It’s unfortunate that a lot of the conventional wisdom for how to make money from advertising on a website or blog is to slap up Google Adsense and watch the money roll in. While there are many publishers who do make great money from Adsense, they are usually working very hard at it.
Additionally, I’ve had the luxury to work with many publishers making money from advertising through my work at Right Media as well as the 10 years of testing and working with different advertising options and solutions through my own publishing efforts.
The results of this work are that making money from advertising on a website boils down to a couple of key points. They are:
- Putting in effort and time.
- Using multiple advertising options/solutions.
That may simplify things a bit too much, so I’m going to dive in to my 10 recommendations of things to do to increase your ad revenue:
1. Sell Targeted Ads
The holy grail of website advertising is to sell advertising directly to companies that are interested in reaching your audience. These types of ad campaigns usually pay the best, and generally are the most relevant to your users. However, many publishers seem to think that their site is too small, or that it takes too much work to set this up. You can go about doing this by choosing to set it all up yourself, work with an agency that represents you, or use an automated service.
To set it up yourself, you’ll need to create an obvious “Advertise on this site” link throughout your site that goes to a page dedicated to selling your site to advertisers. A few things to include on this page:
- What makes your site unique.
- Unique visitors, page views, and any other relevant statistics.
- User demographics. Use a web analytics solution and a perform a survey on your audience using a tool like SurveyMonkey.
- Rates of your advertising, and mention that you can negotiate special packages.
- Quotes from anyone who had advertised successfully with you.
- List others who have advertised with you, give some advertising away to free to some companies in your industry if you have to in order to get the ball rolling.
Then be willing to put in some work contacting some advertisers in your industry to let them know your inventory is available, and work to guarantee that they get a positive return for their ad spend.
If you don’t have the time to do the work yourself, there are numerous site representation agencies/networks who will try to sell advertising specifically for your site. They usually require that you have significant traffic in order to make it worth their while, and then they often take somewhere between 25-50% for their services. The advantages are though that they are able to include you with other sites and sell to larger advertisers, they collect the money from advertisers, and they handle the gathering of creatives for the campaigns. A few examples of these companies are Rydium, Gorilla Nation, Burst Media, DrivePM, and Tribal Fusion.
Additionally, there is an option in the middle of these two which is working with a more automated service to list your site as a place where targeted ads can be bought. Services like these include Adbrite, AdEngage, Adster, Adify. These services all take some portion of the revenue that they generate for you, and my personal results with them have been quite mixed.
2. Work with Multiple Ad Networks
Allocating all of your ad inventory to one ad network is not a good idea. It means that ad network can pay whatever they want for your inventory, and most traditional ad networks will take the impressions they want and then default the rest. If they default an impression, it means it wasn’t paid for unless you choose to send that impression elsewhere within their interface. The more volume you have, the worse it is to just work with one network.
The solution to this is to work with multiple ad networks, and preferably ones that may have different campaigns, strengths, geographies, or industries they focus on.
The next question is how do you allocate inventory when you work with multiple ad networks? And how does this make you more money? You can randomly allocate inventory, you can weight it somehow based on what they’re paying you on average, you can daisy-chain your inventory meaning you send all your inventory to your top network and let them default it to the next network and that continues on down a chain, or you can auction your inventory to the highest bidder. I’m biased (and also right), but auctioning is really the best solution because it values each impression for what it’s worth and generates more revenue per impression.
3. Try contextual, display, and standard text ads.
Site publishers and bloggers often make an assumption about what type of ads will work best for their site. Many people feel Adsense’s contextual ads are the best for their site, many feel that display CPM ads are the best, and some feel that selling text ads on one of the text ad services is the best thing for them. The reality is that you should test all three, and then probably use all three. If you use a tool to auction inventory, then you can have it decide whether to serve a contextual Adsense-like impression, or to serve a graphical ad from a display ad network. It’s also usually pretty easy to fit some paid text ads in various places throughout your site.
You may be shocked at what works best for you, but I strongly suggest experimenting to find the right mix.
4. Test different ad locations
There are some common guidelines you often hear about ad location. You’ll hear that ads should be above the fold, integrated in content, or placed according to an advertising heat map. While those things are “generally” true, I’ve seen enough examples to know that it isn’t always the case. The layout and content on your site can make it vastly different on where ads should be located.
As a counterexample to common wisdom, I’ve seen 728×90 leaderboard ads at the bottom of a long page that have better click-through rates than the ads being at the top of the page. The reason is probably because users read or scroll down to the bottom and are done with what they’re doing, so they actually notice the ad and act on it. This doesn’t mean it’s the right solution for you, so how do you know?
Create your own heat map of course! There are a couple of new services that allow you to create a heat map which shows where users are most often clicking on your site. They are ClickDensity and CrazyEgg. CrazyEgg also allows you to easily set up tests so you can try placing ads in different locations and seeing heat maps of the results.
Additionally, you can simply run your own tests by moving ads around your pages and seeing what kind of overall effective CPM they are earning you based on location.
As some suggestions though, I would recommend the conventional wisdom to make your ads as integrated with content as possible, and as easily noticed and clicked as possible.
5. Change things often
User burnout on ads is common. Users who visit your site a lot will get used to where you place ads, and will learn to totally ignore those areas. A good way to get a little boost is to shake your site up and move ads to new locations. Make sure you’re watching your ad rates and ad statistics to see what happens with your tests.
If nothing at all you can probably earn some accidental clicks, but it can also just help make users start paying attention to the ads again.
6. Work with different ad pricing models
Similar to the types of advertising you accept, I recommend opening up to different ad pricing models. I talk to many publishers who only want CPM deals, or only want CPC deals. The reality is that CPA deals can often times earn more revenue if they have the right audience. Why limit yourself to losing out on money? Or hey, maybe try selling a flat rate sponsorship deal? It’s old school, but I’ve used it successfully for years on a site for a specific sport.
This helps you earn more money by opening your site up to more advertisers, and more competition from advertisers can drive your overall rates and revenue up. It’s easiest if you use an ad management tool that allows you to accept multiple types of pricing deals and allocate your inventory appropriately.
7. Increase your traffic
I’m not going to get into the details, just do a Google search and you can find plent to read on the subject, but increasing the overall traffic on your website is one of the most obvious and surefire ways to make more money from advertising.
Increasing unique visitors helps, as well as increasing the number of page views each visitor sees. While ad rates usually go down for the more ads they see, there’s usually a positive benefit to increasing the number of page views each user creates. I’m not trying to advocate creating a bad user experience on purpose, more that you should add content and features to your site that make people stick around and create more ad impressions.
There are many tips and tricks out there for generating more visitors and traffic, but it really boils down to creating great content and working at generating good links and getting good search rankings.
8. Use your ad analytics
Too many publishers use ad reporting tools to just see how much money they’re owed and they’re done with it. There can be some gems of information you can find in ad reporting tools to help you increase your revenue. You can study what sizes are working the best, what increasing click or conversion rate does to your revenue, which advertisers are the most successful with you, what affect changing your site layout and content does to your ad rates, and more.
As an example, a user of RMX Direct used it’s reporting tool to find out that Burst Media was taking only their USA impressions and defaulting everything after the first four impressions for each user. RMX Direct then allowed them to set a frequency cap on Burst to only send them the first four impressions from USA visitors. RMX Direct then allocated any other impressions elsewhere and so it earned them more revenue by not having Burst fill the impressions cheaply or not at all.
9. Expand your ad sizes
Do you use 468×60 banners? Have you tried 728x90s instead? Do you use 120×600 skyscrapers? Have you tried 160×600 instead? Are you using all the sizes made available to you by advertisers and networks? If so, you owe it to yourself to test them out. The most common excuse I hear is that their site layout doesn’t work for a particular ad size. While I understand that sentiment, if a 728×90 ad on average pays double a 468×60 ad, then changing your site design for that difference in revenue is worthwhile assuming you have a decent level of traffic.
Some ad networks like Adsense have additional “odd” ad sizes link their Link Units which can fit in strange places. While I’m not advocating you kill the user experience, don’t be afraid to try more ad sizes.
10. Ask for more money
It doesn’t always work, but in many cases if you have a decent site and are a persistent negotiator, you can get advertisers and ad networks to pay you more money than before by paying more if it’s a direct advertiser, or raising your revenue share if it’s an ad network. You may have to make promises, you may have to work hard, you may have to threaten to quit or actually temporarily quit, but if an advertiser really wants your business, they’ll usually do what it takes to keep you as a client.
So is there a secret to increasing ad revenue? Not really, but I hope you’ve learned that it takes some extra effort and work, but the results can be absolutely phenomenal and I recommend leaving no stones unturned. If you have success with any of these methods, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.