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The Private Ad Sales Model: 9 Tips From Design Mom On Selling Your Own Blog Advertising

The Private Ad Sales Model: 9 Tips From Design Mom On Selling Your Own Blog Advertising

Monetizing the Mommyblog: An ABDPBT Personal Finance Series

This is the fifth in a series of posts on the topic of monetizing mommy blogs featured on ABDPBT Personal Finance. The models I’ll be discussing have not yet been implemented on a large number of blogs, and thus the use of them is still pretty experimental. You can try these at home, but for the love of God, please BE CAREFUL. You can read all of the Monetizing the Mommyblog posts here.

I’ve been meaning to start selling private ads here at ABDPBT for a while now (though this has really just translated into me hemming and hawing about my lackluster advertising circumstances at present, rather than taking any action to change anything). Selling your own advertising means no more hefty commissions paid to advertising networks, and it also offers advertising opportunities to small businesses that cannot afford to buy a block of ads on a larger ad network. Private ad sales also allow you to better match your audience with vendors that are likely to appeal to them.

So why are we all not selling our own ads, again? Probably because we’re not sure how to do it. Selling private ads might seem daunting at first, but there are several bloggers in the parenting and design communities who are doing it successfully on their own, right now, by using their own smarts and savvy to parlay those seemingly worthless email pitches we all routinely get into real commercial opportunities. To learn how to start selling private ads for my blog, I have recently been in contact with Gabrielle Blair (Design Mom; remember her from The Mayflower Model?), who has been doing it successfully for several years now and has a ton of information on what works and what does not work. Keep reading to discover Gabrielle’s tried and true strategies for taking control of advertising sales for your blog.

  1. Consider Starting With A Form Of Permission Marketing.

    Initially, Gabrielle was unsure if she wanted to have any advertising on her blog; she was hesitant of doing anything to upset the community she had worked hard to establish on Design Mom. So rather than rushing right in to selling sidebar ads, Gabrielle initially set up a separate page for her advertising placements:

    I began by creating a separate page that I called The Marketplace. On my main page, there were no advertisements. Instead, there was a Marketplace Button with text underneath that said something like: click here for deals and discounts from some of my favorite vendors. If a reader clicked over, there were display ads from vendors that offered discounts, announced sales or offered deals.

    This form of permission marketing was a good way of jumping into the game of advertising sales, because readers had a choice of whether or not they wanted to participate.

  2. Continue To Experiment With Different Forms Of Ads.

    As it turns out, the Design Mom community not seem to mind the idea of regular old display ads in the sidebar, and this is probably due — at least in part — to the fact that Gabrielle was acting as a curator for all of the ads chosen to appear on her site. She experimented with two different types of ads: 1) sidebar ads; and 2) the original Marketplace ads, which were priced at less than half as much as a sidebar ad on the front page. This model allowed her to reach vendors with different sized budgets, but most advertisers for Design Mom seemed to prefer the front page sidebar ads, and as a result she eventually stuck to an exclusive front page advertising model. Because Gabrielle is the one who best knows her blog and its readership, she is the best qualified to choose what kind of advertising model is going to work well when, where, and why — and this kind of tailoring is something you simply cannot achieve if you use a network to fill your advertising spots.

  3. Save Your PR Pitches From Small Businesses.

    When Gabrielle gets a pitch or an email from a small business, she first figures out whether or not the product is a good fit for Design Mom readers, and if it is, she saves the email address in a vendor mailing list. When she initially decided to sell ads on Design Mom, Gabrielle sent out an email about the new offering and sent it to this vendor email list full of small businesses who had already approached Design Mom. As time when by, Gabrielle says, she would update her vendor email list and “send out emails regularly, inviting vendors to advertise on Design Mom,” as well as notifying them of special deals, like lower prices for buying multiple months at once, or seasonal promotions, et cetera.

  4. Don’t Forget About Possible Advertisers In Your Own Audience.

    When Jordan Ferney (Oh Happy Day) decided to sell her own ads, she put up a post asking for advertisers. Not only will this give your readership a heads up that you’re going to be featuring ads (if you don’t do this already), it also gives the small businesspeople in your audience a chance to get in touch with you about possible sponsorship deals. You never know how many potential advertisers there may already be in your regular audience, who might already be looking for a chance at to reach your audience.

  5. Also Save Your PR Pitches From PR Groups Into An Email Contact List, But Don’t Bother With Trying To Sell Those People Ad Space.

    We are all used to the tired stories about bad PR pitches and products that are not well-suited to your website. Gabrielle figured out that those PR contacts are worth more than you might initially realize, because PR tends to work in groups. She says that, even if the product is not right for Design Mom, she knows that most PR and marketing groups represent a ton of different clients, and there’s bound to be one that is right for Design Mom. She also says that saving those contacts has proved helpful for organizing Kirtsy events, when sponsors are needed, because a “PR list is a great way to reach out and let lots of different of different brands know about sponsorship opportunities.” However, you shouldn’t waste your time trying to sell display ads to PR and Marketing people who answer those kinds of emails: for one thing, they are not usually the people in charge of buying advertising space, and also, if the company is big enough to be using its own PR company, they are probably buying big parcels of ads in chunks from larger networks and are not going to have the time to reach out to smaller companies: “they’ll want to purchase millions of pageviews over several sites via an ad network,” she says.

  6. Allow For Time Budgeting And Tech Issues.

    Along with an increased profit margin comes increased responsibility; as the private ad seller, the responsibility of finding potential advertisers, collecting payments, approving artwook, upload everything and making sure everything is working (all the time, for the right amount of time, and in the right space), all falls to you. This is a considerable addition to your workload, and Gabrielle told me that her decision to remove the Marketplace ads on her site was made in part because running two different types of advertising sections was too taxing on her time and resources. If I could figure out a good way for vendors to automatically upload and pay for discount and sale listings,” Gabrielle says, “I would offer the Marketplace page (or something like it) again. My readers liked having those discounts in one easy-to-find place.”

  7. Keep good records.
    You need to be on your toes to keep track of all of the moving pieces with a privately sold advertising arrangement. Gabrielle uses a spreadsheet to keep track of her current advertisers’ contact information, the dates of advertisement they’ve agreed to buy, if they have been billed, if they have paid their bills, and any other relevant notes.

  8. Use Paypal for billing, if possible.
    For the most part, Gabrielle uses Paypal, despite the fact that there is a fee for every transaction. She says that the fact that they keep track of everything for her saves her lots of headaches, and also means she doesn’t have to make extra trips to the bank to deposit checks.
  9. On Pricing.
    You knew I wasn’t going to let her go without asking about money, right? While I spared Gabrielle the indignity of having to reveal how much she currently gets for ad space (though I’d imagine she does pretty well, just based on her various stats and the fact that her sidebar has a healthy inventory), I did ask for some guidance on how to choose a number to quote an advertiser for ad space. If you were currently running ads through a network like BlogHer, I said, would you guesstimate how much that space is bringing in per month — say, by the inch, or per 125×125 pixels of space — and then round from there? The short answer is no:

    I would hesitate basing the prices on an ad network because it’s such a different model with such completely different sponsors. A high quality, big ad network typically aims to sell ads at an average of $10 per 1000 pageviews . . . [a]nd they typically offer only huge ad buys. Meaning a vendor might have to buy at least $5000 worth or 500,000 pageviews across a several publishers in the ad network. But the publisher would only make a fraction of that sell.

    Turns out I was being a lot more complicated than necessary, and also not really focusing on the difference between these kinds of ads and the ads displayed in a network:

    I’ll be honest, when I started, I did in fact pick a number out of the air. I would charge $75 for a month long display ad in the Marketplace (not the front page). This was based on absolutely nothing but what I thought sounded reasonable at the time. I don’t remember how much traffic I was getting when I launched the Marketplace, so I don’t know what kind of value per pageview I was offering, but I did offer advertisers a guarantee: they could track clicks any way they preferred and if they weren’t happy with the results after the first 5 days, then I offered a full refund and simply removed the ad.

    Turns out the only way to really figure this stuff out is to experiment. Gabrielle said that she would gauge how well she was priced based on responses to her email inquiries: if she wasn’t getting much response, then she knew her prices were too high. Now that she has repeat customers, she has been able to keep her prices pretty constant, and are well-priced or the small vendors that make up her advertiser base.

    How would Gabrielle go about pricing ad space for a blog that has not done private ad sales before? She says to put yourself in the shoes of a small business or an etsy shop owner:

    How many sales are you expecting to make off the ad? Or how much traffic are you expecting to get? What would seem like a reasonable price to receive that much traffic?

    Gabrielle emphasizes the fact that, when you sell ads yourself, you can afford to give the advertiser a much better price per pageview than a big network would (while you’re still keeping a profit), so that even if it’s appearing on less pages, you’re getting a much better deal for each view. Also, by selling your ads yourself, you’re ensuring that every page view is used — a large ad network might not be able to fill all of your page views ([cough.] BlogHer, I’m looking ruefully in your direction.) When you sell your own ads, you’re making sure that space is always filled. Sounds like a good plan to me. Any takers?

Comments (30)

  1. Mar 22, 2010

    YAY for bloggers who are actually willing to be interviewed and talk about this stuff!

    I especially like the idea of looking for advertisers within your own reader group. There’s a lot of talk about sisterhood and community and stuff in the blogosphere, but really, the best way to be supportive is to help each other’s businesses grow. Offering reasonably-priced ads to fellow work-at-home moms (and dads) is a nice win-win.

    Who designs the ads themselves? Is it typically the blogger or the advertiser?

  2. Mar 22, 2010

    Great article and I agree with Kerry that it is nice to have a blogger actually talk about this.

    I have just starting experimenting with private ads and it’s going great so far. (And I’ve been blogging for 5 years!) I started off by tweeting that I was looking for advertisers and then letting my warm marker PR audience know as well. My warm market, that I already had a relationship with, were willing to trust me and within a week of reaching out to them, I had ads running.

    For a blogger to run private ads, means a more steady income and that is a plus! Relying on an income from adsense and other similar sources can be very frustrating.

    (Love your blog by the way! My husband sent me this article and I will definitely be back.)

  3. It does sound more workable when broken down into different steps like this & seeing what works for your readers & you.

    Thanks to Gabrielle for being willing to talk about this!

  4. Mar 22, 2010

    Kerry, I think it’s the advertiser, based on looking at the ads running on most of these sites. They are mostly just some combination of a logo and a picture. But in some cases, I think the blogger offers design services — I think I once saw that on Simple Mom’s site as an option.

  5. Mar 22, 2010

    Hi Disnology:

    Glad you found the site, have you used other networks like BlogHer or JuiceBox Jungle in the past? I’m trying to decide if I should take the plunge and just start selling my own ads. I have to check my BlogHer contract, because I’m not sure if I’m allowed to do that, or if I have to sever ties with them first. I know I should do it, I’m just kind of lazy.

  6. Mar 22, 2010

    Yeah, and when you think about what I’m letting that space go for right now, so that brands that nobody cares about can paper the site, it tends to make more sense to go private.

  7. Mar 22, 2010

    I think private ads make way more sense, both from a monetary and control standpoint–if you’re willing to do the work behind them. I think that’s part of the appeal of ad networks, that you just set it up and they do all the work. But like everything, you pay a price for that convenience, mostly it seems by 1)not getting the full value of the space 2)not having a full inventory at all times and 3)not having control over what ends up on your site.

  8. Mar 22, 2010

    Yeah, lately the inventory has been really bad at BlogHer. And I have to put up with a lot of other crap, like their links to other sites taking up room and stinking up my design.

  9. Mar 23, 2010

    This was really informative for me, as I am new to blogging (just started mine a couple of months ago). I am still building my traffic with the ultimate goal of doing advertisements like this. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Mar 23, 2010

    Great, informative article. I just started my blog about 6 months ago and am hoping to eventually accept sponsorships. One thing I still wonder about is how do potential advertisers gauge where they advertise (outside of personal preference)? Traffic? Amount of followers? Both? And last, do bloggers give monthly traffic reports to advertisers?

  11. Mar 23, 2010

    Cool! I’m so glad Gabrielle was willing to share her information. It’s really so much help to bloggers, new and old.

  12. Mar 23, 2010

    Haydee, it depends on the company. Huge companies like Coke or Cheerios or whatever usually only go through ad networks that can give them a big buy. Small businesses are amenable to ad space in areas where their potential market hangs out. The only way to find that out is to study your audience — you can use a tag from Quantcast.com to get some data about your audience, and you can also get them to answer questionnaires sometimes.

    But to answer your question, generally speaking, advertisers like traffic. If you don’t have a ton of it, this doesn’t mean people won’t want to advertise, but traffic always helps. Twitter followers might mean something to somebody, but I think your blog stats are more reliable for getting advertisers.

    Re traffic reports: no, not that I know of. With quantcast, they are tracking your ads so people can check, but there’s no formal report. Advertisers will usually want to track how much traffic they have coming in from your ad, but that’s pretty easy to do with just basic stats software.

  13. Mar 23, 2010

    OK, this may be a dumb question, but can you sell ads using a free wordpress site or do you need to have your own url? I don’t get nearly enough traffic to be thinking of ads yet, but there is always the future. . .

  14. Mar 23, 2010

    Hi Hannah: You don’t have to have your own URL necessarily, you can be on TypePad or on blogspot, but you cannot do it on wordpress.com. You need to have privately hosted WordPress in order to run any kind of ad, but I think most other services allow you to do it.

  15. Mar 23, 2010

    Thanks for sharing this information! I’ve been actively looking into advertising on my blog for the past month or two, and have been frustrated by the lack of information available. Thanks so much for helping us all!

  16. Mar 23, 2010

    Hi Camille: I’m glad you found the information helpful. Really, it’s Gabrielle you should thank, because without her I wouldn’t have anything to share!

  17. Mar 24, 2010

    I have very little experience as it relates to advertisements on my blog. It’s great to see threads outlining ways in which bloggers can make a bit of cash from advertisements on their site. I have some AdSense visual ads on my site but I’m really picky about ads in general taking up real estate space and ruining the feel and intent of my blog.

    This may sound like an utterly stupid question but can I still have ads from other companies even though I have google AdSense on my sidebars? I haven’t investigated the prospect of advertising on my site a whole lot because I’ve been more focuced on blogging and pushing out new content, but who knows, maybe sometime ads can pay for my expenses.

    I also like the PayPal idea for ease of tracking and being organized. Is this something that’s easy to set up? I have a PayPal account, I’m just curious how that would work.

    Great thread!

  18. Mar 24, 2010

    Hallelujah! This is very helpful. I think the hardest part of this is not only the pricing, but also the tracking of everything. There are tons of tools out there, like AdSpeed, but it seems a little overwhelming for someone just dipping their toe into the sponsor waters.

  19. dyan
    Mar 24, 2010

    Don’t forget another way to monetize your blog is to become an affiliate.
    There are lots of companies that offer affiliate programs. Basically, you post one of their banners and when readers click through from that banner on your site, you get a percentage of the sale. It generally doesn’t bring in as much as selling ads, but again, just another way of monetizing your site. Plus, by being an affiliate, merchants are more likely to respond to inquiries for product reviews and giveaways!

  20. Mar 24, 2010

    Hi Rat: Yes, you can absolutely have other ads mixed with AdSense. AdSense is one of the least strict advertising methods as far as rules for their display — I think the main thing is that you can only have three units on one page with AdSense. Beyond that, I’m not sure that it matters.

    But AdSense sucks — if you want my advice (and you probably don’t), I’d ditch the AdSense, and here’s why: AdSense won’t pay you until you get $100 in your account with them, and unless you have a decent amount of traffic, this is likely to take forever. I took AdSense off my blog because I decided it wasn’t worth the annoyance it was giving my readers. I do still have some BlogHer ads that default to AdSense if I don’t have new ads, but this is because I haven’t gotten around to changing them.

    Even if you sell a private ad for $10 a month, that’s going to pay better than AdSense. Another option is to use affiliate links and ads, which just pay commission, but you only need a few sales to blow AdSense revenue out of the water.

  21. Mar 24, 2010

    I don’t know how much tracking you need to do. I use my own stats programs, and then I use a quantcast tag so that there’s something concrete and well-respected to give to any interested advertisers. If you sell ads on your site privately, you’re not going to do a certain amount of impressions, you’re going to do it by time, so you don’t need super exact stats on how many people clicked, etc. If you wanted to do that, though, a Google Analytics tag will track that for you.

  22. Mar 24, 2010

    Affiliate sales are good if you really promote them. And, as I said above, you only need one or two affiliate sales to really blow AdSense out of the water. Some combination of all of these methods is really what is ideal. I use affiliate links when I find products for my commodity fetishism section, or with my tech section, because I have specific vendors that I highly recommend people patronize. Some people think you need to disclose when you’re giving an affiliate link — I do this in a general sense on my About pages, but I don’t do it on every single link. As far as I know, there is not an FTC regulation at present that applies to that, though.

  23. Kate
    Mar 24, 2010

    Great article!
    When should boggers start thinking about advertising? I started blogging ~2-3 months ago and am trying to build traffic but I’m not sure if it’s an appropriate time to start accepting and/or seeking advertisers. I’ve had a couple of offers but the CPM rate is low.

  24. Mar 25, 2010

    Hi Anna,
    Thanks to you and Gabrielle for this interesting and informative post. I’m so glad my pal kitchenMage forwarded it to me. The first time I saw private ads like these was on Amanda Blake Soule’s SouleMama.com, and I immediately thought, “These are the kinds of ads I want to have on my blogs!” And I haven’t done anything else about it. (I’m currently in the BlogHer and Six Apart ad networks.)

    While I love the idea of having only tasteful looking ads on my sites for companies and products I care about (I always make a point of checking out the private ad sections on other sites because they always look nice and are often of interest to me), I’m kind of stumped as far as what sort of small companies would be interested in advertising on my site.

    The design and crafty mom blogs seem to have great – and obvious – niches (SouleMama has an enviable mix of kids and baby/crafty and knitting/natural and organic advertisers), but I’m not sure about Farmgirl Fare, my food and farm blog, especially since lately there’s been a lot more ‘farm’ than ‘food’ on it. (And it’s definitely not crafty.) And while I often write about things like barnyard animals and tractors, I know a large percentage of my readership lives in the city. I actually removed the adsense ads I had running for a while because the only things that almost ever showed up were PSAs and those tacky ads for belly fat removal.

    I have an offshoot kitchen garden blog that definitely fits into a more easily definable niche (and the adsense ads that show up on it are often ones I want to click on myself), but I’m not familiar with any garden blogs doing this sort of private advertising. And the traffic is much lower on this site.

    It’s definitely a long term goal (dream?) of mine, but unfortunately I think for now I’ll have to stick with the networks. And while I’m sincerely grateful that the ads I run through the networks enable me to make some money blogging, I’m definitely not 100% thrilled with them, for some of the same reasons you’ve mentioned.

  25. Mar 25, 2010

    Thanks for the timely response and information Anna!

  26. Mar 26, 2010

    HI Kate,

    I am a novice blogger myself, but I heard you shouldn’t really start selling ads until you are getting at least 100 clicks per day. Anything lower than that isn’t very worth it to the advertisers. The trick is just how to get those clicks increased … suggestions, anyone?

  27. Mar 28, 2010

    Thanks Anna. Looks like I chose the wrong blog venue– then again, I’m still in infancy here working to get 50 hits a day and not thinking of ads yet so I can grow. This is all great information that I’m tucking away for future use. . .

  28. Thanks for sharing this! I think this is the route that I need to go. More work, but better pay. I think that’s Win-Win for me!

  29. Jun 2, 2010

    I could not have found this post at a better time. I’ve been drafting an email list and a letter to send to potential advertisers for when my shop gets just a tiny bit more popular. I’ve been really concerned with how to set the price… This helps a bit.

  30. Jan 11, 2011

    Thanks so much for the great info. Your responses to other questions were great too. I have been on the fence about whether to go with private ads or through a network and I think you helped me answer my question. Cheers!

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