I previously explained my simple formula for pricing ads on your website and what you should do if you struggle to sell any ads. If you missed the first two parts of this series, you can read them here –
Your next step in the advertising education process is learning where to place the ads on your site. Get this part right and it will help you to…
- Sell more ads
- Find the right combination of ads (not too many, but enough to make good money)
- Test to maximize your return
- Deliver good performance to sponsors, so they keep paying your ad fees month after month
And let’s not forget…
To put it simply, I will explain how to first set up advertising on your site to give you the best chance to actually sell ads, and not make the common mistakes that can actually harm your chance of attracting sponsors.
This Is Not An Exact Science
I want to begin by saying that all the advice I am about to give you is just that – advice.
This is not an exact science, rather a few techniques I’ve learned over the years that have helped me to sell more ads and make more money. These techniques make sense, as you will see, because they work with human psychology, and of course at the end of the day what you are doing is attempting to convince a human to buy an ad on your site.
Be aware that because these techniques have worked for me, does not mean they will work for you. In fact just the opposite might be the best tactic for you.
These techniques will not fix fundamental problems with your website. If you do not have enough traffic, or your subject is so obscure that no sponsors exist who want to reach your audience, then no amount of good ad positioning psychology is going to help. There has to be a certain amount of the right people seeing what you are doing for these techniques to work.
I suggest you test these ideas, give them a month or two, and see what the results are. You may deliver ad sales in a matter of days, or none for a few weeks or months.
What I can tell you from my own experience is that these techniques work, but often unpredictably.
Sometimes I will make changes, like changing the size of a banner, and notice instant results. Other times I will go through downturns, lots of advertisers cancel with no new ones coming on board for a month, then suddenly I’ll have four sponsors buy ads in two days.
Seasonality has a big impact on ad sales, as does the economy. When companies have money to spend on advertising, times can be great. Other times it can be rather horrible to rely on just advertising for your income (not something I recommend). What’s important is that you position yourself to maximize your chance of capturing sponsors. That’s exactly what this article is about, how to optimize your blog so you can sell more ads and build up a solid advertising income stream.
Here’s what I suggest you do…
The Advertising Heatmap
To begin with, if you have never had a good look at an advertising heatmap, now is the time to do so. Here’s the one Google provides for AdSense, which is just as relevant for us selling ads directly –
You can find more interesting heat maps here: Google Heat Map Revisited
As you can see, the hottest areas of your site are above the fold (what you see on your website without scrolling down) and in the middle to top left areas of your layout.
The important thing to realize is that your ads are more likely to be seen and clicked if they are placed in the hottest areas on your website. That challenge is doing this without negatively impacting the content your site delivers, which is after all the reason a person is at your website in the first place.
Most website designs today use a left or right sidebar. You probably have one of these too. I personally like to make sure content is first, advertising second, so I reserve the hottest parts of my websites for content, and place ads in the sidebar, or just after content.
The footer and header are options too, but often do not perform as well.
What I don’t want you to do is go and place ads in every hot spot on your site. Too many ads is not good.
Not only can it look bad, it often increases your bounce rate and reduces visit duration (people coming to your site and leaving straight away). Also, as we now know because Google has said so, they are factoring in the amount of ads on your site when discerning quality and thus how high to rank your site in search results.
My formula is to place one main ad in the top of the sidebar, then secondary ads a little further down the sidebar, maybe some text links at the end of the sidebar and possibly banners at the end of content too (I like that a person reads an article to completion, then sees the ad – it works with reading flow, rather than disrupts it).
I have in the past also had header and footer banners. Many bloggers also place ads aligned left or right within the start of an article, which is usually the hottest spot for clicks. I’ve not done this because I like to separate ads from content, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a viable option.
What I suggest you do is start by installing CrankyAds, then pick two to three locations on your site to place the ads. Model my own site if you like, and have a browse around to see what other top blogs do – where do they place their ads?
Avoid Negative Social Proof
We recently helped a person set up CrankyAds on their website.
I had only just completed setting up the ad zones on this particular site when we received an email from a potential sponsor. They were interested in buying some advertising but they were concerned about something.
They wanted to know why no one else had bought ads on the website?
This is what we call “negative social proof”. Social proof is when other people’s actions (or lack thereof) impact the decision making process of a potential person or customer. In this case it is negative, because seeing no sponsors make a potential sponsor wonder if there is a reason why – perhaps something is wrong or maybe the site is not a good site to sponsor.
No one wants to be first if they are spending money on something that may or may not do what they want it to do. They want to spend money on things other people have spent money on and earned the result they wanted. This is positive social proof, and is the reason why you see testimonials and case studies on so many product sales pages.
Social proof is huge when it comes to advertising too. If you have read Richard Branson’s autobiography (Losing My Virginity) you may recall one of his very first projects was a music magazine at his school. In typical Branson style, he managed to monetize his small publication by selling ads, but not just to local small businesses – he went after big brands.
I can’t recall the specific companies mentioned in the book (I read it many years ago), but I do remember that Branson was clever when it came to using social proof and competition when sourcing sponsors for his publication. He would effectively call the advertising manager at Pepsi and tell them that Coke had bought a full page ad on the back of his magazine and then ask if they wanted to buy the front page. Once Pepsi signed on, he could then call Coke and say that Pepsi had bought the front page, did they want the back.
It may be a deceptive, but you can’t help but admire the hutzpah Branson had, not to mention the clever psychology he used to secure advertisers.
In your case with your blog, what you want to do is place a few internal advertisements or affiliate ads in your zones when you first start and have no sponsors. This is a smart idea because it allows you to monetize unsold advertising space, and shows potential sponsors that you have advertisements running. Sponsors won’t know if ad campaigns are paying adverts or affiliate campaigns – and that doesn’t matter – it just shows that you have ads on your site so it’s safe for them to buy an ad.
Ideally, you should mix your adzones with affiliate ads, internal campaigns, “advertise here” banners so sponsors know they have the option to buy a campaign, and paying sponsor ads. As you slowly sell ads to sponsors, you can drop out the internal/affiliate ads. Make sure you always keep one spot spare so the advertise here banners displays (and of course so sponsors can buy it).
Incidentally, CrankyAds handles the mixing process easily, including automatic insertion of “advertise here” ads, and the ability to easily upload internal campaigns through the manager interface. You can instantly cancel or reinstate affiliate ads in response to selling sponsor ads (or when they cancel) so your adzones are always full of the right mix of media.
Hopefully given enough time you will sell most of your ad spots to paying sponsors, but until this happens, you should make sure the mix is good so you don’t turn away potential sponsors with negative social proof.
Sometimes Less Is More
When I recently launched a redesign of my blog, I made available quite a few new ad positions. One of them was a site wide header banner just below the navigation bar. I considered this the maximum exposure spot, and accordingly charged the most money for it.
After a few weeks I hadn’t sold any ads in the spot and I was beginning to think I may have a dud zone. I wasn’t a big fan of the spot because it was quite invasive – it really stood out. Truth be told, I had probably gone a little too far adding too many ad positions on my site (this can be very subjective, people will say this site currently has too many ads, while others will say you can squeeze more in).
I also made the mistake of setting up the ad zone with a non-standard banner size. I should have used the IAB standard “leaderboard” banner (728x90pixels), but to fit my website design I made it wider.
I decided after a couple of months of not selling many ads in that spot to just completely remove the ad zone from my blog.
What was interesting is what happened next…
After making this change, the banner slot in the top right sidebar suddenly became much more prominent. Prior to this it was competing for attention with the header banner. Now with the header gone, it was clearly the hottest ad zone on my site for attracting eyeballs.
It turned out this wasn’t just my “feeling” about the difference, I quickly sold out of banners in the spot after the change. By removing one banner, another became more popular.
Changes like this won’t necessarily be obvious. All you can do is test. Understand that context matters. Each element of your site layout impacts others, and when it comes to ads, less can equal more.
In my case I increased my ad income by removing an adzone because it resulted in selling more of another.
Scarcity And Choice
There are important psychological triggers behind changes like my decision to remove an ad zone. In particular, Scarcity and the Paradox of Choice come into play.
When you remove options you have fewer ads to sell. Scarcity drives sales. It increases demand because chances are if an advertiser doesn’t buy, someone else will and they will miss out. This also helps with social proof because when you sell ads you are more likely to sell more ads.
Having too many options creates a paradox where potential sponsors choose not to buy an ad at all. If they have seven ad zones to choose from, they become concerned that they will waste money by not buying the best spot. If you drop down to three ad zones, or one of each type of media (one banner, one text link, one video ad for example), you make it that much easier to make the choice because they won’t be concerned they are not buying your best option in that format.
Some sites offer just one ad zone. This makes the decision of what ad spot to buy easy to make and drives up demand because you have limited supply. It also makes your site “cleaner” – free from excessive ads.
The downside of this strategy of course is that you minimize how many ads you can sell. Some people want options beyond just one banner zone, so personally I feel offering a few different options is a good idea, but don’t go over board. Lean on the side of less and you will do well.
I recommend you ask an innocent bystander to take a quick look at your site and ask them which advertisement stands out. Ask if they feel overwhelmed by ads and how hard they found it to find your actual site content.
Finding the right mix is critical. I like having two-to-three banner zones and one text link area as a good starting point. However if you are really unsure and new to selling ads, start with just one zone and perhaps increase the price a little and see how you go.
Elements You Can Test
Now that you are ready to place the ads on your site, the next step of the process is testing to find the right combination of all the different elements for maximum return.
Here are some of the elements I have tested and recommend you try. Don’t test changes all at once, make one change at a time and give at least a month before drawing conclusions, especially if you don’t have a lot of traffic.
- Test Price: This is obvious, but of course obvious doesn’t mean you will actually do it. I test pricing using a simple method. If I am not selling ads, drop the price. If I sell out, or nearly sell out, raise the price.
- Test Media: Banners are by far the most common ad format, but have you considered offering video ads? (CrankyAds can help you sell video ads). What about text links? I’ve made consistent income from text link sponsors for years – even before I was a blogger. Mix up your media type and price options, for example, offer text links as a low cost entry ad format.
- Test Discounts: I offer one free month of advertising for every five months paid for in advance. This allows your sponsor to lock in a campaign long term and get a discount for doing so, and you get a nice chunk of income up front. Play with options and other discount formats and see what works for you.
- Test Bundles: One thing I used to do was offer a package that included all my adverting formats for one monthly price. You can test bundling different adzones together, or even offer a bundle where a sponsor who buys six months worth of advertising gets a free sponsored review. Options abound.
These are some of the elements I have tested that have worked for me. Give them a try yourself, but do it slowly. Too many options or changes at once turn people away.
One Final Tip
I’ll end this article with something that might seem obvious but is so worthwhile.
Ask your sponsors how their campaign went.
It’s not something I always do, but when I have I always learn interesting things – important things too – like what exactly motivates my sponsors. The better I understand the people who are buying ads from my site, the better I can serve them.
Now it is your turn. Go set up your ad zones, start lean, price well, test options and get excited when you sell that first advertisement.
Photo courtesy of mars_discovery_district