23
  24. 24 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/06/19/ad-management-plugins-and-tutorials-for-managing-ads-on-your-website
  25. 25 http://buysellads.com/
  26. 26 http://buysellads.com/
  27. 27 http://www.projectwonderful.com/
  28. 28 http://www.projectwonderful.com/
  29. 29 http://chitika.com/
  30. 30 http://chitika.com/
  31. 31 http://www.adbrite.com/
  32. 32 http://www.adify.com/
  33. 33 http://exchange.contextweb.com/
  34. 34 http://www.valueclickmedia.com/
  35. 35 https://www.google.com/adsense/
  36. 36 http://decknetwork.net/
  37. 37 http://publisher.yahoo.com/
  38. 38 http://www.networksolutions.com/education/website-paid-advertising/
  39. 39 http://www.ojr.org/ojr/people/robert/200901/1635/
  40. 40 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/06/19/ad-management-plugins-and-tutorials-for-managing-ads-on-your-website/
  41. 41 http://line25.com/articles/selling-ad-space-tips-from-top-design-blog-owners
  42. 42 http://www.doshdosh.com/direct-advertising-sales-beginners-monetization-strategies/
  43. 43 http://www.catswhoblog.com/which-ad-network-should-works-best-on-your-blog
  44. 44 http://www.doshdosh.com/how-to-set-advertising-rates-direct-ad-sales/
  45. 45 http://www.iab.net/iab_products_and_industry_services/508676/508767/UAP
  46. 46 http://www.cdfnetworks.com/the-13-pay-per-click-network-challenge/
  47. 47 http://www.fresheventure.com/series/sell-ad-space/
  48. 48 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2008/12/03/online-advertising-and-its-impact-on-web-design/
  49. 49 http://www.greenteadesign.ca/
  50. 50 http://freelanceswitch.com/author/travis-king/
  51. 51 http://www.iheartjapan.ca/

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Whenever Travis King is not using all this energy to survive on the frozen Canadian tundra, he spends his time as a freelance web designer (www.greenteadesign.ca) and writer for FreelanceSwitch. In an attempt to control his obsession with Japan he also runs one of Canada’s premier Japan travel sites – I Heart Japan.

Advertising
  1. 1

    excellent travis,i am fully satisfied with your thinking,,well,i think its more important to keep your advertisers happy…For wordpress users i have described an ad space plugin by which they can manage their costly web spaces at the page below…:

    http://latesthub.in/wordpress-advertising-plugin-for-selling-ad-space-on-your-website/

    0
  2. 52

    Thanks for the article. I have been interested in putting adverts on my site for sometime but haven’t had the courage to because it gets a very small amount of traffic. But this has definitely encouraged me to think about it in the near future.

    0
  3. 103

    all the article are very interesting, but would you please fill the article about selling skills “theory and practice” and how to sale my product private label in my store my self, I really need it for my company (kimia farma, indonesia)

    0
  4. 154

    Hot! I’ve gained a lot out of this. Thanks heaps.

    0
  5. 205

    All I can say is, WOW! Just starting out, we are trying to publish a newspaper with online content. Right now, we are starting with the online version, and have the journalist in place, but now we need to pay them…

    0
  6. 256

    it is very nice article , i learn a lot from this article , i am a new bloger and want to earn some money , it give me a rough idea .
    thanx

    0
  7. 307

    John | Advertisement Network

    June 29, 2011 9:59 am

    The key function of an ad network is aggregation of ad space supply from publishers and matching it with advertiser demand. The words “ad network” by itself is media neutral in the sense that there can be a “Television Ad Network” or a “Print Ad Network”.
    apps.ellipsissolutions.com/adnet/

    0
  8. 358

    Charleen Larson

    July 29, 2011 10:42 am

    This was just the impetus I needed to finally install Clicky. Thanks for the nudge.

    0
  9. 409

    amber chamberlen

    August 11, 2011 2:31 pm

    Do what we did and do your ad serving in house.
    You can sell ad space directly wiyhout any middle man.
    http://www.adservingsolutions.com

    0
  10. 460

    One of the things that I do is to frequently check my advertisers statistics and give advice on how they can improve the CTR, namely by using a better image or placing their ad on a usually more clicked format.

    1
  11. 511

    Related to this great article I have developed a website worth estimation algorithm that you can try here:
    http://www.webuka.com
    Keep up the good work!

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  12. 562

    I have recently started my website. It is around 2 months old. I have started earning around $3 per day. I spent around $1.5 Per day in its marketing. Can I sell this website? What should be the right price?

    1
  13. 613

    Informative and well written……. Good to instigate thought process in new direction

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  14. 664

    hi Travis

    Brilliant work on here pal. I was trawling the net looking for info for my website implementation of ads so one can make a bit of cash and came across your brilliant blog. Do you know top 10 websites similar to buysellads.com who I can do a bit of research on before joining them?

    Thanks a million, please feel free to email me

    0
  15. 715

    Thanks Travis. This was a very helpful article.

    Jamie

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  16. 766

    Incredible article. Three years later and the content is still relevant. I now feel a lot more confident about approaching advertisers with this insight. Now it’s time to get to work.

    0
  17. 817

    I have a problem with this travis!

    That you hadn’t made it soon enough! :-)

    7 stars on a scale of 1-5 . Made me realize that i am about to do everything right!

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  18. 868

    Thanks, I tried to sell my ads directly, I used Viewzd ad manager

    I think we should keep posting new content to make the succuss

    0
  19. 919

    Excellent! We have developed a website value calculation algorithm that you can try here:
    http://www.websitestatz.com

    0

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