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Advertising On Your Site: When, How And How Much?

By Marc Bissonnette

This has been a question I've been hearing a lot from my clients, as more and more of them start looking at their traffic analysis and think to themselves that there may be some income involved :)

First of all, there are a few do's and don'ts when taking advertising on your site, although these can depend highly on what type (industry, target market, traffic volume, etc) of site yours is.

Do's
  • Find out what your competition is doing in regards to advertising on their site. ***Note*** This must be followed with caution, however, since the fact that someone in your industry is doing it may not mean it's a "good" thing to do (See don'ts list)

  • Get some rate sheets. Ideally from sites in the same industry as your own, but if not, from major traffic sites (There is a caveat to this, as well, see "Pricing")

  • Keep track of your webstats. Even though your webstats may not be 100% accurate (look for the article "Server Caching: When hits don't count" on Networld), the numbers that your server does log are vitally important, especially to those who may be about to pay you for space within your site.

  • Keep your site updated, fresh, interactive, etc. In other words, keep the traffic flow up. There's nothing worse than selling an advertiser on one set of traffic predictions only to have them fall short because you let the site go stale.

  • Choose carefully between who you allow to purchase space on your site. I'm sure I don't need to think of examples of ads that would actually drive traffic *away* from your website!

Don'ts
  • Don't use link exchanges or banner exchanges if your site is a 'real' commercial venture. With due respect to these organizations, the ads are rather tacky at times, and every Tom, Dick and Jane has a banner exchange on their personal sites. This is not to mention the fact that the only money flow is in the banner owner's direction, since your 'paychecks' from hosting these ads can quite literally be in the decimals of a cent. (And coming from a Canadian, thats REALLY small change!)

  • Don't take ads from adult sites, unless your site is of an adult nature, as well. Like banner exchanges, everybody has 'em, and they do nothing for your commercial site other than slow the download.

  • Don't charge the same rates as Lycos or Microsoft, unless
    a) your traffic is upwards of one million hits a day
    b) your target audience is so specialized that you are one of the very few serving the market

  • Don't put a link or banner with the words "Your ad could be here!" on your site. It looks tacky and basically tells people you are hurting for money. Put a small link near the bottom of your page titled "Advertising Info", or similar, with contact information for the person selling the adspace on your site.

  • Don't try selling ads without at least three months of webstats to back up your traffic claims (that's an absolute minimum, unless you have other publications in which you have advertisers already).

These are only a few of the typical do's and don'ts, but they're the most important. Much of it is (I hope) common sense. I have, however, seen many a Web site plummet down the black hole of forgotten Web sites due to tacky, tasteless or grossly inappropriate advertising. Remember, in marketing, all money is *NOT* the same!

Pricing

What can I charge for my ads? This is the question I hate the most, because I have to give the most annoying answer: It depends.

It depends on things like; how long has your site been up? How much traffic actually goes through your site? How many other sites link to yours? Do you already have advertisers in your other publications (magazines, newsletters, etc) Is your site generally open to the public or closed to members or clients only? How much time do you have to guarantee (as much as possible) the continued traffic patterns?

Aside from that, this newsletter is international in nature, so there may be many factors in your home countries that are different from here (Canada).

One of the best solutions to pricing (on any item, service, advertising, etc) is the simplest: Ask a valued client what they would pay for such a service. It stuns me how many people think their relationships with their client's are one way only. For exmaple, the client asks you questions/requests services and then pays you for it. ASK. Tell one or three of your client's that you are thinking of allowing advertising within your site and what they, if they were interested in such a service, would be willing to pay for it.

Most will give you an honest answer, or a slightly low-balled one (After all, they may well be interested in the idea!) Most clients will also appreciate tremendously the fact that you value their advice and/or opinions and not only their cheques!

What else do I need?

Information. A lot of it. To close the sale on any of the well-paying (and more importantly, regular) clients, you will need detailed demographics on who uses your site, which sections are the busiest, what your traffic patterns are like, who else is linking to your site, search engine visibility, your own advertising of your web site, the nature of your site and the products, services or information it offers, your update schedule, major events for the future, and so on.

Naturally, you will probably not need to give *all* of this information to each and every advertiser, since they will individually consider certain types of data more important than others.

You also need to make sure your site is as promoted as it can possibly be. Even after you've done that, do it some more. Get the cross-links with other sites, make sure your current advertising contains your URL. Be active in the newsgroups (in a helpful, contributing way, no spamming!) with your URL in the tagline. Make sure your invoices, faxes, letterhead, etc, have your URL on them prominantly. Keep registering in the other search engines (no, you didn't get tham all the first time around, and you never will, there are more every week )

To shamelessly plug my own firm, InternAlysis specializes in just the above types of information: Competitive Intelligence. If you're considering advertising as a primary or even consistant portion of your income model, it is highly suggested that you hire an outside firm to take a look at your site and it's positioning with the competition. There are many people out there that tend to miss a lot on the competition, simply due to their own bias.

Next article will be on your webstats, what they mean, how they should be telling you how to edit your site, and how to present them to your CEO's or your advertisers.

Marc Bissonnette is the proprietor of CanadianISP, Canadas' largest Internet Service Provider search and comparison site.

InternAlysis - Customized, specialized, dedicated eMarketing specialist
CanadianISP - Canadas' largest Internet Service Provider (ISP) list and comparison web site

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