With the recent advent of low-impact and low-effort online advertising models, it has become very easy to get advertising on your Web site. Whether or not you decide to place third-party ads will likely depend on how willing you are to surrender space, or “real estate,” on your site. It is also important to consider the potential impact that ads can have on your overall traffic.
If you are running a non-commerce site, such as an informational site or a blog, including ads can be a great way to defray the costs of maintaining the site. If your visitor traffic is high enough, you could potentially even make money. (In fact, there are a growing number of people whose sole income is derived from their personal blogs.)
The same is true of a commerce site, but some important issues need to be considered: First, are you able to integrate the ads without compromising the aesthetics of the site? This is not an insurmountable task, but may require rethinking the site’s layout. Assuming the ads can be effectively integrated into the page design, there remains the issue of whether or not ads will detract from your users’ experience. Are the ads likely to drive away visitors who feel that their experience is degraded by the ads (alienation)? Or, conversely, are the ads more appealing than what your site has to offer (cannibalization)? The ads must be effective without being obtrusive.
The best way to measure the compatibility of the ads is also the riskiest: running them, testing them, and monitoring your own traffic as well as the traffic of the ads themselves. Cannibalization can be seen when your site’s traffic or sales stagnate or drop while traffic to the ads increases. Fixing this may be a simple matter of redesigning the page layout or moving the ad placement. Avoiding cannibalization is tricky, and may actually become an argument against having ads on your site altogether. However, it may be also be a helpful wake-up call to improve your site design and your product offerings.
There are four basic forms of Web advertising:
- Click/impression-based ads
- Third-party sponsorships
- Affiliate programs
- Ads that you secure yourself (such as for local or regional businesses)
Click or impression-based ads come in a variety of flavors, but the basic premise is that the advertiser pays you, via a third-party site like Google or AdBrite, to host their ads. Pay-per-impression campaigns are generally called CPM (cost per thousand) and are becoming less popular as it is too easy to create fraudulent traffic, and because the alternative method, CPC (cost per click), ensures that at minimum the advertiser is paying only for traffic generated and not simply exposure (“eyeballs” in Web parlance). CPC services like Google and AdBrite have a higher ROI for the advertiser and therefore also tend to pay higher dividends to the host. CPC dividends can vary anywhere from $.03 to upwards of $25 per click depending upon the popularity of the keywords. For your first foray into putting ads on your site, this method is likely your best bet.
Sponsorship ads are a more sophisticated form of advertising and are generally only available to high-profile sites with a lot of visitor traffic. Because sponsorship campaigns tend to involve large corporations, the campaigns generally involve explicit contracts and binding agreements regarding site content and guaranteed traffic levels. This is not to say that they are unattainable, just that they come with a considerably higher level of involvement.
Affiliate programs, such as those offered by Amazon and eBay, pay a referral fee on any sale that originates from the host site. Most people use affiliate programs as an easy way to sell their books and CDs but they can just as easily be used to make money by “selling” products without setting up a store. Affiliate programs are the most likely form of advertising to present a conflict of interest if you are running your own e-commerce site. Affiliate programs should be used judiciously in such cases.
The most labor intensive (but potentially most lucrative) form of advertising is to contact different businesses directly and inquire if they would be interested in advertising on your site. This type of campaign affords a lot of flexibility, as you can negotiate all aspects of the campaign including ad design, placement, and terms. However, this method also requires the most maintenance, as these ads rarely come prepackaged, involve real human interaction, and require the site owner to sell the site much more intensively than, for example, a Google AdWords campaign would require.
Ultimately, the only way to determine if advertising is right for your Web site is to give it a try and test it thoroughly. If you are unfamiliar with Web analytics, be sure to read the AllBusiness Buyer’s Guide to Web Site Traffic Analysis Tools. It may be a matter of trying various kinds of advertising methods until you find an effective program that is the most beneficial to you.
One important thing to keep in mind: Be careful to avoid ads that hijack the users’ control over the browser, such as interstitial ads (ads that load before you can see the requested page) or “pop-up” ads. Usability studies unanimously indicate that these are surefire ways to drive visitors away from your site.