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How Do I Sell Advertising on My Blog?

A candid interview with the monetization chief of a blog network


Editor's note: Lynn Truong is Director of Sales at Killer Aces Media (disclosure: I'm a cofounder) and a frequent contributor to About.com. In this interview -- conducted while we prepared for her panel discussion on blog monetization at the BlogHer '08 conference -- Lynn shares some insider tips on how professional bloggers can stop being slaves to Google AdSense and start to earn "real" money from their blogs.

I'm only making $15 in AdSense a month, what do I do next?

You need to increase your traffic.

Play around with ad placement. AdSense has general tips on the best ad placements. Also specifically for blogs and forums.

Diversify your ad providers. Try an ad network like Adbrite or BlogHer Ads. [Editor's note: Here's a list of 60+ ad networks and affiliate programs.]

Listen to the market. If you get direct sales inquiries, you should start doing that. If your review articles are good, try affiliate sales.

How long did it take you to make $100?

Our flagship site, Wise Bread, took 3 months to go from $0 to $100. But your results may vary, especially if you're a solo blogger. It might take 6 - 12 months.

How do you choose which ad network to partner up with?

Get recommendations from other people. I look at who is using them. Are the big bloggers endorsing this network? What do the bloggers in our niche use?

Some things I use to evaluate an advertising network are the user interface and their current advertisers. Do they have advertisers that work well for our topic? For the user interface, I want an easy way to deal with unwanted ads.

I want to start selling ads directly. Where do you find these direct advertisrs? We're not a big site so people don't come to us.

Create an "advertise here" page.

Get bigger (so you're more attractive to advertisers) and try to get known within your industry. Specifically, it'll be PR and marketing people you want to make contact with. Go to conferences. Be active in your niche's blogosphere. Basically, you need to network. Look at the bigger blogs in your niche and approach them. Write a guest post for them or be a good commenter. If the biggies know you, they will link to you, and you increase your reach and influence.

Another great way to reach ad buyers is to join a network of blogs for your niche. For example, in the personal finance niche, there's the Money Blog Network and the The Money Writers . There are similar associations in every niche. If there isn't one for your topic, you can start one yourself!

What should go on the advertise page?

1. Rates and placement. The Gothamist network's specs/rates page does this well. They show you where the ads will appear. Even if your rates aren't public, show advertisers what their options are.

2. Brag sheet. List prominent mentions and links, showcase your popular posts, point to hot comment threads, etc. You want to show your authority and influence. If you have the traffic numbers

3. Traffic and subscriber numbers. Advertisers are looking for monthly page views (and unique views) and feed or email subscribtion counts. Even if you don't have big traffic, you should publish these stats on your advertise page. They give potential advertisers an idea of how you fit into their budgets and marketing campaigns.

4. Demographics data. Gawker's audience page is very detailed. You can get most of this info by asking your readers in a survey or using a free service like Quantcast.

How do you know what to charge for direct advertising?

From experience. Trial and error. Start at around $5 CPM and move it up or down based on the responses you get (or don't get) from potential advertisers.

Talk to other bloggers in your niche to see what they charge. (This is another benefit of joining a network of bloggers in your niche.)

You can also use what the major ad networks. Double it (since networks take half) and then give 20% off.

Look at rate cards of top sites like Gawker as a guideline.

You also need to take fill rate into account. You might make more money charging a high rate (and filling less of your inventory). Or you might make more charging less and selling out. Your goal is to maximize your total revenue, so the price of a single impression is not your only concern.

Should I make my rates public?

It depends. If you want to have flexibility, then don't publish. You want to talk to the advertiser directly to work with them.

If you don't have a lot of time, or have standard ad sizes and don't want to negotiate, then public rates are a good way to weed people out.

What do you do when advertisers are unhappy with the results?

We've always had good experiences with advertisers because we work with them to make sure they're happy.

Advertisers may not have realistic expectations. Clearly communicate what you offer before the campaign starts, and talk to them during the campaign too.

Don't panic when they complain. Work with them to change creative or campaign.

Give them a discount on future campaigns if you have to.

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