You've put in the hard yards creating quality content and attracting high traffic to your website. Now you're ready to start making money, and selling ad space is a great place to start.
For any publisher thinking of monetising their website, selling ads has many benefits. While there are some essential boxes you need to tick up front, once you have a process in place, it can become a lucrative and stable source of revenue.
Selling ad space involves designating available sections of your website for ad hosting. These ads take many forms, such as banner ads, sponsored content, or videos. In fact, according to eMarketer, nearly 50% of programmatic budgets are spent by advertisers on video ads, both on desktop and mobile.
Whatever the ad type, the potential for publishers is substantial. Depending on the size of the website and niche, publishers can passively earn thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars simply by displaying the right ads to the right audiences at the right time.
By the end of this guide, you’ll understand how selling ad space works for publishers and the best methods to sell ad space on your website.
Basic Criteria to Sell Ads for Web Publishers
Not all websites are made equal, but what all advertisers want is for their message to reach the right audience. High quality websites are more likely to achieve this goal meaning less ad spend for brands and marketers.
Here are the basic requirements you need to meet to sell advertising space:
Publishers should have a sizable traffic to be attractive to advertisers. The more page views you have, the more eyes advertisers get on their ad.
There is no traffic requirement for selling ad space on your website if you're going direct to the advertiser. But certain affiliate networks and ad platforms do have specific thresholds.
For example, to qualify for a Google AdX account, you must have:
- 5 billion page views a month
- Appropriate brand safety measures
- An updated ads.txt file with details of inventory buyers
There may be more checks related to ad viewability and safety concerns. For example, Google AdX might reject a publisher’s website if it’s known to show inappropriate content and/or has a low viewability score.
To join other networks, some require your site to have at least 1 million visitors a month and may have requirements around bounce rate (such as, you must have a bounce rate lower than 50%).
High Quality Content
All of those things that attract high traffic to your site are the same things your advertisers will be looking for: original, high-quality and relevant content that keeps readers on the page and coming back for more.
If you run a niche blog in your industry, for example, you might share thought leadership, exclusive interviews, how-to articles and more. For example, Taste.com.au features lots of recipe ideas and inspiration.
Don't expect to get anywhere with advertisers if your site features any prohibited content categories, such as pornography, hate speech, and explicit violence, weapons and ammunition, illegal drugs, alcohol and tobacco, gambling and online casinos, spyware, malware or hacking software.
Advertisers are looking for the same design traits that provide your visitors with a great user experience.
As well as a visually attractive design, easy navigation is essential. Your site should provide a streamlined user experience, with an easy flow from page to page. And if you are going to feature ads on your web pages, you need to make sure load time and latency are not impacted to an extent where user experience is compromised.
Women's media site Mamamia is a brilliant example of a well-designed, attractive and user friendly site:
Make sure your web page is mobile friendly too - this is a non-negotiable.
Google AdSense also recommends including unintrusive features that boost engagement, such as comments sections and eye-catching visuals. All of these things can increase time on page, and therefore increase exposure time to ads.
When optimising a website’s design, don’t forget to pay attention to page load times too. This is key to a good user experience.
High traffic is good, but a loyal audience is more valuable.
In fact, you can still sell ad space from a low traffic website. It all depends on the level of engagement from your audience, which many advertisers acknowledge is an important measure for good websites.
Some advertisers are willing to pay more to get their message in front of a highly engaged and loyal audience who will keep returning for more content.
For example, We Are Explorers says on its website:
"Creating extraordinary content every day, we reach 1.3 million travel-hungry 24-44 year old Australians each month and are fast becoming a leading destination for information and inspiration on adventure, travel and nature experiences."
How do you prove you have loyal, engaged audiences when selling ads?
Show advertisers your content comments, email click/response rates, and other interactive signals. All of this will work to increase the value of available ad space on a publisher's site.
Transparency means everything to consumers today. Your site must show credentials and contact information on the website’s main pages for visitors.
Digital advertising is plagued with transparency issues, and both publishers and advertisers recognise the problem with unauthorised resellers, fraud related to domain spoofing, and security breaches. Advertisers are increasingly wary of sacrificing budget and, more importantly, their reputations on dishonest sites.
To remedy this situation, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) recommends publishers host ads.txt (which stands for Authorised Digital Sellers) and is a file with verified sellers of the publisher’s inventory. The aim is to help shift programmatic media spend to authorised supply paths and limit the ability of criminal entities profiting from counterfeit programmatic advertising inventory.
For publishers, another way to showcase your transparency is by creating a media kit. Show off your metrics, content guidelines and authors, so advertisers know exactly who they are working with.
Every publisher requires their own ad server to participate in forms of website advertising that involve ad creatives, which are the final ads delivered to a website by an advertiser.
Ad servers automatically collect data, such as impressions and clicks, and provide reporting options for the publisher to gain insights about the performance of ads on your website. They serve as a library to store and manage the creative media, and they manage decisions about which ads to show based on what is known about a visitor.
3 Ways to Sell Advertising Space
If your website already has a solid traffic flow, a sizeable audience, and quality content, it’s time to consider how to sell ad spaces. Publishers have a range of options for selling ad space on their websites.
Consider these four monetisation strategies to start earning income from your website:
1. Programmatic advertising
Programmatic advertising is the process of selling ads online through automated platforms.
Ad spaces are traded in real-time auctions, where advertisers compete for the impressions and publishers can maximise revenue.
Rather than buying blocks of advertising, advertisers bid at individual impressions. Website owners then receive real market value for their placements and can earn more for audiences that are in demand.
The advantage here is in the automation of the buying and selling processes. There's no need to look for media buyers to place relevant ads or wait for the suitable affiliate program, because programmatic advertising will match appropriate ads with relevant audiences.
It enables publishers to optimise sales, streamline the process and maximise revenue. At the same time, they can receive powerful insights from real-time statistics and really understand the value of their inventory better so they can customise it better for the highly competitive bidding environment.
How programmatic advertising works
Publishers usually choose to sell ads through open real-time bidding (RTB), an auction process of buying and selling advertising impressions for a selected audience. Advertisers place bids using software and transactions are executed in milliseconds.
The bidding process takes place on ad exchanges, with the buyer-represented agencies and advertisers connected through the Demand Side Platform (DSP) while the publishers are connected to exchanges via the supply-side platform (SSP).
The SSP helps to manage and sell the website owner's digital ad inventory via real-time bidding or programmatic deals.
When a user visits the publisher’s site, the ad tag passes the ad request to the SSP, telling it about the user and their characteristics in order to match it with a relevant ad from the advertiser.
The ad spaces are then auctioned off programmatically to interested advertisers and then the website can serve ads.
The benefits of the platform are it allows website owners to connect to different monetisation sources, receive bids from many DSPs, and enter into transactions directly, so they can achieve maximum profit.
When you sell through the SSP, you are able to set price floors, so you never lose out on profit. Also, depending on your objectives, you can choose to work with local or global brands.
Publishers that want more control over the process and sell narrow audience segments to more brand-safe advertisers should consider an ad network, or ad server.
Ad networks are more than just intermediaries between advertisers and publishers - they are platforms that allow for data management and creative management.
Ad exchanges and SSPs cover the basics of the media trading market, so ad networks concentrate on more premium inventory and usually specialise in particular content topics or audiences. For example, publishers like New York Times and Forbes trade via ad networks.
How ad networks work?
Unlike Google AdSense where advertisers and agencies manage the bidding, targeting and optimization, most ad networks manage campaigns on behalf of their advertisers.
The ad network and buyer negotiate the terms of an ad, such as audience targets, impressions (how many times an ad is served) and average cost per impression (CPM).
The ad network then rolls out the targeting, optimisation and reporting. Ads are delivered to a publisher by the ad network’s ad server using the publisher's website code that calls the ad.
Performance is then tracked via a tracking pixel placed on the advertiser's conversion page, such as a thank you page after a download or form submission.
2. Sell ad space directly
For maximum control over the advertising process, you can sell ads directly. This is a good option for publishers who are still growing their traffic too.
If you sell ad space directly, you don't need an ad network or SSP. You simply establish direct relationships with the brand or business who is advertising. Selling ad spaces direct means you can invest in building long-term partnerships and reserve blocks of ad space for specific advertisers.
However, selling ad space directly requires time and effort. You need to source potential advertisers manually, negotiate terms and costs, and build relationships. But you can also set your own pricing and retain control over decisions on how to charge media buyers.
In short, it needs to be worth your time.
How to find direct advertisers?
Don't underestimate how much work is involved in selling ads directly. It requires generating leads, converting clients and building long-term relationships.
Selling ads directly is easier for publishers who work in a content niche and have a dedicated niche audience. The best approach is to research media in the same content categories and seek brands and companies that advertise with them.
Website publishers should create a media kit to entice advertisers and prove the value of ad space. The kit should include site analytics, such as page views and bounce rate, user segments, reach, and engagement - all the information that advertisers want to know if they are considering putting ads on your website.
Selling ad space directly obviously involves direct contact with buyers, establishing unique business partnerships, as well as negotiations and agreement between the two parties. So, before offering ad space on your website, take some time to understand the real value of your target audiences.
3. Affiliate advertising
The final method to start selling ads is through an affiliate program.
An affiliate is a promoter or publisher who places an affiliate link on their website, blog or social networks. Individual influencers, big companies, small and medium websites, and content platforms can be affiliates.
Ideally the affiliate is publishing content about the industry related directly to the product they are advertising. Because the content audience and the advertiser’s target audience are the same, the promotion feels more natural and is a good fit.
Affiliate marketing is growing - by 2022, business spending on affiliate ad campaigns will top $8.2 billion in the US alone.
How affiliate models work?
First the website owner needs to become a member of an affiliate network. There are lots of affiliate networks designed to connect publishers and advertisers, and offer thousands of affiliate programs with different goals.
These networks earn money by charging advertisers with a setup and license fee, typically. For publishers, it's free to join.
For publishers to join affiliate programs, you need to have:
- an individual domain name
- have at least one email account linked to that domain
- a website layout that supports various ad formats
One affiliate advertising campaign is not the same as the next. For example, in order to advertise a retailer’s product, the publisher may need to rank the product, write a product review, or compare two similar products.
For websites that have a loyal audience who trusts the advice and information given, this is highly valuable for the advertiser. You might show people how to use the product or service too.
Affiliate programs tend to be performance based, with different goals for conversions. The models differ depending on the advertisers' goals - they could be based on installs, leads or action.
An affiliate receives payment or commission only when a visitor takes the desired action based on the conversion goal.
- Get paid for leads. The affiliate will get paid if the visitor becomes a lead, which could mean they sign up for a free trial, contact the sales rep, and so on. The advertiser does not measure the quality of the lead. This model is typically used for high-value products and services, where sales reps are heavily involved.
- Earn commissions for sales. The affiliate gets paid a commission from every sale they attract through the link. This can be used for all sorts of products and services.
- Get paid for clicks. Regardless of whether a lead or sale happens, the affiliate gets paid per click. This is not a popular model for advertisers as not all clicks turn into leads.
Because of the way affiliate advertising works, this model can turn a website or blog into a real cash cow. Commissions for sales can be high and there's a good return for the investment in time and effort on the publisher's side.
For example, Amazon Associates is the largest affiliate marketing network with over 900,000 active affiliates. Affiliates can earn up to 12% in associate commissions from qualifying purchases and programs.
Digital publishers who want to sell ad space need to consider their options carefully before taking the plunge. In this article, we covered four popular methods for selling ad space. Whether you choose to sell direct, programmatic advertising, affiliate marketing or through ad networks, each method has its pros and cons. Your choice comes down to the level of control you want to have, and which type is best suited to your website niche. Think carefully about your objectives and the amount of time you are willing to invest both upfront and ongoing. Whatever you decide, there's a lot of advertising revenue up for grabs when you get it right.
Start generating revenue from your website
At Publift, we can help you monetize your website or app by serving quality ads, without sacrificing a great user experience. Getting started is easy – get in touch for a free website or app review with personalized advice on optimizations from our experts. Onboarding is fast and there are no lock-in contracts. Let’s increase your revenue - talk to our friendly team today.