Best Practices for Selling Ads on Your WordPress Site
Selling ads is just one of many ways to monetize a website. But it’s not the right solution for everyone. Repeat: It’s not the right solution for everyone.
In fact, it’s a downright bad idea for some and can detract from your site’s content. Still, when ads work, they work great and can bring in some great side income to cover site expenses and more.
Getting started with ads can be tricky though, especially if this is brand new territory for you. There are a lot of options to consider and determining which is best for your situation is tough. Thank goodness we’re here to walk you through it all though, right?
Today, expect to learn about the pros and cons of selling ads on your website, what you need to consider before getting started, and the top solutions for integrating ad spaces and ad management into your WordPress site.
The Benefits of Selling Advertising
Selling advertising carries with it numerous benefits. I can’t possibly go over them all here. But for our purposes, I think it’s important to note the following four key benefits:
You can build relationships
When you reach out to potential advertisers, you’re building relationships for the long haul. Especially if you take care with how you approach them. Michael Hyatt, author and prolific blogger, suggests contacting a few people you know already (or you are at least acquainted with) and pitch them an ad spot for free for 30 days. If the relationship is mutually beneficial, you can offer to keep the ad running for a fee.
You can leverage your site’s traffic
If you’re receiving a fair amount of site traffic already, it would behoove you to take advantage of it. While you may already sell products, use affiliate links, or strive to build your email list, it’s also a good idea to sell ads. You diversify your revenue streams and make the most of every single visitors.
You increase your site’s professionalism
Having ads on your site can lend it the appearance of being professional. That is, visitors will have certain assumptions about you based on the ads you display. They may assume you have an advertising budget, that people want to advertise on your site, and that what you offer is in demand. All of these assumptions go a long way toward increasing the perceived validity of what you do/sell.
You have control over your income
Seriously, you set the terms when you sell ad space. You can get the money upfront for a set period of time that the ad will run. You’re not earning based on ad performance here. Rather, you’re selling space on your site, just like you would for space in a magazine. And that means so long as people continue to renew their advertising contracts with you, there will always be a set amount of money coming in each month. Fixed income for a website is a pretty sweet deal.
But There Are Drawbacks, Too…
Offering ad space on your site can be great but it’s not without its problems. This is especially the case if a) your site just isn’t ready for advertising yet or b) you go overboard. Let’s spend a little time now going over the reasons why maybe selling ads isn’t the right choice for you.
They increase bounce rate
While selling advertising can increase your site’s income, they can also cause people to skip out on your site before they fully realize your content. That’s because if an ad is effective, it’ll cause a visitor to click away from your site. Kind of an odd catch-22 there, but definitely something to think about, especially if you run a newer site. If your site’s new, you’ll need to keep every visitor you can for as long as you can. You can’t afford to lose a single one.
They reduce site speed
This really only applies if you’re running a ton of ads on your site at once. But if you are, chances are your site’s speed is going to slow way down. And that’s a problem when you’re trying to appeal to your visitors and make a pleasant user experience. A slow site is one with a high bounce rate. So, not good.
They can ruin your design
While many ads are attractive, not all of them are. And if you take on an advertising contract that provides unattractive ads, you’re stuck with it for however long the contract lasts. If it totally clashes with your site’s theme, the ad can have a negative impact on the visitor’s impression of your brand.
They can look tacky
This applies, especially if you have a lot of ads on your site. If you display ads all over—not just in designated areas—you’re conveying that you don’t have very high standards and will accept any old ad from anybody. While it can make you look high in demand, it more often than not shows a lack of discernment and taste. Read also: desperation.
They often don’t perform very well
Selling ads can bring in regular, steady income, but only if a buyer continues to renew their contract with you. Otherwise, you’ll always be scrambling to find a new advertiser. If your site doesn’t have the traffic to drive traffic, it’s unlikely the ads will pay off for the advertiser in the short term, or you in the long term.
It might seem like I’m painting ads in a bad light. But really, I just want you to have a clear idea of what you’re getting into before offering space on your site for sale. It’s not a decision you should make lightly. In fact, I’ve put together a brief list of things you should consider before doing so.
Things to Think About Before Selling Ads
It’s important to consider the following before setting up a media kit or sending out a pitch letter to a potential advertiser:
Where will the ads be located on your site?
It’s really important to designate ad “zones” on your site. Doing so actually accomplishes several things. First, it shows you’re offering a limited amount of space on your site for advertising, which means the value of each ad is increased. It also shows you have discerning taste. Making every single spot on your site that isn’t your content an ad is tacky and makes it look like you’ll accept any old ad. So, pick one to three areas on your site that are to be used solely for ads and don’t go beyond that. Common choices include a section of the sidebar, the header, and the footer. You can sometimes get away with ads in the middle of posts, too, but please don’t overdo it.
What will you charge?
How much you charge for ads depends largely on what you’re offering your advertisers in return. If your site gets a lot of traffic, you can justifiably charge more. If your site is new, you’ll probably want to keep your rates lower so advertisers won’t be taking as much of a risk if they don’t get a huge return on their investment. Take a look around at the advertising pages on other sites in your niche or by your competitors to establish a good range for your ad rates.
Will you sell ads directly or use an ad network?
This is a tough decision. Selling ads on your own means you get to keep all the revenue for yourself, which is a pretty sweet deal. But that also means you need to manage everything yourself, from processing payments, placing the ads, and renewing contracts. Using an ad network means you have to fork over a percentage of the cash but everything is pretty much managed for you. If you’re super busy (and honestly, who isn’t?) it might be worthwhile to use a network, at least to start.
What will your advertising page include?
Before you can sell ads, you need to figure out the terms and conditions of doing so. You also need to establish what’s in it for the advertiser. Why should someone choose your site over another to place an ad? You should answer these questions at the very least on a dedicated advertising page on your site. You might also want to create a media kit so advertisers have a clearer sense of your site’s demographics and traffic. Putting as much information out there as you can ensures advertisers get to make informed decisions. And an in-the-know advertiser is a happy advertiser.
How will you find advertisers?
Another thing you need to think about is how to find people willing to purchase ad space on your site. For starters, you might want to reach out to businesses and colleagues you already know to see if they’d be interested in placing an ad. This can help to populate your site with ads quickly. However, in the long-term, you want advertisers to come to you and not the other way around. Building a dedicated advertising page is a good way to make it known you accept ads. An occasional social media post about it can help, too. Or, if you don’t want to do the legwork, joining an ad network can help find willing advertisers for you.
Does your site have enough traffic to warrant ads?
Typically, you need to have a fair amount of traffic to your site before accepting ads becomes a reasonable solution. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. Thinking in terms of high traffic is the assumption for advertisers but according to Smashing Magazine, what they’re really after is a high conversion rate. So, if your site has low traffic but it’s highly targeted and would appeal to your advertiser, an ad on your site would be as sound of an investment as one placed on a higher traffic site.
Solutions for Selling Ads in WordPress
Whether you decide to sell ads yourself or to use a network, getting the right tools at hand is essential for success. What follows are a few plugins and services that simplify the process of accepting ads, placing ads, and processing payments.
One solution for selling ads is called PublicityClerks. This service makes it easy to both buy and sell advertising by providing a network that publishers and advertisers can tap into. Not every site is accepted to the network, but if yours is approved, you’ll be certain to connect to high quality advertisers that have established ad budgets and are willing to spend to get a good ROI.
You have total control over what ads you accept but PublicityClerks offers a great platform through which to find advertisers, establish relationships, and accept payments. An account is free though a percentage of your advertising revenue is collected by the site.
Another ad network platform to consider is called AdSella. This one allows you to connect with many advertisers at once, effectively announcing you have ad space available. This increases the likelihood of you landing an advertiser and building your site’s profitability.
Just as with PublicityClerks above, signing up for the site is free but it keeps a cut of your ad revenue. The percentage taken by AdSella is 20%. Those looking to buy ad space on your site can do so by browsing based on a number of variables including the number of ad impressions and price.
If you’re looking for a fully integrated solution for WordPress, AdSanity might just be it. This plugin is an ad rotator that lets you create and manage the ads you display on your site. This is a good choice if total self ad management is more your style and you want to skip the ad networks altogether.
What’s cool about this plugin is you don’t have to learn a new interface. Managing ads will feel very much like managing posts. It comes with two ad widgets for your convenience. The first displays a single ad and the second allows you to display ad groups. You can display ads infinitely or set an expiration date. The plugin also provides easy to use stats, and comes with actions and filters for total developer customization. For a single site license, AdSanity costs $29.00. A license for up to 3 sites costs $69. Finally, a developer or unlimited site license costs $129.
Another fully-integrated ad solution for WordPress is OIO Publisher. This plugin allows you to tap into an ad network and experience automated ad management, while still having control over how your ad space is utilized. What’s really great about this plugin and service is they don’t take a percentage of your revenue. You get to keep it all. Ad sales are automated and tracked within the plugin and once you sign up, your site is listed in the ad marketplace so advertisers can more readily find you.
OIO Publisher is priced at a flat rate of $47 no matter how many websites you have.
Still another option is BuySellAds. This is one of the bigger services out there and for good reason—it offers a full-fledged ad automation process that allows you to sell your site’s ad space with minimal fuss. The biggest draw here is the fact that many big-time advertisers use it, meaning your site will be on their radar and you can potentially land bigger advertising deals than you would without this service.
BuySellAds pretty much acts as the middle man, connecting ad buyers and ad sellers, giving them the avenue through which to make a deal, then taking 25% for the convenience.
This plugin is fairly simple but offers a host of features that are sure to impress. WP125 makes it straightforward to add 125×125 pixel ads to your site. This can be preferable to the larger, more obtrusive ads. Yes, you’ll be selling ads directly, and will have to do the legwork of finding advertisers yourself, but it’s still a nice option if you want more control over what goes on your site.
This free plugin adds an Ads menu to the dashboard so managing your ads is as easy as managing posts. Some other features include one or two column displays, unlimited ads, click tracking, expiration dates, archives, auto-placeholder, and email notifications.
Another way to manage ads yourself while still imbuing a bit of automation is to use the Advertising Manager plugin. This uses popular networks like Google Adsense and allows you to set different ad targets based on post author, tag, category, and page. It also provides statistics so you can better assess how your ads are performing.
It also comes with a sidebar widget, a button for inserting ads in blog posts, the ability to place ads in your site templates via PHP function, and more.
If you want a straightforward way to insert ads in their own widget, the WordPress Ad Widget plugin is a logical choice. Instead of having to manually insert ad images into an image widget on your site (only for the alignment to be off), this plugin adds new widgets to your dashboard that are pre-configured for popular ad sizes.
Then all you have to do is insert the widget wherever you’d like it to appear and input your ad info. No fiddling required.
Still another option is AdRotate. This plugin offers a straightforward way to display ads and offers both a widget and a shortcode for the easy insertion of ads. What’s cool about this plugin is that you can set it up to automatically rotate ads. That way you won’t have to manually go in and replace ads when they expire—the plugin will handle that for you.
AdRotate is a generally popular plugin and while it’s not overloaded with features, it can be a good solution for managing ads on your own.
If you’d like to display banner ads, you might wish to consider Banner Manager Pro. This plugin allows you to sell and manage banner ad spots on your site from within the WordPress dashboard. You can use it to sell your ad spaces directly and even process payments through numerous payment gateways including PayPal and Authorize.Net.
Some other features of this plugin include multiple embedding methods, flexible banner sizes, SEO-friendly design, a preview feature, banner rotation, banner approval, statistics, translation-readiness, and more.
Banner Manager Pro is $21.
Another premium plugin worth considering is WP Pro Advertising System. It makes it simple to manage ads as well as ad zones, campaigns, and individual advertisers. It really goes a long way toward automating the process without having to be attached to an advertising network.
It includes support for traditional banner ads along with popups and corner peel ads as well as background ads on posts and pages. It also offers support for statistics and will show you the number of clicks, impressions, and your CTR. You can expect to pay $29 for WP Pro Advertising System.
There is no shortage of great options in this list but if you need another to consider, definitely take a look at AdPress. This premium plugin makes it easy to sell, display, and manage ads from within WordPress. It’s loaded with a lot of worthwhile features. For instance, it adds multiple types of ads to your dash, like images, Flash, and links. It provides a full responsive design and an ad designer that allows you to preview ads before they go live.
Other features include ad rotation, CTAs, payment gateway integration, analytics, auto-approval or moderation for ads, a client access manager, AdminBar notifications, purchase history, and more. AdPress currently costs $40.
The last plugin I’ll talk about here today is Simple Ads Manager. It lives up to its name in terms of providing a simple way to manage ads in WordPress. You can define Ads Places, ad groups, and ad rotation limits. You can set a default ad for each define ad space, so there will always be something on display, whether that’s an ad for your ad space or an affiliate link is up to you.
You can display ads in a widget, as shortcodes, in the theme’s template files via functions, and you can set up ad blocks if you’d like. There’s also several ad tracking tools, statistics, and revenue tracking, caching plugin compatibility, WPtouch compatibility, and more. This plugin is free.
Hopefully, you now have a stronger sense of what it takes to sell ads on any website, with a particular emphasis on WordPress. It’s not for everyone, but if your site has the right attributes and you’re willing to put in a little time, you can easily make ad space available. And in time, build a nice revenue stream for yourself.