Me and my ads

I am trying to learn how ads are working on blogs and so I’m trying to be promiscuous with nearly every method out there. I’m doing this for a lot of reasons: pure curiosity and pure greed among them, but I also want to inform some thoughts on the need for open ad marketplaces to support this new, distributed world. I also have joined with Burst’s Jarvis Coffin to work on a citizens’ media trade association (more on that later). And I want to learn lessons to teach in a journalistic entrepreneurial course I’ll be teaching at CUNY. So, a few tales thus far….

: The most effective means for me has been Henry Copeland’s Blogads. I put them up in the summer and every time I sold an ad, I raised my rates and I still got ads — not a landrush, but some of them included ads for movies and TV shows, which amazed me. I made a few grand and it works well from my end; I don’t know how it works from the advertisers’ end, buying sites at varying rates and efficiencies. But since especially entertainment advertisers keep coming back, I have to figure it’s working, measured either on value or buzz. I just took down my Blogads for now, but only so I could keep playing the field.

: I just joined up with John Battelle’s Federated Media, which is putting together an impressive network (if I can say that) of “author-driven” blogs. FM has a sales staff that promises to sell major advertisers. So far, I’ve had one ad, for the Wall Street Journal (and Fred Wilson made fun of me for that). This is a different model, where the sales negotiation process will determine the cost-per-thousand or cost-per-click rate. Time will tell how it works and who buys. (By the way, please take my survey so advertisers can see how damned smart… and rich… and profligate you all are.)

: I use both Google AdSense and Yahoo Publisher Network targeted text ads, trading them off in the space. See Bill Burnham’s quarterly financial report; he has done better than I have with these methods. There have to be ways to improve the targeting and efficiency of these ads (and Mark Pincus’ Tagsense project has found some ways). But right now, it’s not worth much.

: I have ads on my Feedburner feeds and can’t get to the stats for those, but I am not quitting the day job. Well, actually, I did quit the day job, so I suppose I should regret that now.

: Here’s the tale that amuses me most: Out of nowhere, sometime ago, I got an RFP (request for proposal) from Warner Brothers asking me to bid to get ads on Buzzmachine for the movie North Country. I could not understand a word of the thing. It was filled with jargon: ad-agency media-buyer and ad-technology buzzwords and acroynms aplenty. I had no frigging idea what to do with it. Mind you, I have been in the internet publishing business since practically the start — even sold my first online ad in 1995 — but I had no idea what to do; I can’t imagine what most bloggers would think of this.

Luckily, I happened to be seeing Jarvis Coffin, who’s a good guy and, unlike me, knows what he’s talking about. He said that Burst, the large ad network serving niche-interest sites he founded, would rescue me. So the good folks at Burst responded to the WB RFP with yet more jargon. One email flew buy asking whether Buzzmachine had “100 percent SOV.” I asked what the heck SOV meant. They explained that it’s “share of voice.” I still didn’t understand. But I soon learned it’s something about being the only ad on the page.

The tale continues: WB included Buzzmachine in its buy. But they wanted one of those fancy-t0-them, annoying-to-us ads that pops onto the page for a few seconds. I was willing to go with that. But there were problems. First, because of that SOV thing, I couldn’t have another ad, which meant that Burst had to serve its filler ads on my page and I heard from readers who wondered what was going on. The other problem was that the advertiser’s technology didn’t work; they said it would serve once per user session but instead they apparently set a cookie that said that users would get the ad only once in this lifetime in this or any parallel universe. As a result, I never saw the ad on my site and no one saw it more than once, which meant that Buzzmachine was, as they say, underserving. And that meant that the ad stayed up forever but all anyone ever saw were the filler banners.

And the net result of my first big studio advertising RFP was that I made next to no money and couldn’t put up other ads for weeks.

: No conclusions to all this…. yet.

  • JT Perry

    From the article:
    By the way, please take my survey so advertisers can see how damned smart… and rich… and profligate you all are.

    Clicking on the survey says the survey is closed. Am I not smart enough? :-)

  • Cal

    You don’t mention affiliate ads. I’m a broken record on the subject, so forgive me if I plug them again.

    While I do have a blog, my expertise in affiliate ads comes from the program I run at my forum, The Perfect World. I’m not sure what the best format would be for a blogger. But it would certainly involve a shopping center, and displaying sales and coupons within blog postings.

    Prominent bloggers like you can make reasonable money from CPM ads, but smaller bloggers are probably better off with affiliate advertising. Put another way, if your primary blog income is your tipjar, then affiliate advertising is probably a good move. You’re paid on performance (sales), not clicks.

    My forum members purchased well over $125K of products last year–and that doesn’t count travel reservations and ebay purchases. I’m in the top 20% of Overstock affiliates, yet I don’t have a particularly large reader/poster base (perhaps 750/month).

    I really enjoy knowing that my website is of some significance to online merchants. I get phone calls or emails from certain vendors when they have a big sale–not just the mailing everyone else gets, but a “heads up” because they value the business my site sends along. If there’s a problem, I have an inside source to contact, and that source knows that word of mouth at my site is worth more than just the immediate sale.

    I’m glad to see CPM advertising making a comeback online. But few companies are going to pay for your average tiny website to advertise Dell computers or Overstock sales–yet these are the type of products that people buy. Affiliate advertising allows even small sites to play in that space, provide their users a service, and pick up a piece of the sales.

    But I think even a major blogger like you could make some meaningful money from affiliate advertising–and in addition, prove that this new media can be a valuable source of sales and product awareness to major online vendors.

  • As a loyal reader who ALWAYS clicks on something to pay for your time and brains, i agree with the affiliate concept. You have a very affluent audience – they buy things.

    Help Amazon, etc. sell stuff.

    “Compare Refinance Quotes” — one of your Yahoo! ads just doesn’t do it for me. I might otherwise have purchased the book… “Blogging Your Way to Fame and Wealth.’

  • afsvfan

    call up your buddies in the mainstream media you know CNN or Fox. howard stern has millions to throw away…’ll get him new listeners.

  • PJ

    Another option: use linkshare or Commission Junction to create your own add using their advanced link feature, pick the items that you think best fit your audience, and collect 4-15% of each sale.

    It may not work for general or political websites, but for smaller niche topics, it is very successful.

  • Cal

    That’s not another option. That’s affiliate marketing. Linkshare and CJ are two of the largest affiliate networks. And you can’t use Linkshare and CJ per se. You apply to affiliate programs within their network.

    It should work for general and political websites, too. After all, most of the readers want to help the blogger, so they’ll buy products they use through an affiliate link.

  • The topbanner ads were annoyingf and in fact I tended to start minimizing your blog when I clicked on it, because they lagged load time, I’d read something else and ignore their ad once I came back. But it was definately out putting, funny thing about ads, I am so used to “seeing” but ignoring them I couldn’t tell you a single topic of one. I mentally filter past them.

  • I regret spending $30 on a blogad which received a large number of impressions and very few clicks. It was a very untargeted attempt, but that site was among the small number of blogad advertisers with a CPM that wasn’t basically ludicrous. The choice was between a reasonable CPM or what I considered astronomical CPM on a more targeted site. (I wrote a script to find the CPMs of all their advertisers, and many were things like $1 for 100 page views or worse).

    There’s also adbrite. For advertisers, they tend to have a large number of rather dodgy sites, and some that aren’t. The regional possibilities are rather limited, and you can only filter by countrywide traffic, not local traffic. For publishers, for some reason, no one has so far wanted to advertise on my blog through them, despite adbrite gradually lowering the rate. Other publishers seem to have a lot of ads, and some of those are a bit dodgy as well.

    You might also want to try to use adwords to drive traffic to a site or a page. The first would be to get new readers. The second might go to a sales page where you try to encourage someone to click an affiliate link to buy something.

  • Jake Thompson

    You should give the Pajamas Media ad network a try.

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  • You run ads on your site? Funny I don’t see them. Just try viewing the site with Firefox and the adblock extension installed.

    Sorry, I don’t have the business model for web sites figured out, but apparently lots of people think in-your-face ads are not what they wish to see. Adblock is the fourth most popular download for Firefox with over 100,000 installs.

    When does our society reach the point of diminishing returns from advertising? Personally, I can’t remember ever buying something because of an ad or online link in a search result. I guess I’m just in the minority.

  • Jeff, I think you ran into the uncomfortable fact that online advertising is a very technically and operationally complex business. Bloggers and small business people often make good money with very simplistic advertising strategies (i.e. AdSense and/or affiliate marketing), and then generalize that the whole industry should be “open” and “transparent”. But as you grow in size as a publisher the strategies become an order of magnitude more complex. This is why big media companies have literally hundreds of employees working on “ad ops” and why technology companies like DoubleClick (full disclosure: where I work) exist.

  • Ari: I’d argue that if DoubleClick were smart (and it is), it would find ways to enable this new world. Advertisers want to be part of it but it’s too damned difficult and, indeed, the distributed world needs help providing that stuff that advertisers want. Who better to help do that than DoubleClick? Or who worse? That’s a debate I hope you’re having inside.

  • It appears to me that you’re more interested in selling ads for a particular rate than you are accepting the rates that are automatically generated for you, which is what Google Adsense does. The only thing that I can say about Google Adsense, is that I prefer their image ads, as the text ads are unusually boring, and I can’t blame individuals for not clicking on them. I’m running 2 image ads currently, at different sizes, and will see how those work. I’m also using Clicksor, which offers contextual ads, which is where your posts are scanned and keywords highlighted and turned into hyperlinks automatically. You don’t have to think so hard about what to write about, because if you just happen to have written about something that is a hot keyword, that word will be turned into a link for a sponsored ad. The other problem with Adsense is that there are fewer sponsors for the image ads than there are the text, so the image ads tend to have absolutely nothing to do with the context of your posts. On some level I wonder if Google’s rates aren’t prohibitively expensive, or if it’s just that individuals aren’t creating ads through Adwords because most know that Google’s technology doesn’t work as well as it does for search.

    Google also has link units and a search box, in which a user searches using Google’s engine, but is directed to results that advertisers sponsor first, rather than see those results listed on the right hand side of the screen like they usually are. I haven’t had any success with that. Google also has referral programs if you’re trying to get others signed up with Adsense, and pays good rates, but I haven’t had any luck there either.

    As far as Blogads, you have to be sponsored, or invited into the program, something that may only happen if you’re on the level of Daily KOS:State of the Nation or something like that. I would love to be a part of it but it sounds like a country club approach to blogging.

  • We’re looking at putting ads onto Winds, and I sent an app in to Fastclick (Doubleclick) and we got turned down…sniff…waiting to hear from Tribal Fusion and Burst.

    We’re running 300K views a month, so I’d assume _someone_ would talk to us…


  • I know this comment is months late … but what about local advertising? I’m a complete neophyte, but my blog is local content for a niche community (gays) so I’m wondering if I could actually get advertising from local LGBT vendors? Anyone ever try that? Or is it not worth the effort?

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