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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?