So you have a blog and are starting to get a bit of traffic. Just about every website you visit has ads on it, so you’re thinking maybe it’s time you cash in on this phenomenon. But how do you actually get ads on your site? How much money can you make? How many ads should you have? Do you have to sell them yourself? How much traffic do you need to start? How do you optimize ads to increase revenue? Heck, where do you start?
Man have I traveled down this road before (and then some)! I am constantly experimenting, questioning, and pushing the envelope with ads on my wife’s blog, 100 Days of Real Food (with over 41 million page views in the past year, it pays to do so).
But today I’ll leave the advanced stuff out of the picture and focus on the basics. I’m going to attempt to speak to my old self, specifically the Jason Leake of January of 2012 who was completely clueless about this strange world. I remember my frustration at not understanding what was and was not possible, let alone who to reach out to for help. But I was determined. The possibility of quitting my corporate job depended on me figuring this out. I know that sounds dramatic, but I am totally serious. I didn’t allow myself to quit until we were paying the bills with blog income alone (I quit 7/31/12).
Enough already, give me the basics.
OK at a very high level, you can sell ads yourself (and handle all the related work that comes with that) and/or you can use one or more ad networks to do that work for you in exchange for a portion of the ad revenue, called a revenue share. We do both, as you can see in my related post entitled How We Make a Full-Time Income Blogging.
Selling ads yourself
This is the simplest method to understand (notice I did not say easiest to do), so I’ll cover it first. Selling ads yourself basically involves finding someone that will pay you a small set fee (maybe it’s only $50 – my wife’s first direct ad sold for $100 back when she had around 100k monthly pageviews or so) to run an ad on your site for a month. For example, say your blog is about living a healthy lifestyle in your city and you know the owner of a yoga studio that is looking for more customers that fit the demographic of your readers. Here is what you actually have to do to earn your $50.
- Identify your prospect (the yoga studio owner in this case).
- Convince her to advertise with you.
- Negotiate your terms.
- Draft and sign a basic agreement/contract.
- Get paid.
- Record the transaction in your books (even if it’s just a spreadsheet of income and expenses).
- Possibly help create a nice looking ad if she does not have one (PicMonkey and GIMP are good free resources).
- Traffic her ad (this is ad operations, aka Ad Ops, jargon which means to take her ad and get it to show up on your site during the time period you agreed upon).
- Give your new sponsor a “shoutout” either on social media or in a blog post (if that’s part of your agreement).
- Remember to take the ad down after the specified time period.
- Probably handle some customer service along the way.
- (Optional) Pull performance statistics, discuss results and try for repeat business.
Before you pitch the yoga studio owner, however, you need to get your ducks in a row and create a basic media kit. This is a one or two page document that explains what your site is about, your demographics, your traffic and other stats (such as email and social media followers), the specifics of your advertising option(s) and your rates, and (later) some testimonials. Basically put yourself in the yoga studio owner’s shoes and proactively answer the key questions you would have about working with you and what she is going to get in return for her advertising dollars.
Our first media kit was nothing more than a plain PDF document with a logo and basic stats created in PowerPoint, which was sufficient at the time. There’s no sense in making this complicated or expensive as you start out, because then maybe you won’t do it. We paid a designer to create our second media kit (shown below), and it looked much more professional as a result. We’ve since revised it and our logo, but it’s a decent example.
Of course your fee will vary depending on all sorts of things, but a good ball park is the equivalent of a $2 CPM. What the heck is CPM, you may be wondering? CPM stands for “cost per milli” and represents how much an advertiser would pay for 1,000 impressions (one impression is the ad loading on one person’s browser as they read your blog). Impressions (per ad zone) are usually equal to the number of page views that your site is getting since the ad loads when the page is viewed, assuming the user scrolls down far enough to see it.
So if you get say 25,000 page views in a month and were running one ad in your sidebar, you could charge say $50 for that ad for one month since 25,000/1,000*$2=$50. Now you are not actually charging them per thousand impressions, you are just looking at your traffic to get a rough idea of what is fair to charge for displaying their ad for a month since that is much simpler. You are assuming your traffic will be roughly the same from month to month.
Getting the Ad on Your Site
The simplest way to get an ad onto your site is to use an image widget, say on the sidebar for example.
1. Take the creative (which is just a fancy term for the image shown in the ad) from your advertiser and upload it to your WordPress media library, just like any other image. Copy the resulting image URL.
2. Open your Wordpress dashboard and go to Appearance>Widgets. Create a new image widget (you must have Jetpack installed) in the right sidebar. Paste the image URL from step 1 and then enter the target URL (where the reader goes when they click the ad…the yoga studio website in this case) and save. You should now see the ad on your site (you may need to refresh the page). Yay!
Let’s take a look at a basic ad for Pro Blog School that I run on my wife’s site from time to time. Now normally your advertiser will provide you with the creative, but since this is my ad I’ll share that I got the image of the iPad from iStockphoto.com and then used PicMonkey.com to add the text, resulting in the image below. Okay, if I am being really honest here, my wife is the one who got the image and then made it look all fancy on PicMonkey for me. 🙂
1) First I uploaded the image to the WordPress media library, and then I copied the resulting URL http://www.100daysofrealfood.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/ProBlogSchool_300x250.jpg.
2) Next I added the image widget to the right sidebar and filled in the URL from step 1 along with the target URL http://problogschool.com/welcome-100-days-of-real-food-readers/.
And voila! Here is the ad on the site.
While you can work with custom ad sizes, I highly recommend using standard ad sizes like 300×250, 160×600, or 728×90 since these are the most common. If you are working with an experienced advertiser, they likely will already have creatives in one of these sizes and therefore it will be easier for them to just give you one of those rather than create something new. Plus if you decide to use an ad network in the same place later, you won’t have to change the layout of your site.
How Many Ads Should I Display?
Once you make that first $50 (or whatever your price may be), it’s not long before you realize you could be making $500 a month by running 10 ads at the same time. Cha-ching! Heck, you may wonder how many ads you can fit on your site and start to think this is going to be awesome!! (I did that). But how many is too many?
That depends, but as you put more ads on your site, your page will take longer to load. Taken to extremes, this not only irks your readers, but Google will take note and your search engine results will suffer, meaning less traffic (and money) for you. Another negative side effect is that too many ads results in ad blindness. If your advertiser is not getting many clicks since they are lost in a sea of ads, they are unlikely to advertise with you again. Plus the appearance of your site will suffer, resulting in a higher bounce rate (people landing on your page and quickly leaving without clicking on anything else), fewer return visitors, etc.
So as with most things in life, you must find a good balance. You might start off with a limit of around say 6 ads max and see how that works out. I had my own “this is going to be awesome!” moment myself and went too far in the beginning after adding up potential earnings on a spreadsheet. We later decided to pull back, and you can read about it in my post How We Make a Full-Time Income Blogging. Skip down to the “Finding Balance” section for the details.
When Should I Start Running Ads?
When you are just starting out with your blog, you really should NOT distract yourself with monetizing. Instead focus on learning your way around WordPress, writing, interacting with your audience, and making the site your own. What would your opinion be if you landed on a site with very little content but lots of ads? Those feel spammy to me.
That being said, once you’ve found your voice and your groove (and have enough content and traffic), don’t hesitate to monetize! Receiving those first checks can be very inspirational, and the sooner you make an income, the sooner you can hire help. Lisa was just commenting how she was very hesitant to put ads on her blog at first, but she got zero complaints afterwards so in hindsight it was really no big deal.
To see if running ads are worth your time, you can estimate your income based on your traffic and the other info in this post…plus I have a blog income calculator in the works that I know will be super useful. Make sure you subscribe to my email list to be notified when it goes live!
This next piece is totally optional, but to help automate the whole process you might consider using a Wordpress plugin to manage the ads. Such plugins can cause problems (ads not updating) if you also use a caching plugin, so be careful there. Another alternative is Google DFP, which is a free ad server. But since it can be a bear to set up and learn, proceed with caution if you are a beginner.
There are also services like BuySellAds.com and iSocket.com that will automate the process for a cut of your profits. Those last two can also put your inventory in front of potential advertisers, but I wouldn’t expect much. You’d still need to expect to sell on your own and then point prospects to the respective sites to seal the deal.
Taking the Easy Way Out
Whew, that is a lot of work for $50! In fact, we very quickly hired a sales manager to handle selling ads for us. A ballpark commission for this type of work is 25 to 30% (depending on experience), but if your traffic is low it won’t make sense to hire this out yet. Just wanted to plant the seed regardless 🙂
Luckily, it’s much easier to use an ad network (as opposed to going it alone) since they do most of the work for you. I cover this in my next post, coming soon, entitled Ads 102: How to Make Money Using Ad Networks.